Founded in 1913, Sunningdale Country Club was titled after its famous 1901 English namesake, Sunningdale Golf Club.
Seth Raynor originally laid out the Sunningdale Country Club course on the 150-acre Scarsdale property in 1916, but members soon tired of the many blind shots, so Walter Travis was called in to ring the changes in 1920.
As we all know, every country club has swimming pool aspirations, so in 1929 A.W. Tillinghast was commissioned to find room for one by merging the par three 17th and par five 18th holes, and then creating a new drop-shot, par three 12th.
In 2006, after almost eighty years of inactivity, Sunningdale enlisted Mike DeVries to create a renovation master plan which was finally completed a decade later in autumn 2016.
In The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak commented as follows: “Of the lesser-known clubs in this golf-rich neighborhood, Sunningdale seems to have the most potential for major improvement, with its generous fairways and constantly moving terrain. They have recently found new direction under Mike DeVries, who has redesigned the mid-length 5th while recovering lost hole locations on other greens. The strong one-shotters on the front side and Raynor’s gently rising par five 7th to a Road Hole green are a solid base to work from.”
M. James Ward’s hopes for Sunningdale have been realized. Given the course’s varied architectural lineage, the club was wise to give Mike Devries a free hand, rather than to constrict him to a restoration. As former Greens Chair Mike Moss put it, “We simply told him to make the best use of the land.” The result is a lovely set of green complexes and wide fairways asking the player to find the best side from which to approach the green. I did find the 14-16 stretch a bit prosaic—three par 4s that march back and forth next to each other. But they are followed by DeVries’s boldest effort, the total reworking of the last three holes.
Westchester County is rich in fine golf courses. I’ve played most the big names there and would be as happy playing Sunningdale as any of them.
Kudos to club leadership at Sunningdale when realizing failure to invest in their property would likely mean a bleak future. Over the years the original Seth Raynor layout had a number of other architects attempt to place their fingerprints on the layout. Walter Travis and A.W. Tillinghast played such roles. The details were lost over time and the course became an unfathomable hodge-podge of one design type bumping into another. Trees were stupidly added and green sizes shrunk, to name just two such errors.
The club smartly hired the talented Mike DeVries to help bring back what this wonderful site should have -- a golf design that truly inspires you when on the grounds. Like so many other Westchester courses -- the land at Sunningdale is almost always in constant motion but is certainly walkable. DeVries brought back to life a number of discarded elements -- many of them tied to the fascinating greens which have, at times, more movement than the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy day.
While Sunningdale is not especially long -- topping out at just under 6,800 yards, the Devries involvement has meant a resurrection of a slew of design details. The closer you get to any of the putting surfaces the richer the assortment of challenges is provided.
I cringe when using the terms "good member's course" but candidly Sunningdale fits that description. Power is rewarded but not to the point of a slavish necessity. Working the ball off the tee is often called upon and with the greens now expanded to allow for a wider array of pin locations it's central to one's play to execute approach shots with a high degree of execution.
The pacing of the holes is also conceived smartly. Players will have to adjust accordingly -- especially when encountering such delicious holes as the long par-4 10th, the short par-4 11th, the dropshot par-3 12th and the muscular par-4 13th. There's options galore and the ground game element is available for those choosing it.
The routing is very good -- always moving about -- no discernible patterns and it still fascinates me so much can be extracted from a piece of land that's rather compact. Wisely, Devries rerouted the final three holes and the culmination is well done with a varying combination of a par-5, par-3 and par-4 mix to close out the round. DeVries understood the mission was to keep alive the old-time magic and not make Sunningdale bulldoze all of its original charm into some empty modernist design with little or no character.
The Westchester area is very competitive neighborhood and Sunningdale saw the future and wisely put its resources to work in ensuring high caliber golf will continue in the years ahead. I gave the course "four stars" but I will be returning sometime in '19 and will be closely looking at various design details I may not have sufficiently accounted for. For those venturing to Westchester be sure to keep this on your list of ones to play. I see the layout making a strong case for top ten consideration in the county.
M. James Ward