Fan out 40 minutes from Westchester County’s Winged Foot Golf Club, site of the U.S. Open, and you’ll find a foursome of distinctive must-play public courses: Saxon Woods, Trump Golf Links, Pound Ridge and Van Cortlandt Park
Westchester County, New York boasts one of the sport’s richest golf course veins, filled with both Golden Age greats and modern classics. Unfortunately, nearly all of them reside behind locked gates, including Winged Foot Golf Club, site of the 2020 U.S. Open.
Don’t despair, however.
Within a short drive, a handful of worthy public playgrounds await. Prolific architect Stephen Kay, who has designed or renovated more than 50 courses in the Met Area alone, helps explore where you can tee it up near Winged Foot.
SAXON WOODS GOLF COURSE | Scarsdale, N.Y.
Distance from Winged Foot:1.9 miles | 5-minute drive time
Just north of U.S. Open host town Mamaroneck, Saxon Woods is one of six municipal courses operated by Westchester County. A product of architect Tom Winton, Saxon Woods opened in 1931. Several sources attribute the design to A.W. Tillinghast, who created Winged Foot and who redesigned nearby Quaker Ridge, but more reputable scholars cite this as wishful thinking.
The Scottish-born Winton served as superintendent and ultimately the in-house designer for the Westchester County Parks Commission. He laid out Mohansic in 1925, Maple Moor in 1927 and Sprain Brook in 1928 before he completed Saxon Woods.
At 6,300 forested yards, par 71, the premium at Saxon Woods is on accuracy. Among the better holes are the narrow, semi-blind, 511-yard, par-5 third; the 308-yard, par-4 11th, which calls for two creek carries; and the 152-yard, par-3 16th, which plays downhill over a creek to a slender green framed by bunkers.
“For the most part,” Kay said, “the Westchester County municipal golf courses are just your basic average courses. If you lived in lower Manhattan or on Staten Island, you’re not going to drive out to Westchester to play Saxon Woods or Maple Moor.”
TRUMP GOLF LINKS AT FERRY POINT|Bronx, N.Y.
Distance from Winged Foot:13 miles | 21-minute drive time
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, there’s a broad consensus that Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point is a winner. Situated south of Winged Foot, Trump Ferry Point occupies a remarkable tract, a former landfill adjacent to the Whitestone Bridge and with backdrops that include the East River, Long Island Sound, the Throgs Neck Bridge and the Manhattan skyline.
Even more remarkable is that Trump Ferry Point is a New York City-owned muni. It costs up to $225 for non-residents, but it’s a justifiable cost, given that it delivers the ultimate Gotham golf experience. Conditions are Tour-level, the new clubhouse is elite level and the Jack Nicklaus design (with architect John Sanford collaborating) serves up many memorable holes.
Natural-looking dunes topped with wavy fescue grasses frame nearly every hole, yielding a links-like look. At 7,407 yards, it will test the best, but there are few forced carries to torment the duffer. Highlights include the 425-yard, par-4 ninth and the 576-yard, par-5 18th that play practically onto the entrance ramp to the Whitestone Bridge as well as the 441-yard, par-4 13th that wows with the cityscape. Best is the 487-yard, par-4 16th that dishes out a fairway ribboning through shaggy-fringed bunkers and wetlands with an East River background.
VAN CORTLANDT PARK GOLF COURSE |Bronx, N.Y.
Distance from Winged Foot:14 miles | 23-minute drive time
Public linksters, this is your mecca.
Van Cortlandt was America’s first municipally-owned, public-access course, opened as a nine-holer of 2,561 yards in 1895. In 1899, architect Tom Bendelow designed nine more holes. Subsequent highway expansions altered the course further in the mid-1930s and in 1949. Today, holes Nos. 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 12, 13 and 14 occupy the ground that housed the original nine.
These days, this north Bronx shrine measures 6,002 yards and plays to a par 70. Somehow, they squeezed in two monstrous, parallel par 5s, the 619-yard second and the 572-yard 12th.
“The design is nothing to write home about,” said Kay, who is consulting architect to seven of New York City’s 15 municipal courses, including Van Cortlandt, “except that it’s the oldest public course — reason enough to play it. Plus, it’s usually in pretty good shape and has some interesting holes.”
Among Kay’s front-nine favorites are the 364-yard, par-4 fourth; the 222-yard, par-3 seventh (“it’s got a nice two-level green”); and the 391-yard, par-4 ninth. On the back nine, Kay favors the 12th, where a pond on the right requires a risk/reward decision on the second shot; the 172-yard, par-3 13th that plays over water; and the drivable 338-yard, par-4 18th, which tumbles downhill from an elevated tee.
Admittedly, play at Van Cortlandt can be painfully slow, but it’s cheap, it’s fun, it’s historic and it’s accessible by subway. That makes it a must play.
POUND RIDGE GOLF CLUB | Pound Ridge, N.Y.
Distance from Winged Foot:25 miles | 40-minute drive time
So demanding is this privately-owned public course that if blight suddenly afflicted Winged Foot’s greens, Pound Ridge could step in and not miss a beat on the difficulty meter. Located northeast of Winged Foot in northern Westchester County, on the Connecticut border, Pound Ridge is a 2008 Pete and Perry Dye design that features all of the family hallmarks. Hewn from rolling, wooded terrain studded with wetlands and exposed rock outcroppings, Pound Ridge pounds the golfer with pot bunkers, sharp-edged hazards and medium-size, maddeningly contoured greens.
At 7,165 yards, par-72 from the tips, the course boasts a forbidding rating of 76.0 and slope of 150. Even from the middle tees at 6,261 yards, it carries a 142 slope, which indicates there is trouble lurking everywhere. There are stunning holes as well. The 480-yard, par-5 13th demands a semi-blind drive over Pete’s Rock, and the 174-yard, par-3 15th features a shallow green sandwiched by wetlands. Thoughts of a massive rock outcropping on the 15th will linger — or perhaps haunt — long after the round.
Kay has a final piece of advice for golfers orbiting Winged Foot in search of a great golf experience. “Don’t do it at rush hour.”
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