Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Green Keeper: Mark Michaud
By the start of the last decade of the 19th century, tennis, huntand yachting clubs were the principal activities of the well heeled sporting enthusiast on the east end of Long Island. Golf had yet to arrive but that changed when a group of men (includingWilliam Vanderbilt) occasioned upon Willie Dunn at the resort in Biarritz, France in 1890. So taken were the Americans by this ‘new’ sport of golf, they hired Willie Dunn to build them a course in Southampton.
Located on treeless, sandy soil, theproperty had links characteristics though it was two miles removed from the Atlantic Ocean. Willie Dunn’stwelve hole course opened in 1892 and two years later, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club joined The Country Club in Brookline, Newport CCin Rhode Island, Chicago Golf Club, and St. Andrews in New Yorkas a charter club in the Amateur Golf Association of America (later re-named the United States Golf Association).The game of golf quickly took hold in the Hamptons and the increasedplay forced theclub to expand its coursetoeighteen holes. In 1895, the 4,400 yard course was deemed sufficient to host championships.
Overone hundredyears later, the course is considered by many as the supreme testfor championship golfin the United States. P.J. Boatwright, the former long time Executive Director of Rules and Competition at the U.S.G.A. who was not prone to extravagant praise,told the author in 1986 that hefelt Shinnecock Hills to be the finest course he had ever seen. Many who watched the 2004 U.S. Open concluded there to be no tougher examination in golf than here.
However, the credit fortoday’s ruthlesslyperfect coursedoes not lie with Dunn or Macdonald/Raynor, who consulted with the club during the 1910s. In 1927,the main east-west highway was extended through to Easthamptonand Highway 27 bisected Dunn’s golf course. With the increase in train travel and with the club unable to acquire insurance to handle the doubling crossing of the road and the train tracks, the club had little alternative but to purchase additional land to the northandto forgo theportion of the course that lay to the south of the road. This was no great loss as the newly acquired land was superior in all respects. The club hired the architecture firm of Toomey & Flynn to build a neweighteen hole course.
Work commenced in 1928 led by constructionsuperintendent William F. Gordon, and 150 indians were employeedto help with the task.Dick Wilson worked under Gordon as the labor foreman. The course re-opened for play in 1931 and itremainsToomey & Flynn’sundoubted masterpiece to this day.
Located on an expansive260 acreblock of land, Toomey & Flynn took full advantage of the scale of the property with a brilliant routing. A majority of the holes bend one way or another, thus the golfer is forever figuring out which way the wind is attacking for each shot. There are only two times (with thesecond and third and theeleventh and twelfthholes) where consecutive holes run in the same direction.
The prevailing wind was a key factor in the design, as the holes that typically play downwind (e.g., the third,twelfth and fourteenth) are longer but also open in front to allow the player to bounce the ball onto the green. The holes that are typically into the wind are shorter (e.g., thefourth and thirteenth) with tighter targets. There are only two par fives (thefifth and sixteenth), and each plays in opposite directions. While thefifth was intended to be played with the wind helping and thesixteenth with the wind hurting, each plays equally well if the wind turns 180 degrees.
Much like Muirfield in Scotland, the fairwaysarefescue lined and the golfer is likely to find himself in one of the 150 bunkers from time to time during his round. Similarly, as the R&A loves going to Muirfield for The Open, the U.S.G.A. loves going to Shinnecock Hillsfor theU.S. Open as the golfer must hit fairways in order to hold the small greens (note: surprisingly, 1995 champion Corey Pavin hit only 35 greens in regulation, with 49 other players surpassing him in that category). However, unlike Muirfield, Shinnecock, especiallythe back nine, enjoys dramatically rolling topography, which lends itself to athrilling string of first rate golf holes.
Holes to Note
1st hole, 395 yards:My brother Johnwrote an article in 1992 postulating that this is thegame’s finest opening hole. Runner-ups included Mid Ocean and Machrihanish’s openers butwho can argue with the inspiring pure golf landscape thatone soaksin from the elevatedfirst tee? As for the hole itself, the broad fairway on this gentle dogleg right is the easiest one to hit on the course. Seeing a tee ball bound down the fairway makes for a positive startto the round but it alsohighlights whatan outstanding job Green Keeper Mark Michaud has donein firming up the course’s playing conditionssince his arrival in 2000.Frequently downwind, the approach is altogether the tougher of the two shots as the green is domed and falls away on its sides and back. Thanks to Michaud’s efforts, the greens – and just as importantly, the fairwayareafive to thirtyyards prior to the greens – are as firm as any in the country on a regular basis anda shot that hits past the middle of the green may well feedeight to twelvepaces off the green, leaving a ticklish recovery. Though the greens may not have the wild interior contours as those at NGLA and Maidstone (as withRoyal County Down, too wild a set of greens would make the course over the top difficult),they nonetheless have atremendous amount of character, especially around the corners of the greens.
5 th hole, 530 yards: Downwind, the 5th isan excellentexample of a gambling, half par hole, the kind where a tiger golfer becomesfrustrated when he ‘only’ makes par (or perhaps even a bogey) instead of a birdie or eagle. In fact, its crowned green is so good that one only wishes there were a couple more such tempting/frustrating half par holes on the course.Before teeing off, the golfer needs to play this hole backward in his mind. If he elects not to go for the green in two, heis wiser to hit less than a driver off the tee to insure the second shot is from the fairway. Otherwise,the golfer hoping to bring the green within reach in two must confront a series of four diagonal bunkers off the tee down the right side of the fairway.
7th hole, 185 yards:The Redanseventh at Shinnecockis overshadowed by thefourth hole at nearby National Golf Links of America. The reasons?Theright to left pitch of this green is more severe and when coupled with its smaller putting surface, there areboth fewer ways to play the hole as well as fewer interesting hole locations. Nonetheless, this holeremains anexceptionalRedan in its own right. Built byMacdonald/Raynor in 1916, this was the only hole that Toomey & Flynn retained during their re-design.