Project Description

Winged Foot Golf Club (East)
New York, USA

October, 2016

Taken just days after completion (hence why there is no flagstick), the par-3 third hole of Winged Foot’s East Course was the first hole to be restored when Gil Hanse’s team began work in October 2013

Taken just days after completion (hence why there is no flagstick), the par-3 third hole of Winged Foot’s East Course was the first hole to be restored when Gil Hanse’s team began work in October 2013.

Similar to Riviera, Winged Foot should be at the top of any young architect’s list of courses to study, for there is really no reason a course of similar caliber cannot be built anywhere in the world. The site is relatively flat and tight—Winged Foot’s 36 holes together occupy roughly the same acreage as the National Golf Links of America’s 18 holes—and there are no water views. So why are the East and West Courses perennially considered among the best in the world?

Gil Hanse started off presenting his East Course restoration plan to the Winged Foot membership in the Spring of 2013 by thanking them for giving him the opportunity to spend so much time studying both golf courses and how his time on the grounds at Winged Foot had helped him evolve personally as an architect. In particular, he noted that Winged Foot’s 36 green complex were the most fascinating collection he had ever seen—even beyond Augusta—and gave him a new appreciation for the incredible imagination of A.W. Tillinghast.

While the West Course had been well maintained over the years as a result of hosting a major championship each decade, the East Course had drifted into the shadows, having not hosted a major event since the inaugural U.S. Senior Open in 1980. Like many golden age courses, the East Course was a bit too short for championship play by today’s standards, its fairways and greens had shrunk over time leaving bunkers isolated in the rough and many greens inaccessible to the ground game, and the overplanting of trees by green committees in the 1960s and 1970s had created poor turf conditions and concealed many of the property’s specimen trees.

An example of a Winged Foot bunker pre restoration with a clean lip and smooth curvature

An example of a Winged Foot bunker pre restoration with a clean lip and smooth curvature.

The same bunker post restoration with a more natural shape and grassed over edges.

The same bunker post restoration with a more natural shape and grassed over edges.

To celebrate the completion of the restoration, the East Course hosted the 100th Met Open in 2015 where a score of even par won on a course with generous fairways and a total yardage between 6750-6860 yards all three days—a shining example of how the strategic placement of bunkers and creative shaping of greens is a course’s best line of defense, not length. Less than a year later the East Course played host to the second U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship where its many risk reward holes were on full display in match play.

Above are the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball team scoring statistics from the stroke play qualifying rounds. Although the East played less than a stroke easier than the West in the 2004 U.S. Amateur stroke play qualifying rounds, it played two strokes easier in the 2016 U.S. Four-Ball team format, where having two balls in play encouraged competitors to risk taking on some of the more daring shots that the East presents compared to the West.

Above are the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball team scoring statistics from the stroke play qualifying rounds. Although the East played less than a stroke easier than the West in the 2004 U.S. Amateur stroke play qualifying rounds, it played two strokes easier in the 2016 U.S. Four-Ball team format, where having two balls in play encouraged competitors to risk taking on some of the more daring shots that the East presents compared to the West.

While much less invasive than the work he performed on Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course, Gil Hanse’s restoration of Winged Foot’s East Course is a brilliant example of how subtle changes in course maintenance and mowing patterns can greatly improve the experience had by golfers of all abilities and should be reviewed continually by superintendents. Special acknowledgement should also be given to Director of Golf Courses, Steve Rabideau, and his team at Winged Foot for their incredible contributions to this successful restoration.

Holes to Note

First hole, Reveille, 400 yards; One of the most ideal opening holes in the game, but one that never receives the attention it deserves because it is always overshadowed by its famously difficult brother on the West Course. An ideal opener should have a generous fairway and not be too long—in the spirit of first holes in Scotland—in order to allow weekend golfers to get off and playing quickly without a warmup. While being open and short, however, there should be some element of risk/reward to keep the confident player going for an early birdie in check. The first hole on the East Course combines elements of many of the great openers in the game, including St. Andrew’s double wide fairway, Prestwick’s O.B. down the right side (always in the back of a right handed slicer’s mind), and National’s challenging green complex, to provide any level of player with a wonderful balance of difficulty, risk and reward to start of the round.

By moving the bunker on the left down range 25 yards and reconnecting the fairway all the way to the left with the tenth fairway, the first hole is an inviting start for players of all skill levels.

By moving the bunker on the left down range 25 yards and reconnecting the fairway all the way to the left with the tenth fairway, the first hole is an inviting start for players of all skill levels.

Second hole, Man O’War, 515 yards; Played as a par 4 for major tournaments, the second quickly turns up the degree of difficulty from the first hole with no real birdie holes remaining on the front side until the 9th. Named after one of the greatest race horses of all time, the canted fairway requires the player to keep a “pole position” down the left side to hold it. If the player finds the rough, the ideal layup is to the end of the flat 130 yards short of the green before the fairway takes a long dip and starts to cant severely again from left to right. Those who hit a good drive and go for the green in two can only run the ball up onto the green from the far left side of the fairway to avoid the severe false front on the right, but doing so brings the green side bunkers into play. Due to the threat of the false front on the approach, most players will find themselves putting from above the hole which causes them to hit their first putt tentatively for fear of putting it off the false front they were trying to avoid in the first place.

For the amateur, the ideal third shot will come from the flat here before the fairway cants severely on approach to the green. While subtle, Gil Hanse’s fairway expansion on the left brought the fairway bunker and greenside bunker back in play for any player who tries to run the ball up the left side onto the green in two.

For the amateur, the ideal third shot will come from the flat here before the fairway cants severely on approach to the green. While subtle, Gil Hanse’s fairway expansion on the left brought the fairway bunker and greenside bunker back in play for any player who tries to run the ball up the left side onto the green in two.

Third hole, Cave, 145 yards; One of the holes that first time visitors to Winged Foot look forward to playing the most given its Augusta like setting and tempting proximity to the driveway as you enter from Old White Plains Road. The third hole had the most ambitious work done of any hole on the course during Gil Hanse’s restoration including removal of the front right bunker, taking down the trees on the ridge on the right hand side, and restoring the original green shape to recapture the full false front and the lost spine in the back left corner of the green. While the hole from the tee looks like an easy birdie, only the middle to back right section will hold a ball, making the true green size much smaller than the actual (a la Pinehurst). A miss in the left bunker will leave the player with a blind recovery shot from well below the green but this is a much easier up and down than from the shallower right bunker where most lies are on the downslope and the green falls away. Like the 12th at Augusta of similar distance, this hole begs the player to be aggressive and make a birdie, but in a stroke play event the center of the green and a par is the smart play.

Over time the third green had become smaller and circular, requiring a long carry over rough with spin out of the left bunker. The large trees around the green also limited sunlight and air circulation in this corner of the property making growing conditions difficult for a hole that received numerous pitch marks given its distance and elevated tee.

Over time the third green had become smaller and circular, requiring a long carry over rough with spin out of the left bunker. The large trees around the green also limited sunlight and air circulation in this corner of the property making growing conditions difficult for a hole that received numerous pitch marks given its distance and elevated tee.

With the expansion of the left bunker around the front of the green and removal of the short right bunker (which was not original to the design) there are now several new hole locations available that can lead to almost a guaranteed bogey depending on where the player misses the green.

With the expansion of the left bunker around the front of the green and removal of the short right bunker (which was not original to the design) there are now several new hole locations available that can lead to almost a guaranteed bogey depending on where the player misses the green.

Fourth hole, Old Soak, 585 yards; The new back tee not only provides a more seamless transition from the 3rd green to the 4th tee, but also the extra length this par 5 needed to make going for the green over the second pond a real test for today’s top players (around 545 yards to cover in two shots). For mere mortals, this is a three shot hole where many will try to cut their second shot to get it to roll down and around the far corner of the fairway. Often times the slope of the fairway will turn the ball more right than the player desires and leave the approach to the green partially blocked by the three trees that remain on the corner. The proper play is to aim for the left side of the corner which leaves a 135 yard shot from a flat lie, but aiming there brings into play a new bunker added by Gil Hanse’s restoration. Given the length of the hole, the green requires no bunkers and is receptive to shots coming over both the pond and straight on. Balls not hit solidly or with too much spin will funnel off the front right of the green back 40 yards.

Although the carry over the first pond is a only 100 yards from the middle tee, the enjoyment of sending a drive soaring over it never diminishes on this brawny par 5.

Although the carry over the first pond is a only 100 yards from the middle tee, the enjoyment of sending a drive soaring over it never diminishes on this brawny par 5.

Those not taking the heroic second shot to the right of the trees over the second pond will lay up to the corner here while avoiding the bunker for a flat approach in. Originally, Tillinghast left only a single Elm on the corner, which was sufficient in making player decide if the risk of carrying the pond on the second shot was worth the reward.

Those not taking the heroic second shot to the right of the trees over the second pond will lay up to the corner here while avoiding the bunker for a flat approach in. Originally, Tillinghast left only a single Elm on the corner, which was sufficient in making player decide if the risk of carrying the pond on the second shot was worth the reward.

Looking back from behind the green pre-restoration shows how one dimensional the fourth hole had become. Now the only trees that still remain are the three on the right, allowing a player with the length and courage to go for the green in two over the pond from a sloping fairway—a similar decision to the 13th at Augusta but with the reverse lie.

Looking back from behind the green pre-restoration shows how one dimensional the fourth hole had become. Now the only trees that still remain are the three on the right, allowing a player with the length and courage to go for the green in two over the pond from a sloping fairway—a similar decision to the 13th at Augusta but with the reverse lie.

Fifth hole, Bootleg, 440 yards; A true 90 degree dogleg right protected on the inside corner by out of bounds. The green is bisected by a spine from the front right bunker to the back left corner of the green creating a half pipe section on the left and a difficult to access back right section. The further right the hole location is, the longer the drive must be to achieve a proper angle to attack it from.

Perhaps the most demanding drive on the course. Top amateur competitors in Winged Foot’s annual Anderson Memorial Four-Ball tournament will tend to bail out left into the rough off the tee if the wind is into them in order to avoid being blocked by the trees on the right, but that further lengthens the approach shot.

Perhaps the most demanding drive on the course. Top amateur competitors in Winged Foot’s annual Anderson Memorial Four-Ball tournament will tend to bail out left into the rough off the tee if the wind is into them in order to avoid being blocked by the trees on the right, but that further lengthens the approach shot.

Sixth hole, Trouble, 195 yards; Playing slightly uphill to an elevated green with a large false front, this one shotter requires a long iron or hybrid often into the breeze which tumbles over the now exposed seventh tee behind the green. Due to the steep pitch in the green from back to front there aren’t many internal contours to it, but it is easy to hit shots from the back left bunker as well as putts from above the hole right off the front of the green.

The removal and thinning of many trees and shrubs results in…

The removal and thinning of many trees and shrubs results in…

…a more open setting where the wind is allowed to play a bigger factor on this long uphill par-3

…a more open setting where the wind is allowed to play a bigger factor on this long uphill par-3.

Winged Foot Golf Club (East) pg. ii

Seventh hole, Quaker, 480 yards; A similar approach to the 8th hole on the West Course two fairways over, the 7th is a long par 4 which allows for a properly flighted second shot to run up onto the green. Given the right to left tilt in the green, any miss on the approach must be to the left to have a chance at saving par. The back right thumb of the green is one of the toughest hole locations on the course given the hole’s length and the risk of missing the green right, but it is an excellent way to make the hole play as a half par in match play.

The vast majority of greens at Winged Foot allow for the ground game and some, such as the 7th, may even require it, particularly in the Fall as the course gets its firmest.

The vast majority of greens at Winged Foot allow for the ground game and some, such as the 7th, may even require it, particularly in the Fall as the course gets its firmest.

Eighth hole, The Hook, 450 yards; A dogleg left par 5 as the hole’s name implies that now plays as a par 4 due to advances in technology and deforestation of the inside corner of the dogleg. A new bunker on the inside corner, however, gives something else for the long hitters to think about before trying to draw it around the corner too much. The problem with converting short par 5s to par 4s though is that architects of the Golden Era made difficult greens on short par 5s to act as the main defense, expecting a short approach on the third shot to be taken. This is the case here where the green has two ridges that bisect the green into four quadrants with pronounced slopes making it arguably the toughest green to two putt of the 36 at Winged Foot regardless of the hole location. The center hole location where the ridges intersect is the easiest looking but hardest to putt to on the green with approach shots often roll off into one of the four corners and any putt up to it quickly falling away downhill past the hole.

In addition to the undulations of the green which photos cannot do justice, take note of the widening of the fairway as it approaches the green. This is an element Gil Hanse needed to work back into several approaches at Winged Foot to allow players to run balls not just up onto the green but also into the bunkers should they miss.

Ninth hole, Mercury, 410 yards; In a similar fashion to Merion, the East Course at Winged Foot has its own Drama (1-8), Comedy (9-15) and Tragedy (16-18) flow to it and the ninth marks the start of the second act with no par four over 410 yards from the tips. Playing straight away off the tee before bending to the left, the hole location dictates the precise combination of distance and spin to hit the approach close.

Taken from the back right portion of the green, the ninth green shares similar attributes to the 5th at Somerset Hills (be it on a more modest scale) with a steeply sloped front section, flat back left section protected by a bunker/tree (where the flag is today), and finally a few feet deep half pipe section in the back right.

Taken from the back right portion of the green, the ninth green shares similar attributes to the 5th at Somerset Hills (be it on a more modest scale) with a steeply sloped front section, flat back left section protected by a bunker/tree (where the flag is today), and finally a few feet deep half pipe section in the back right.

Tenth hole, Parade, 355 yards; Echoing back to an era when architects fit the course to the land, the East Course heads for home on the 10th hole instead of the 9th with a beautiful view looking towards the iconic Wendehack clubhouse, which was built with stone dug up from the property during construction when the courses were originally built. Depending on the wind direction and location of the tee marker, the cross bunker 75 yards short of the green can be carried by the longer hitter, making it driveable.

With the expansion of the 10th fairway over into the 1st fairway on the left and removal of trees there is plenty of room to miss on this short par 4, but the ideal angle is from just right of the bunkers on the left to control the direction of the spin on the second bounce into this green.

With the expansion of the 10th fairway over into the 1st fairway on the left and removal of trees there is plenty of room to miss on this short par 4, but the ideal angle is from just right of the bunkers on the left to control the direction of the spin on the second bounce into this green.

Eleventh hole, Broadway, 360 yards; Similar to the tenth, a delightful short par four that can be attacked laying up short, alongside, or carrying the fairway bunker on the right. The depth and extreme proximity of the greenside bunkers at Winged Foot provide a real challenge to the amateur player and are on full display here. After being expanded during restoration, the green now runs over 50 yards long, but the distance to the hole is tough to judge by the naked eye given the green’s slight elevation.

The lone fairway bunker and close greenside bunkers on the 11th are its primary defense given its length, but notice how there is several feet of rough between the bunkers and the fairway and the green pre-restoration. Additionally the rough has pinched in the approach area to the green, leaving only a 10 yard wide window of fairway to run a ball up.

The lone fairway bunker and close greenside bunkers on the 11th are its primary defense given its length, but notice how there is several feet of rough between the bunkers and the fairway and the green pre-restoration. Additionally the rough has pinched in the approach area to the green, leaving only a 10 yard wide window of fairway to run a ball up.

Now, post renovation, the fairway runs up the right side straight into the bunker on line with the green and the approach has been considerably expanded, allowing the ball to roll up onto and potentially off of the green into the greenside bunkers.

Now, post renovation, the fairway runs up the right side straight into the bunker on line with the green and the approach has been considerably expanded, allowing the ball to roll up onto and potentially off of the green into the greenside bunkers.

Twelfth hole, Long John, 562 yards; Similar to the second and fourth holes, the only par 5 on the back-nine requires a specific shot shape to hold the canting fairway, but this time it is a fade. The longest hitters can reach the flat at the corner, but the green here is fronted by a bunker requiring a full carry. Like most holes at Winged Foot, the green is the defense of par with extremely difficult rear hole locations on this three tiered green requiring complete spin control on the approach to access them.

After replacing a group of pine trees on the inside corner of the dogleg with the bunker above, excitement has been restored to this par-5 which can now be reached with two quality shots by longer hitters.

After replacing a group of pine trees on the inside corner of the dogleg with the bunker above, excitement has been restored to this par-5 which can now be reached with two quality shots by longer hitters.

Thirteenth hole, Cameo, 145 yards; The author’s favorite par 3 at Winged Foot where scores can range from two to eight depending on where the tee shot finishes. While not quite as short, the 13th shares the do or die qualities of the Postage Stamp at Troon with a severe false front deflecting shots that come up short and one of the deepest and largest bunkers on the property guarding the right. The most difficult hole location is the back right section which slightly protrudes out at an angle requiring right handed players to execute a gutsy fade with a short iron to access it. However, the worst miss is a pull over the left side of the green which falls off twelve feet and leaves a recovery from either hardpan or thick rough, depending on the season, to a green that runs away into the bunker on the other side.

It has been written that Winged Foot is the toughest up and down course in the world and the 13th on the East Course is Exhibit A. The right side of the right bunker is more than 12 feet below the surface of the green making it extremely difficult to get the ball to check when it lands.

It has been written that Winged Foot is the toughest up and down course in the world and the 13th on the East Course is Exhibit A. The right side of the right bunker is more than 12 feet below the surface of the green making it extremely difficult to get the ball to check when it lands.

Fourteenth Hole, Hell Bent, 410 yards; Although both courses at Winged Foot run primarily North/South, the constant change of ideal shot shape required to hold the fairway during the round grinds away at the player, especially if they can only shape it one way. The 14th requires a strong fade to not only carry the bunker on the corner but also to avoid the one straight away on the other side of the fairway.

A comfortable and inviting hole for the left to right player, but a drawer of the ball will have to take a very tight line over the right trees to avoid ending up in the far bunker.

A comfortable and inviting hole for the left to right player, but a drawer of the ball will have to take a very tight line over the right trees to avoid ending up in the far bunker.

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Out of bounds comes in very close to the green on the left side. Once again, however, the green now provides plenty of opportunity to run the ball up for the shorter hitter.

Fifteenth Hole, Shrine, 335 yards; The end of the Comedy section requiring only a 210 yard shot off the tee due to a pond hidden 70 yards short of the green, thereby forcing a final examination of spin and distance control into an elevated green. The approach is more challenging than it appears because only the severe false front of the green is visible making it difficult to trust the true yardage to the hole location on the horizon line. A miss to the right leaves the player in the deepest bunker on the property, which was not original to the course but added later on to stop balls from rolling down into the wetlands further to the right.

Aptly named Shrine with the green rising up from the pond hidden short of it. The right-to-left cant of the fairway is enough to favor a fade off the tee, but subtle enough to perhaps go unnoticed by the player on the approach, thus causing the strike to be less than perfect and the ball to come up short into the false front. It is the multiple tests of finesse such as this that distinguish the East Course from the generally longer West Course and make it arguably the more exciting course for match play.

Aptly named Shrine with the green rising up from the pond hidden short of it. The right-to-left cant of the fairway is enough to favor a fade off the tee, but subtle enough to perhaps go unnoticed by the player on the approach, thus causing the strike to be less than perfect and the ball to come up short into the false front. It is the multiple tests of finesse such as this that distinguish the East Course from the generally longer West Course and make it arguably the more exciting course for match play.

Sixteenth Hole, Hope, 450 yards; The brutal three hole finish, typically all into the wind, begins with this long uphill par four to one of the largest greens on the course. The key on the approach is to get the ball on the correct side of the ridge running down the middle of the green which will then leave some chance for a birdie.

The sixteenth green is the highest point of the property, leaving the long approach shot fully exposed to the elements. Expansion of the fairway and approach has brought all the bunkers back into play.

The sixteenth green is the highest point of the property, leaving the long approach shot fully exposed to the elements. Expansion of the fairway and approach has brought all the bunkers back into play.

Seventeenth Hole, Lightnin’, 225 yards; During the 2015 Met Open, the 17th played the toughest in relation to par. Originally the hole had the largest bunker on the course but it was removed early on due to drainage issues. In fact it was so vast and deep it was said that the only way to escape from it was with a bolt of lightning, hence the hole’s name. Gil Hanse proposed to reinstate the bunker given the capability of today’s bunker drainage technology, but it was decided not to reinstate it at this time, unfortunately. Regardless, the difficulty of the hole comes from its length playing downhill into the prevailing wind to an extremely small target when you consider the undulation caused by the 6 foot false front and large knob on the left center of the green.

Similar to the 3rd, the 17th green had become very circular and the false front had evolved into part of the fairway. The rough on the left side in particular crept in over 10 feet onto the green pad.

Similar to the 3rd, the 17th green had become very circular and the false front had evolved into part of the fairway. The rough on the left side in particular had crept in over 10 feet onto the green pad.

The green is now squarer in shape and covers the entire false front making it easier to roll up shots that failed to hold the green off the tee. The shadow on the left illuminates half of the area where the solitary bunker originally was and maybe one day will be restored.

The green is now squarer in shape and covers the entire false front making it easier to roll up shots that failed to hold the green off the tee. The shadow on the left illuminates half of the area where the solitary bunker originally was and maybe one day will be restored.

Eighteenth Hole, Taps, 470 yards; A grand finish up to the clubhouse, aided by a new back tee which doubles as a forward tee for the 12th and lengthened the hole from 410 yards to 470 yards. A ridge in the fairway tends to keep balls from rolling out, but the approach remains to the largest green on the course and a makeable putt by Winged Foot standards if the distance is right.

This fairway bunker is only 170 yards out from the 410 yard tee but is now a threat from the 470 yard tee. Again we see how the fairway edges pre-restoration had drifted significantly making it almost impossible to see a ball simply roll into this hazard. Note the proximity of the green to the “green side” bunkers and circular shape.

This fairway bunker is only 170 yards out from the 410 yard tee but is now a threat from the 470 yard tee. Again we see how the fairway edges pre-restoration had drifted significantly making it almost impossible to see a ball simply roll into this hazard. Note the proximity of the green to the “green side” bunkers and circular shape.

The 18th green had the largest expansion done on the course, almost doubling in size from the small circular green resting inside the four corner knobs to one that drapes over the front and back of all of them allowing for a lot of creativity when accessing tucked hole locations on approach and recovery shots.

The 18th green had the largest expansion done on the course, almost doubling in size from the small circular green resting inside the four corner knobs to one that drapes over the front and back of all of them allowing for a lot of creativity when accessing tucked hole locations on approach and recovery shots.

Thanks to Gil Hanse’s research and extraordinary team, Winged Foot’s East Course has come back to life and shows how even the best courses can change slowly overtime without close supervision. In many ways Winged Foot East is the ideal course. It is exceptionally walkable, has a wonderful variety of hole lengths, including two par 3s under 150 yards, and the one-of-a-kind green complexes provide more than enough defense for the elite player while allowing the amateur to run the ball up in most cases. Like the Old Course at St. Andrews, it demonstrates the greatness that can be achieved on almost any piece of property if enough thought is put into the green complexes and should be the standard aspired to by every architect regardless of the canvas they have to paint on.

The End