The “Father of Golf Architecture” and the “Engineer” designed The Creek, so it’s unsurprising that the formidable duo of Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor conspired to create a classic. The course opened in 1923 and The Creek was immediately dubbed “The Million Dollar Club” due to its exclusive membership, which included the likes of J. P. Morgan.
The property is set near Locust Valley on a high bluff that tumbles down to the Long Island Sound coastline. The vistas across the Sound to Greenwich and Stamford must be seen to be believed.
After a slow start, The Creek really comes alive from the moment you step onto the 6th tee box “Sound View” which sits on a high bluff. It's an all-world 480-yard par four that plunges downhill to a punchbowl green which slopes markedly from front left to back right.
From here on golfers are indulged in a stellar twelve-hole stretch that serves up a veritable cornucopia of template holes from a “Reverse Redan” at the 8th, a “Leven” at the 10th and an audacious “Biarritz” at the 11th, which can be even more intimidating depending on the tide. It’s not called “Island” for nothing, where the green must be accessed via a rickety wooden footbridge at high water.
With a lovely combination of links-like and park-like characteristics, The Creek is quite unique where the Long Island winds make for a tough test, even though the overall yardage these days is modest.
Gil Hanse (with input from C.B. Macdonald expert the late George Bahto) breathed new life into the old classic, completing a restoration in 2011. Hanse has since completed additional bunkering work and continues as club consultant.
Upon heading to the Creek, the overwhelming consensus I received was that the first five holes were rather dull. When playing them, I was amazed considering the strategy and interesting greens featured on each of these holes. However, I was blown away walking down the sixth fairway as the rest of the course opens up to the water, and understand that claim, yet still disagree with it. Let me revise it: while the first five holes are very interesting, they are a completely different setting than the rest of the course.
The Creek sits on essentially three paddocks of land: woodlands (holes 1-5), dunes (holes 6-9, 15-18), and wetlands (holes 10-14) creating a unique and dynamic routing that creates variety simply by the nature of the land. The woodland holes often get overshadowed but they are still really cool. The first is a great starter from practically the clubhouse porch played to a redan style green with a wedge on the second shot. Two is another short par 4 littered with bunkers playing to an extremely severe green. Three features the classic principal's nose bunker, four is an eden, and five recaptures the MacDonald like spine green similar to 9 at Chicago or 14 at Sleepy.
After walking off the fifth green the views of the bay open up in a breathtaking way. The sixth is a perfect transition away from the trees, a straight downhill par four that plays to a unique double punchbowl green similar to the one on 12 at Chicago. 7 is a par five that features a narrow landing area and massive lions mouth bunker deceptively short of the green. While some have criticized the 8th as being MacDonald's worst version of the redan, I enjoyed it a lot. After all, redans are like ice cream. Even when they're bad, its still really good (you can insert a different more PG-13 analogy there as well). Nine is a crazy par 4.5 hole played out towards the beach with a raised green guarded by a deep bunker. Its a hole that showcases how irrelevant par is, as making a four is definitely a good, rarely given score.
Turning out towards the Atlantic is my favorite hole on the course: the tenth. With the sound guarding the right and beach to the left, this is the coolest use of the Leven template I've seen, and similar to its namesake at Lundin Links, uses a natural water hazard as the heroic carry off the tee. Gil Hanse restored the large inverted dune guarding the front left to make the hole a true Leven and an absolute joy to play. The narrow fairway doesn't feature any distinct landmarks, and almost begs the player to have a go at the green.
The eleventh is likely the most photographed hole at the Creek, and rightfully so. Its one of the most unique holes MacDonald ever created: an island green biarritz over 80 yards in length. The hole can play a wedge or a wood depending on the pin position and wind direction.
Twelve is the beginning of what I am almost positive is the Flynn heavy side of the course. Flynn was originally brought in to fix this part of the property due to heavy flooding, and the resulting holes mirror his designs moreso than MacDonald's but are still extremely interesting to play. The twelfth features a tee shot sandwiched between sand to a tricky two tiered green set upon the hill. 13 is a dogleg right wrapping around the creek where position is everything off the tee to set up an angle from the deceptively undulating fairway. 14 is a dogleg over the creek and up the hill that makes perfect use of the land and provides another difficult test off the tee.
15 ventures back into the grassland with one of the shorter renditions of the double plateau, but a great strategic hole nonetheless. 16 is an awesome tee shot doglegging between the dunes up to a raised green. 17 is a perfectly recovered short template hole that is one of my favorite single thumbprint renditions of the hole I've seen. Its boldly contoured and a great opportunity at an ace or a six depending on the pin position. While I strongly encourage playing whatever tee you're actually capable of comfortably playing, I urge everyone to at least venture back to the back tee on 18. It plays over a cemetery which houses headstones that date back to the 1700s. The hole past the tee shot and the MacDonald style bunker that mirrors five at national is rather nondescript, as there's no really good way to make it up the massive hill.
One thing that I came away with after playing the course and inspecting the copious history located throughout the clubhouse is that calling this a MacDonald course would be disingenuous, as it incorporates elements of both MacDonald and Flynn's work on the property. While the par threes feature all the classic MacDonald template holes, very few other holes can be characterized as such. Many holes, such as two, twelve, and fourteen would better resemble holes at Merion than National. Its a really fascinating combination that makes the Creek extremely unique, and one of the best courses on the Island.
The only thing holding back The Creek from an even higher rating is the opening five holes. They are satisfactory but hardly cause the pulse to quicken. Fortunately, those holes are helped with varying bunker placements and their role comes early in the round thereby drifting quickly into one's rear-view mirror.
When you reach the par-4 6th The Creek jumps ALIVE. The views from the elevated tee with the Long Island Sound in the nearby distance and the holes that lie just ahead is hard to encapsulate in just words alone.
What has always fascinated with me about The Creek is the actual dimensions of the property. You have a narrow piece of land width wise -- but is actually an extended rectangle that works its way to and from close proximity with the Long Island Sound. The genius of Macdonald and Raynor is on full display and kudos to Gil Hanse and the late George Bahto in providing a skillful updating without blatantly inserting their fingerprints onto the landscape.
One of my favorite holes is the par-4 9th. Playing 429 yards the strategic implications are utterly clear. Out-of-bounds hugs the left side and sand waste area runs the length on the right side. The green is superbly positioned with other bunkers to avoid.
Much has been rightly written about the short 10th which runs parallel to the Sound. The visual dynamics is truly something to behold. The par-3 11th that follows is vastly underappreciated when people discuss the overall merits of Long island golf. The massive Biarritz green provides a high-quality test in shotmaking. When the wind is blowing off the Sound the need for unerring execution is an absolute must. Those who flinch or show the slightest bit of hesitation will likely find some serious pain recorded on the scorecard.
The 12th is a fine transition hole but the crème de la crème comes with the final push to the rounds' climax. The par-4 13th and 14th holes are tour de force holes. The 13th is one of Long Island's premier holes. The drive is tested to the max with a fairway that tapers in the longer you attempt to go. The entire right side is protected by a sandy waste area and a creek that is also in play. The green is protected better than the gold at Fort Knox. The water penalty area one crossed at the par-3 11th hugs the left side of the green and includes a bunker tugging along the right side. Walk away with a par and the word ecstatic comes to mind.
The 14th begins the long trek back to the clubhouse and it's simply a masterpiece in design. The drive zone moves to the right and the landing area narrows as the hole proceeds. The green is also done well with a range of different subtle movements to decipher.
The 16th demonstrates brilliantly how an uphill hole can be so much fun to play. The drive is protected at different intervals by creatively shaped bunkers. The approach mandates total commitment to a yardage that often fools players because of the required elevation.
The round concludes on a par-5 of 451 yards and I've always believed it would function better as a concluding par-4. This would mean the actual par for the layout would be reduced from 70 to 69.
The Creek is routinely in superior conditioning and the sheer details of the grooming provides for a natural look blending seamlessly into the landscape. Long Island is home to the best concentration of top tier private clubs in all of the USA and The Creek clearly demonstrates why it belongs in such elite company.
M. James Ward
Occupying one the highest pieces of land on Long Island, The Creek was built on a special 130 acres that were formerly the estate of Paul D. Cravath, a partner at the white-shoe law firm (at the time, the largest law firm in the world) that today exists as Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
Similar to arriving at the National Golf Links and at Sebonack, both further east on Long Island, the arrival at The Creek is grand. You drive through a set of old brick gates guarding the entrance and through an impressive allée of linden trees. At the far end of the road you turn into a circular entry drive. The first building in the circle is the old Cravath estate horse stable, which has been converted into the locker room and pro shop. At the far end of the circle is the handsome classic clubhouse, built of Indiana limestone in the Georgian Greek Renaissance style.
The golf course itself is a tale of three cities. Holes one through five occupy the flat, higher elevation part of the property and are the least interesting. Holes seven through fourteen occupy the flat beach/links part of the property, while holes six through eight and fifteen through eighteen are on a broad hill. Each of the three parts has a distinctive feel. The lower portion of the course is closer to Long Island Sound and is thus more impacted by the winds.
The par three eleventh hole is a stern test of golf, particularly if the wind is blowing. Its 200-yards demand a precise tee shot to hit the island green that the golfer reaches and departs from via wooden bridges. Making it even more of a challenge, the memorable hole features an 80-yard long Biarritz-style green with a large swale running through it. Teeing it up on a fine summer day at The Creek is one of the game's great pleasures.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs