St . George’s Golf & Country Club, NY, USA

Eleventh hole, 195 yards, Maiden; These next five holes pack a wallop. Even the ace player who is in good form can see strokes mount. This attractive high point to high point one shotter leaves daunting pitches to a large tilted green for shots that come up short or right. Think about how nicely this green which rewards an aerial approach compliments its predecessor whose putting surface readily accepts low punched, running shots. Constantly shifting shot requirements are the hallmark of great designs.

Out of bounds tight left and a rumpled putting surface

Emmet wasn’t afraid to use mounds occasionally to frame his greens. Tee balls pulled at the eleventh that hit on the wrong (i.e. left) side of the mounds are certain to find out of bounds.

Twelfth hole, 420 yards, Needle E’s; Emmet’s routing is a genuine tour of the old farmland with holes leading into each and every corner. The twelfth plays down to the property’s low point before rising to a green Emmet benched seamlessly into the hillside. Upon completion of a tree management initiative, it is the only hole with trees both left and right along its playing corridor. As such, the twelfth enjoys its own personality and adds to the overall variety and fabric of the course as a whole.

Visually, the twelfth looks like the tightest drive on the course but the fairway plays wide as tee balls kick off the right hillside.

Visually, the twelfth looks like the tightest drive on the course but the fairway plays wide as tee balls kick off the right hillside.

Nestled alone in a corner of the property, the twelfth enjoys a different flavor than the exposed holes on the course.

Nestled alone in a corner of the property, the twelfth enjoys a different flavor than the exposed holes.

As seen from behind, note the tilt and wonderful ripples that define the challenge in holing out at the twelfth.

As seen from behind, note the tilt and wonderful ripples that define the challenge in holing out at the twelfth.

Thirteenth hole, 450 yards, The Knoll; One of the hardest holes on Long Island, this is “lay of the land” architecture at its best as there is no clear way to play it. Drive too far and you’re guaranteed a blind approach shot. Lay back too much and you can’t reach the green. A hole like this can’t be replicated elsewhere because its rambunctious landforms are so rare. In this case, the fall from the top of the fairway to the green is 26 feet. Mother Nature clearly gets her due but so should Emmet for seizing the dramatic landscape and enabling good golf. This looks and feels like a Home hole – and indeed it was (!) up until 1929 when the clubhouse was relocated to its current glorious perch.

This view from behind the thirteenth green highlights St. George’s magnificent topography. The golfer might be reminded of Eastward Ho! on Cape Cod whose rollicking fairways were also shaped by glacial moraines. Note the folds back up high in the fairway. In a true links manner, some days the golfer will be ale to see the flag below and others he won't.

This view from behind the thirteenth green highlights St. George’s magnificent topography. Eastward Ho! on Cape Cod and its rollicking fairways that were also shaped by glacial moraines provide one of the few comparisons in golf. Note the folds back high in the fairway. In a true links manner, the golfer will see the flag some days for his approach but not on others.

Fourteenth hole, 390 yards, Drum Sichty; The heart of the back nine (and for that matter, the course) consists of six parallel holes. The second-eighteenth-sixteenth-fourteenth-thirteenth-twelfth fairways play more or less along an east/west axis. The thought of so many parallel holes would normally make one cringe but the variety found within this segment of the course is astonishing. The fourteenth is sandwiched in the middle of this glorious stretch and the author has never seen a straight hole play in such a non-linear manner! The high point of the fairway lies near its middle. Consequently, draws feed left and fades peel right making divots quite rare in the middle of the topsy-turvy fairway. This exacerbates the approach to the large angled green, which starts front left and climbs four feet to reveal some newly reclaimed, wicked back right hole locations.

Tee balls at the fourteenth get shunted both to the right as seen above ...

Tee balls at the fourteenth get shunted both to the right as seen above …

... as well as left where trees can become problematic.

… as well as left where trees can become problematic.

Fifteenth hole, 165 yards, Bastion; This green possesses defiant interior contours to the point where legend has it that Saint George slew a dragon and buried it beneath the putting surface. Emmet throws lots of different looks at the golfer throughout the round (the walled off fourth green complex, the open tenth that begs for a running approach, the knob seventeenth). The targets (i.e. the greens) are intermediate in size, averaging 4,575 square feet. This one is larger and gave Emmet space to ‘bury the dragon’ and its humps have confounded several generations of golfers. Right handed hole locations are vicious thanks to the firm playing surfaces and the sloping, short grass banks presented by Jessie. Knowing this, more than one member hits the ball ‘safely’ left only to find himself on the wrong side of the humps. An indelicate putting effort can see the ball roll past the hole, off the green, and into the bunkers at the base of the green pad.

The domed putting surface makes helps the fifteenth play every bit as good as it looks.

The domed putting surface makes the fifteenth play every bit as good as it looks. As part of the club’s continued march toward perfection, the cart path above will be altered/removed in 2014.

As seen from back right of the green, one readily appreciates the menace posed by the tandem of the short grass and the slopes that feed off the fifteenth green complex.

From back right of the green, one readily appreciates the menace posed by the tandem of the short grass and slopes that feed off the fifteenth green complex.

Sixteenth hole, 320 yards, Water Kelpie; As he did at Garden City Golf Club and throughout his more noted designs, Emmet employed small mounds. Fields of mounds are used to separate playing corridors between this hole and the Home hole and also ring the green at the next. When they are low and randomly placed, such mounds lend playing interest while providing an old fashioned feel. More importantly, they dish out a wide variety of stances and lies for those who encounter them. If they are avoided on the tee shot and the fairway is found, the sixteenth becomes an opportunity to repair one’s score from the bloodshed that likely occurred on the preceding five holes.

The big picture at St. George's looks great these days; now Jessie and his crew focus on getting the small details right like having the sixteenth fairway flow directly into this string of fairway bunkers down the lower right side of the sixteenth fairway

The big picture at St. George’s looks great these days; now Jessie and his crew focus on getting the small details right like having the sixteenth fairway flow directly into this string of fairway bunkers down the lower right side of the sixteenth fairway. St. George’s remains liberally bunkered with 117 sand pits. As seen above and elsewhere throughout this profile, many are ‘gathering’ in nature, an attribute that Jessie delights in maximizing.

This disconsolate man just finished repairing his ball mark. At one point, he had high hopes for his short iron approach. Instead, he finds his ball well back down the hill to just in front of his bag, leaving a ticklish recovery from tight short grass.

This disconsolate golfer just finished repairing his ball mark on this evilly small, sub-3,000 square foot green. At one point, he had high hopes for his short iron approach. Instead, he finds his ball well back down the hill to just in front of his bag, leaving a ticklish recovery from tight short grass.

The drive and pitch sixteenth green is in the foreground and the tiny one shot seventeenth is in the back. Together, they represent two of the most demanding back-to-back short iron shots in the game.

The drive and pitch sixteenth green is in the foreground and the tiny one shot seventeenth is in the back. Together, they represent two of the most demanding back-to-back short iron shots in the game. Why? In part because their combined green size is barely over 6,100 square feet. To put that in perspective, the 16th and 17th greens are the size of a single green that was typically built in the 1960s and 1970s. Such small targets in a windy environ like Long Island inevitably prove hard to find. To make matters even more taxing, many of the ensuing recovery shots are no bargain either.

Seventeenth hole, 125 yards, Sunken Forest; One of the most unusual penultimate holes in golf is all the better for it. It’s tempting to consider this a kin of Herbert Strong’s ‘2 or 20’ hole located at Engineers Country Club some thirty miles away. It is simply a hit it or else proposition featuring a tiny green (3,165 square feet) fronted by a pair of 13 foot deep bunkers. One might take comfort in its short length but that’s before hoisting a wedge high into the air on a windy day. Unlike long par threes, every golfer steps on this tee knowing  – in theory –  that this hole is within his playing ability.  Reality can deliver an altogether different, harsher message. The false front is almost 25% of the putting surface, reducing the hitting area to well under 2,500 square feet.

In this age of perfect mechanics and hundred and thirty mile per hour club speed, length is rendered immaterial. To test the best, architects need to throw in some fiddly shots that compel strong players to gear down. That’s an effective way to distinguish the player from the range jockey.

In this age of perfect mechanics and hundred and thirty mile per hour club speed, length is rendered immaterial. To test the best, architects need to throw in some fiddly shots that compel strong players to gear down. That’s an effective way to distinguish the player from the range jockey.

The golfer provides a sense of scale to the nasty pits that front the seventeenth green. One also gains a sense of the wicked nine yard long false front. If the golfer in the bunker doesn't carry his recovery shot at least twenty yards, he will likely get another chance.

The golfer provides a sense of scale to the nasty pits that front the seventeenth green. One also gains a sense of the wicked nine yard long false front. If the golfer in the bunker doesn’t carry his recovery shot at least twenty yards, he will likely get another chance. The only good news? Today’s 60 degree sand wedges make recovery shots much easier than in the days of hickory shafted niblicks (a.k.a. today’s nine iron)!

Eighteenth hole, 535 yards, Hame; The hole’s name is not a typo, it merely reflects Emmet’s appreciation for the Scots and their brand of golf. For many reasons –  its whopping (!) 22 bunkers,  the most pronounced interior green contour on the course, and its  1/2 par nature – this is one of the game’s most interesting Home holes. It played originally as the eighth hole and later as the sixth until the club borrowed money to build the long winding entrance drive and clear the land in 1929. As this was the start of the Great Depression, it was hardly the ideal time to build a clubhouse. Yet, Emmet was already up in years and he would pass away in 1934. One presumes he pushed hard to see the clubhouse completed at its present high location during his lifetime. Its location affords sweeping views across nearly half the course and allows the course to build through the round, ending with one of the great nine holes on Long Island or anywhere for that matter. For some members, their favorite par 4, par 3 and par 5 on the course are the last three holes. It was a stroke of genius and good for Emmet that he got to see it here during his lifetime. His dream course was fully realized.

Can the golfer hit a bullet three wood and perhaps reach the putting surface in two? It is a thrilling shot to try. Most golfers play well away from the broken ground that is strewn with bunkers and look to pitch the ball onto the two tiered green  in three.

Can the golfer hit a bullet three wood and perhaps reach the putting surface in two? It is a thrilling shot to try. Most golfers play well away from the broken ground that is strewn with bunkers and look to pitch the ball onto the two tiered green in three.

A delicate shot from a tight lie is often times the last thing that a golfer wishes to confort at a Home hole, especially if his nerves are frazzled.

A delicate shot from a tight lie is often times the last thing that a golfer wishes to confront late in the round when his nerves are frazzled. Note the big knob seen underneath the flagpole; its presence signifies the divide between the lower (easier) and upper (harder) portions of the green. Hole locations on the lower tier can yield birdies as golfers use the tier as a backstop. Accessing upper hole locations requires a more deft approach – the third one in as many holes. St. George’s preys on the golfer’s nerves coming down the stretch like few other courses.

This view from behind the eighteenth green shows both the ridge through the green as well as the hole's right to left elbow. What a spot to enjoy a refreshment afterwards! This big open area which houses a third of the holes is the fescue American version of a wide open heath in England. There's no better inland form of golf than that.

This view from behind the eighteenth green shows both the ridge through the green as well as the hole’s right to left elbow. What a spot to enjoy a refreshment afterwards! This large open area, which houses a third of the holes, is the American fescue version of a heath in England. Many consider heathland golf as golf’s finest inland form.

Situated on Long Island, St. George’s is surrounded by world class golf. Getting recognition in such a tough neighborhood isn’t easy, even though St. George’s would be the best course in at least half the American states. One wonders why a course with so many stand-out holes isn’t better appreciated. The answer is that Emmet’s achievements weren’t on full display from the 1960s through 2000. My how things have changed! Now the club/course is set to get its proper due. So too is Emmet who has been an underappreciated central figure during the Golden Age because his key designs like this one weren’t well presented. With his treasure at St. George’s near his family estate back in full force, his own distinctive brand of golf course architecture can be heralded once again.

The End