The course at Tamarack Country Club was set out by Charles “Steam Shovel” Banks (a former associate of Seth Raynor) in 1929 and it features a number of replica par threes; the 171-yard 3rd (based on the “Eden” hole at St Andrews), the 196-yard 7th (an imitation of the “Redan” at North Berwick) and the 214-yard 12th, a version France’s famous “Biarritz” short hole.
Much of the designer’s original “steep and deep” bunkering remains intact, most prominently at the 508-yard 17th, a sweeping doglegged par five, where an enormous sand trap named “Big Bertha” protects the elevated green. No doubt the Cardinal bunker at Prestwick was the inspiration for this sandy monster.Other holes at Tamarack that have been modelled on famous originals include the par fours at the 2nd (”Cape”), 6th (“Alps”) and 14th (“Road Hole”). Whilst some golfers will feel the use of template holes is all a little too contrived, many others will delight in their composition and celebrate their place in the modern game.
The work of Charles "steam shovel" Banks is often either undervalued or simply forgotten by many and that's a real shame. Fortunately, those living in the metro NYC area have a number of his designs to enjoy if an invite to his private creations is available.
Hats off to the club's leadership in engaging the services of architect Brian Silva roughly a decade ago to update the work Banks created. The course is blessed with rolling land -- nothing extreme but far from being flat. Silva brought back the original dimensions of the greens and plenty of trees and underbrush were also eliminated so overall vistas and grandeur of the property now shines admirably.
Having a starting hole that fits nicely into its role is no easy task but the opener at Tamarack is ideal. At 437 yards and playing from an elevated tee that falls away to a fairway below. Generally, the prevailing wind is assisting but a headwind is also possible. There's sufficient room in the drive zone but for the stronger hitters there's a temptation to hit over or around a center-placed bunker that's perfectly situated in the 280-yards vicinity. I've often wondered why courses when being upgraded don't realign bunkers away from the sides and placed more towards a center location. Golf clubs and balls from years ago were apt to be missed to the sides much more frequently than today. As a result, placement of bunkers in a much more direct manner would add to the strategic considerations and reinforce the relevance of a hole.
At the 1st the green has been expanded to original size and a lone bunker guards the right side. There's a far larger one to the left. When the pin is cut towards the right the player has to decide whether to take a direct route or favor the more open left side. It's an ideal starting hole because there's sufficient challenges for all types of players.
The slightly uphill 2nd is also a quality hole. There's a series of bunkers that guard the drive zone which were added by Silva. The more you opt for distance the more their presence becomes an issue.
Banks included an array of template holes and Tamarack is served well by them. The par-3's are a good collection with the Redan 7th at 187 yards a quality representation. However, to be sure not at the same level as the 2nd at Somerset Hills or the 4th at NGLA. The Biarritz 12th at 209 is exceptional and clearly in league with the likes of the 9th at Yale and t 17th at The Banks Course at Forsgate. The 15-foot drop-off to the left can easily ensnare a golfer with bunkers and deep rough on that side. The length of the green is also a treat to behold. If the pin is placed in the extreme rear one can easily add on 30-40 yards of distance. The entire green is now 87 yards in length!
If there's one weakness at Tamarack it comes with the stretch of holes from the 8th through the 10th. They are merely sufficient and don't add much to the overall experience.
My favorite hole at the course is the par-4 14th. The 453-yard hole invites the big tee shot but the golfer had best be aware of the dangers. A shot that misses right can find a pesky water hazard connected to the Byram River that awaits the slightest mishap. If you steer clear of that hazard and miss to the left you encounter a few key trees which must be negotiated on the approach. Pin location dictates where the best angle from the fairway is for the approach. When the pin is cut hard to the right one must deal with the same water hazard previously mentioned. If the pin is cut towards the far left there's a "donut" bunker that awaits. Once again the elasticity of the hole allows for a ground option for the player not able to fly the ball to the target.
The ending series of holes is good but hardly inspirational. The best of the bunch rests with the 18th hole. Playing uphill to a target nearby to the clubhouse makes for a fine finisher. Be sure to avoid the array of bunkers on both sides of the green.
Tamarack often gets little attention when held against other Nutmeg courses such as Yale, The Stanwich Club and Wee Burn and certainly nearby Whippoorwill in adjoining New York State is often cited as the best Banks creation. But, make no mistake about it, the overall requirements is quite testing at Tamarack. Unfortunately, unlike other Banks courses I have played the internal movements of the greens at Tamarack are not as sophisticated as a few of his other top efforts but when ramped to full speed still mandate a deft touch.
It's a shame Banks did not live long enough to create additional golf courses. As I mentioned at the outset, kudos to the leadership at Tamarack in engaging the services of the talented Brian Silva. Those who are in the area with the opportunity to play will find a layout that's well prepared -- both turf wise and from a faithful desire to re-establish the vision Banks originally intended.
M. James Ward
Seeing the former President of the United States naked was my strongest memory of playing Tamarack a couple decades ago.
My more recent visit revealed a delightful golf course, the result of Charles Banks' original work and a recent renovation by Brian Silva. Banks’ template holes are here, the finest being his par 3s. The Redan (#7) is even more wickedly sloped than the original and the Biarritz (#12) has a valley second only to Yales’ 9th in depth. Banks’ green are not nearly as diabolical as those of his mentors (e.g. #6 at the National or #10 at Yale), but there are enough contours to make for challenging putting (he favors mounds and ridges). Given the speed of the greens—13 on my stimpmeter in mid-October—and their size—more than half of them are over 40 yards deep—the softer contours are probably a good thing.
Silva restored the greens to their original sizes but left plenty of room in front for a variety of approach methods. Much of his work was adding fairway bunkers and Tamarack’s are placed to create strategic choices on nearly every tee shot. Purists might whine that they are not nearly as deep as Banks’ (or MacDonald’s or Raynor’s for that matter), but given their prevalence, that is also another good thing. There are a few places where Silva’s plethora of pits seems excessive (left of #2, right of #10, right of #16 and right of #18). The flat bunkers he added in front of the short 16th look completely out of place. One other oddity is in the course yardages. There’s a 700 yard difference between the forward (5694) and white tees (6391), with fewer than 200 from the White to the Blue and fewer than 200 from the Blue to the back tees.
But these are small matters. Yale, and perhaps Fairfield, are the only Connecticut course I’d rather play than here.
P.S. For any of you still reading, the ex-President was Gerald Ford. I had played in an outing there and since there was a formal dinner after, showers were in order. The shotgun start meant everyone descended on the locker room at the same time. So there was the former POTUS standing in line for one of the half dozen showers like everyone else.