Named after the nightjar bird that can be heard around the golf course, Whippoorwill Club dates back to the early 1920s when Donald Ross fashioned an 18-hole layout on the east side of Whippoorwill Road in Armonk.
Perhaps due to the club acquiring some adjacent land, Charles Banks, an associate of the late, great architect Seth Raynor, was called in to redesign the layout only a few years after it had been established by Ross.
Banks moved holes 4 - 9 and 12 - 14 to the other side of the road and the fairways in this section are routed over undulating, wooded terrain with the five par fours at 5, 7, 9, 12 and 14 considered the most difficult on the scorecard.
The lush, tree-lined holes at Whippoorwill tumble over the landscape and such is the rolling nature of the terrain – even on some of the two tiered putting surfaces – that it can sometimes feel as if an even stance can only be found on the tee box of the hole being played!
The 226-yard 8th is one of four par threes on the course and it’s regarded as the signature hole on the property. A small waterfall behind the green adds spectacle to a subtly raised green site protected by two bunkers on either side of the putting surface. A par score looks reasonably attainable on the tee but not many will walk away with a three on their card.
Whippoorwill is one of the most underrated courses I’ve played in my life. The Ross/Banks (mostly Banks today) layout is one of America’s biggest hidden gems, which is incredible given its location in the hotbed of Westchester County, NY. This is the golf course you go to when you want to learn more about world-class architecture and how you “fit” the holes onto the land. Westchester is renowned for dramatic/rock-based land formations, and “the Whip” takes full advantage.
Stimulating, challenging and truly beautifully crafted holes are in abundance here. I argue that it has the greatest Biarritz hole in all of America. The replicas of the Short, Redan and Alps (to name but a few templates on display) highlight how Banks leveraged the designs of MacDonald/Raynor to true perfection. The land is painfully dramatic in places (eg: 4 to 9), but it facilitated Bank’s vision to create the most memorable holes on the course across the street from the clubhouse. Moving to the back nine, while not as turbulent, it has the strongest set of par 4s, both short and long. This course is an adventure, a test, a visual delight and incredibly exciting to hit shots over and into the magical landforms.
What does a golf course need to achieve greatness? First, it needs good terrain to start with. Second, it needs skilled designers. How about Donald Ross and “Steamshovel” Banks as designers? Whippoorwill has all of the aforementioned, yet doesn’t get recognized as one of the world’s best golf courses. Why is Whippoorwill overlooked and under-rated? Perhaps because the course is only 6,636 yard from the back tees, or because it gets lost among so many other great courses in Westchester County. Perhaps, because it doesn't get much press or outside play given that it is a very private course in an affluent area. Whatever the reason, I believe the front nine alone is worthy of cult status. The course has superb renditions of prototype holes such as Short, Eden and Biarritz which are enhanced by the hilly nature of the property. Several holes are routed through isolated valleys and Banks used his steam shovel to create some standout holes. Whippoorwill at times reminds me of Merion. Partly, this has to do with similar terrain in some places and with the general overall short nature of the course. Like at Merion, the course is split in two by a road and you have to be able to hit the ball to the correct side of the fairway or the correct side of the green in order to shoot a good score. A strategy of playing to the middle of the green won't work here due to the green shapes, slopes and severity. You must be on the right quadrant of the green depending upon where the pin is to shoot a good score. Put Whippoorwill on your private bucket list but don’t tell anyone so it remains below the radar.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs