Review for St George's Golf & Country Club

Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Review:

St. George’s Golf and Country Club is often overlooked due to its location on Long Island, New York which I consider to be “the home of golf” in the USA. Part of that is likely due to the number of highly rated golf courses near it based on the quality of the course, their tournament history, the notoriety of the golf course architects, or their social pedigree. It could also be due to the fact that St. George’s is barely above 6400 yards from its championship tees as well as a sometimes cramped routing.

The club sits in the middle of Long Island and one wonders if it was 30 miles either east or west whether it would be viewed differently. After all, it has as much land movement as those rated more highly. It has as brilliant a routing, perfect for the land it occupies, to be the in the same class as the routings at National Golf Links of America, Shinnecock Hills, Maidstone Club, The Creek, or Piping Rock. I am not suggesting it is better, but I am stating that the architect did as good a job in his routing as those designs as they all fit perfectly with the many changes in terrain, sometimes gradual and sometimes quite dramatic.

St. George’s could make the claim that it is Devereux Emmet’s masterpiece rather than Garden City (Walter Travis elevated the course to its current heights), Engineers, or Congressional Blue (repeatedly changed). At St. George’s, Mr.Emmet utilized the natural contours of the land to create many memorable holes. The course offers a lovely variety of lengths in all pars, as well as superb green complexes. There are few courses that offer the quality of green side bunkering, micro contouring, and green surfaces as does St. George’s.

The course has also benefited from the ongoing restoration work done by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner, with a few potential tweaks yet to come.

The course currently plays as a par 70 with the Championship tees at 6408 yards rated 71.1/136. The blue tees are 6232 yards rated 70.5/135. For those who believe the course is too short, obviously as a par 70 that typically means it is 200 yards less than other courses with four par 5’s instead of three. Secondly, in 2021 the cab hosted three significant events that attracted both top amateurs and club professionals. Of the total of 220 rounds played in these three events, there were only 13 scores under par with 67 being the lowest round. Obviously the change in terrain, some smaller sloped greens, and the well defended greens posed quite a test for the accomplished players. A player who hits the ball far will have a slight advantage at St. George’s, but not as big as an advantage as one might think. There is a bigger requirement to have a reliable good short chipping/bunker game as well as an above average skill with the putter.

But for those whose judge a course based on length as a criteria for difficulty, I did find the potential to add another 200 yards primarily on the opening nine holes.

One criticism of the course that likely has merit is that it is cramped in spots, with several tees being very close to the previous greens. In one case, for the seventeenth tee, a wire fence is required. It is somewhat surprising that the course is cramped, even with the less distance that was required at that time. Mr. Emmet had a large estate nearby with the manor home named “Sherrewogue.” He was the brother-in-law of the famous architect, Stanford White who designed the acclaimed clubhouse at Shinnecock Hills and later did additions to Sherrewogue. He traveled the great courses of the UK with Charles Blair Macdonald. He had already built Garden City and Leatherstocking courses on larger parcels of land. So Mr.Emmet was well aware of the space required. Yet he choose to build St. George’s on only 150 acres of land instead of the more typical 175+ acres. Yet all of that can be overlooked by the brilliance of the routing.

Upon its opening the course began on the current twelfth hole, finishing in the 11th which is a par 3. This is much like Garden City and Congressional which also ended on a par 3.

The par 3’s are the highlight of the course due to their variety as well as their green complexes. Among the par 4’s and 5’s there are several that will create a lasting memory due to the combination of land movement, bunkering and the green surrounds.

We played the Championship tees. The club is making a concerted effort to remove non-native grass and plants and as such much of the fescue had not grown to its typical height. With the taller fescue, the course would have played more difficult, but more importantly it would have added to the attractiveness of the course with the fescue serving to frame many of the holes. But even with the absence of the fescue the course is visually quite appealing.

1. Par 4 - 385. The first hole begins just after the putting green which sits next to the clubhouse’s covered rear porch. The hole plays as a dogleg left with the bigger hitters likely being tempted to cut the corner although there is not much need to do so. The fairway falls away at approximately 240 yards to a valley that fronts the green. The green sits on higher ground at the end of the valley and is quite tilted to the front right. Any putt struck too hard towards that front right section of the green will tumble down the slope about 40-50 yards away. The left side of the green has a long bunker that makes a recovery shot a delicate one to judge due to the green going away from you. The right side features two bunkers at the green but it is a somewhat easier recovery from those. The tee on this hole could be moved back 50-60 yards although this would require relocating the putting green and likely put the pro shop and maintenance building in play. But if the club chose to do this they would have one of the best starting holes on Long Island.

2. Par 5 - 589. You walk up a long rise to get to the second tee. This is another hole that could be lengthened 30-40 yards with tree removal. Again, one might have one of the better par 5’s on the island. But as it is this dogleg left has adequate defense due to the interesting central bunkering as well as the strong tilt of the green back to front and to the right. After teeing off the land falls away and then you walk up to the almost flat fairway. The central bunkering in the shape of an elongated “L” with two breaks should not be in play and quite frankly should have more of a rise to them at their face, but they are very attractive. The fairway joins into the eighteenth’s fairway which connects to the sixteenth which connects to the fourteenth and thirteenth. The fairways of the third and twelfth almost connect as well. The green is relatively large portion, protected first by a bunker on the right 40 yards short of the green, then two front corner bunkers. At the rear is a more perilous bunker. Mr. Emmet placed many bunkers at the rear of greens at St. Gorge’s, all to great effect. They are not always as deep as some as one might find on a course designed by Seth Raynor, Charlie Banks, or Charles Blair Macdonald, but they fit very well with the steepness of the slope of the green. The more steep the slope of the green, the less depth to the rear bunker. The less sloped greens have more depth to the rear bunkers.

3. Par 4 - 429. This hole features a dramatic fall-off to the left where balls can gain an extra 50-75 yards. The ball can also go all the way across the fairway very close to the left rough. It might even reach on the left side of the fairway a long, thin strip bunker that begins about 75 yards from the green. My tee shot unfortunately stayed to the right and go stuck on the plateau that becomes the eighteenth tee and beginning of the eighteenth fairway. That left me with an awkward shot of 185 yards to a green perhaps 70 feet below me representing a fairly small target. The green is bracketed by bunkers including another rear bunker. The green tilts to the left and is speedy. As you start to walk down the fall of the fairway and the green reveals itself, it is a lovely view despite the closeness of Sheep Pasture Road just behind it. I marveled at the hole with the land sloping left and the hole playing as a gentle dogleg right set of a double twist. This is another hole that could be lengthened although the second green would be vulnerable from the tee shot.

4. Par 4 - 373. You cross the road to the fourth. This was my favorite hole on the front nine due to the fabulous green complex. Again, one could add 10 yards to the hole by moving the tee closer to the road. The hole plays straight uphill and normally there is tall fescue down the left. This fairway is shared with the sixth hole. Most players will have a short iron into this green despite the steepness of the hill as the hole flattens out and the longer hitters will get a favorable bounce forward. About twenty yards short of the green are four feet high mounds in which a bunker lies between. This is followed by a thin fronting bunker hidden as it is on lower ground about seven feet down. These stacked bunkers create a wonderful visual once on the green. The same thin bunkers are placed well below this green on either side and the rear. This rear bunker might be the deepest one on the course, approaching nine feet in depth. The green and the four surrounding bunkers are a near perfect rectangle. The only improvement that I could see to this hole is the removal of the paved cart path on the left side too close to the green complex. There should be more holes built like this.

5. Par 4 - 364. This is a wonderful short hole due to the bunkering and size of the green. There are six bunkers in play off the tee with four to the right. There are also scattered small mounds down the right side nearly all the way from those bunkers to the green. The green is somewhat shaped like a slice of pie with a narrower front half. There is a deep bunker left and two on the right of the green. Behind the green on the right are several trees. Due to the smallness of the green a recovery shot must be well judged for its pace. I walked away thinking this might be the most under-rated hole on the course as it feels like it should be an opportunity for a good score, but one can easily get to a higher number in they are get out of position.

6. Par 5 - 515. There is another terrific green complex at the end of this short par 5. Longer hitters will have to thread a narrow opening in the left side of the fairway as three cross bunkers cut across. A tree on the right is close to the front of the green where a very small opening has been added in the left. The center and right side of the green is blocked by smallish mounds and corner bunkers. Another long bunker, shared with the fourth’s fairway is on the right front half side of the green. Behind these mounds is a small inner bowl to the green, the only one I recalled on the course. Despite all of the distractions, this hole is certainly one where one can get healthy, as evidenced by an eagle in our group and three near misses for birdie.

7. Par 3 - 187. This hole plays from an elevated tee sharply downhill backdropped by the road. There is a horizontal bunker about fifteen yards short of the green. Because the green seems to run away from you one wants to just clear this bunker for any pin location in the front half of the green as the ground is sloped downhill after the bunker but prior to the green. There is a nice shape to this green in that the front is smaller which allows a bit of rough to sneak in between the front corner bunkers and the green. There is another rear bunker here but not as deep as some others as this green has less of a slope to it. It is a challenging par 3.

8. Par 4 - 386. A likely criticism from some is that the course is cramped in spots. The tee on eight would be the obvious choice. This tee sits tightly between the seventh and tenth’s greens, and closest to the road. The hole used to play as a almost half circular dogleg left due to a tall tree on the left and fescue. Gil Hanse and the club removed the tree and added more fairway down the left side to make the hole more playable. The tee shot is blind up the hill but once the rise is achieved, the hole is flat to the green, much like the third. There is a deep bunker on the left side but it should not be in play off the tee. This is followed by a circular bunker with an inner island and another bunker. The right side has no bunkers. The green has a lot of subtle inner movement, bracketed by two bunkers on the right, one on the left, and two at the rear. Some might find this hole to be less distinctive and one of the easier ones on the course.

9. Par 3 - 149. The second par 3 plays slightly downhill. A horizontal bunker about 15 yards short of the green was discovered during the ongoing renovation and is very much in play for those thinking they can land their tee shot short of the green. The green then has flanking bunkers giving the appearance of stacked bunkers. There is a back right side pin location that is harder to access due to a micro mound fronting it. The green is sloped to the front. It s a fun hole.

10. Par 4 - 380. As mentioned, St. George’s has a few areas that are a bit cramped and the tenth tee box is another example. It sits close to the ninth green. We waited to tee off while the group behind hit their tee shots into nine. The green is so close to the road that a nearly solid fence is required. I do not know if I have ever seen a green so close to the road, which is fairly busy. Deeper fescue is down the left side of this dogleg right before the hole turns. The hole drops perhaps as much as 40 feet from the fairway to the green with then longest of hitters catching the beginning of the slope which begins about 260 yards off the tee. There is another circular bunker with extensions off to the right that should not be in play for most players. The land spills down to the green which has a single bunker left just short of the green. Shorter hitters off the tee will be guessing the direction of the flag. I guessed too little of the bend in the dogleg and ended on the street over the fence. I thought the hole to be a lot of fun despite its quirkiness.

11. Par 3 - 204. You cross the road to get to the halfway house and the eleventh tee up a hill. The longest par 3 on the course parallels Sheep Pasture Road to the left and is bracketed by trees. This hole plays from an elevated tee across lower ground to a green nestled into the side of the rise. As such, it has a false front although tee shots likely will not reverse far. The green feels large compared to the previous five holes with a tilt to the front. It is surrounded by five bunkers. Of the par 3’s, this was my least favorite merely because I hold the final two in such high regard as well as the previous two are also strong holes. On many courses it might be the best par 3.

12. Par 4 - 430. If one does not favor the uniqueness of the location of the tenth green nor the challenge of the eleventh, the course is quite good from here to the finish once you arrive at the elevated twelfth tee. It is almost like a roller coaster ride from here on in. From the tee shot the land falls away from you with housing owned by the club down the left. The fairway is the narrowest on the course with it being only 17 yards wide at one point. The fairway sits in a channel with slightly higher ground to the left and significantly higher ground to the right. Balls can kick off the hill on the right and come back onto the fairway, but they might also stay stuck there. There is a thought to widen the fairway on the right which I do think would improve the hole both from a visual perspective as well as playability. The green has a knob down the right side just at its beginning which will kick a ball to the left. However, go slightly too far and the ball will either stay on the right, perhaps go through the green or get into the two right green side bunkers. This hole has an obvious swale to it as well as various slopes and is considered to be one of the more difficult to birdie.

13. Par 4 - 458. The club is currently on its fourth (and hopefully last) clubhouse. I believe it was the original clubhouse (there is a marker and some of the original foundation) that was located close to this green. This hole has likely the steepest drop of a fairway on the course, although perhaps the third rivals it. The land falls away sharply downhill and to the right. The tee shot needs to be center right for a better look at the green as the tee shot for most will not go far enough to get to the decline. The left side of the fairway is shared with the sixteenth, bringing a string of bunkers into play. There is a single bunker about 15 yards short of the green on the left and a final bunker on the right front corner. The green almost feels two-tiered due to its slope and false front. It is a strong hole.

14. Par 4 - 394. One walks up the hill from the previous green to the next tee to play perhaps the flattest hole on the back nine. The fairway is generous and should not present a problem. An approach shot to the green hit weakly to the right will find its way to lower ground or into taller grass. The left side and rear of this green features a string of five bunkers with a single bunker on the front right. Much like the ninth, there is a back right pin location that is difficult to access.

15. Par 3 - 171. Of the five par 3’s, this was probably my favorite although a case could be made for any of them. From an elevated tee you play slightly downhill to another terrific green complex. This one is ringed by four bunkers, but bunkers shared with the eighteenth can come into play both short left and at the back left. The only “open” spot without a bunker is the middle to back right of this green. The green sits on a tilt to the front right and has another false front. Off the left side, in addition to the bunkers, are scattered mounds. The tilt of the green is back to front with the right front sloped steeply enough to cause any ball to release back off the green. It is a splendid par 3 both visually and in its architectural defense.

16. Par 4 - 323. This is another tee somewhat close to the fifteenth green. This seemingly innocent hole likely results in as many birdies as it does double bogies due to the tiniest green on the property along with one of the steepest false fronts. The hole plays as a dogleg right with a pond fronting the beginning of the fairway along with an early large/wide tree on the right. Both the pond and the tree should not be an issue. Both sides of the fairway are lined with bunkers. The land begins to descend about 100 yards from the green with a definite tilt to the lowest point off the right where the longer balls are likely to gather. The green complex features a single long, deep bunker off the left but the green itself is also surrounded by mounds. There is probably the most severe false front on the golf course along with the tiny green. Everything on this hole runs to the front. Only the most deft shot into the green or a recovery from the rear will stay on. I found the hole to be remarkable in its simplicity.

17. Par 3 - 129. A fence is needed to protect players teeing off on seventeen from those teeing off on eighteen. This hole plays across lower ground to another small green perched on the high point as the land falls away to the front, right and behind the green. This hole features another small green with a false front along with two fronting bunkers, long bunkers to either side and at the rear. If almost plays as devilish as the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon.

18. Par 5 - 542. Many great/good courses end on a weaker hole such as Gullane #1, Maidstone, Myopia Hunt, Silloth on Solway, North Berwick West, Cypress Point, etc. The better/best courses are those that are offer consistency throughout the round including the finishing hole in terms of interest, challenge, strategy, and visual appeal. The eighteenth at St. George’s achieves this with one of the best finishing inland par 5’s I have played. The hole is wedged between the second green and the sixteenth. There are a string of mounded bunkers going down the left and bunkers on the right that come into play for the second. This fairway is shared with both the second and sixteenth. The hole then falls away for the longer hitters as it turns to the left, rising back to a raised green with a steep, sharp 5-6 feet false front. Down the left side as the hole turns and the land drops is a string of bunkers, including the bunkers from the fifteenth green. The right side features two well-placed bunkers at the turn which pinches the fairway. These bunkers are followed by a single bunker 40 yards forward that likely catches a lot of second shots. As you near the green there are numerous bunkers on the left as I actually lost count but it is more than ten. The left side also features taller grass and rougher ground that sits behind the fifteenth green. This is likely the largest green on the golf course, with its length adding perhaps an additional two clubs to a pin in the rear. The green is also tiered more like a gentle waterfall. Adding to the difficulty are the seven bunkers surrounding the green, including a rear bunker that covers 75% off the back. These bunkers are well below the green due to sharp and steep fall offs. In total, there are perhaps nearly 35 bunkers that could be in play on this hole. I hit a poor tee shot that found one of those bunkers on the left and made the mistake of not playing back to the fairway, therefore I got to experience a few more bunkers down the left as well as the false front of the green. The hole is backdropped by the flagpole, the putting green and the clubhouse. It is a visual delight once you pass the metal fence protecting the seventeenth tee all the way to the finish.

If there was a category for best courses under 6500 yards, St. George’s should be included in the top 25. In the USA it is recognized as one of the best “classic” golf courses and I would certainly include it in my top 100 of that category. I think it also belongs in the list of courses that followers of golf architects should study alongside such courses as Yale, National Golf Links of America, Chicago, etc. Of the courses built by Devereux Emmet, It is his masterpiece because it had to incorporate land movement. It is a nice mixture of Cape Arundel with Garden City as the green complexes at all three courses are fabulous as well as the use of bunkers alongside the fairways. Due to its location on Long Island it will likely never get the recognition it deserves, particularly when one adds in the courses of Westchester County, southwest Connecticut, and northern New Jersey. However, I was impressed with nearly every hole as it marries visual appeal with decision-making. It is certainly a course that I very much enjoyed playing.

Date: June 28, 2022


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