Engineers Country Club

Seventh hole, 290 yards; A rare example of a hole that technology has improved. In Strong’s day, the golfer was most likely to lay up to the base of the hill and wedge on with the bowl shaped green collecting the ball toward the green’s middle front. Today, the tiger golfer is almost compelled to give the green a go from the tee, which is when things get interesting as a recovery from either side of the green is infinitely more difficult than from directly in front of it.

Herbert Strong built unique and memorable golf holes as frequently as any architect.

Strong’s original 7th green bunkering is seen in the left center of this aerial. A well thought out tree removal program undertaken in the past few years is opening back up the course, something that would please Strong very much.

A side view of the 7th green, where an up and down is unlikely.

Eighth hole, 355 yards; Holes like the 14th, 16th and 18th have long been long famous in American golf but Strong built a strong supporting cast of holes too. As one ticks through the holes at Engineers, there is not an indifferent one to be found. Here at the 8th, the Club appreciates what they have and the grass is keep short on the green’s back high side and golfers can bank the ball onto this modified Redan green.

The 8th is a most attractive green complex with its high right to lower left Redan characteristics.

Ninth hole, 175 yards; One thinks of the one shot holes at Rye Golf Club (70 kilometres from Strong’s home in England) when playing this hole as it is a potential card wrecker. The hole is essentially flat as the tee and green are both along a plateau but there is a twenty foot drop to the immediate right of the green complex. Strong sloped the green from left to right and thus, those who (naturally) shy away from the obvious trouble on the right will find themselves with a problematic recovery shot. Those who play confidently down the center line of the hole may be rewarded with an uphill birdie putt.

Fourteenth hole, 450yards; The 14th bends left along the edge of a steep drop off and the golfer would dearly like to hug the left in order to shorten his approach. A simple yet strategic hole, thanks to Strong’s excellent routing. In Strong’s day, the trees left weren’t as dominate and the golfer had a clearer view of the steep drop left of today’s fairway.

Fourteenth hole (a),95 yards; Other famous short one shotters like the 7th at Pebble Beach and the 8th at Royal Troon rely on the wind to further their challenge. Not so with this little brute – the green complex is so heavily fortified and the putting surface so long and thin that the hole preys on the golfer’s mind long before he reaches it.While the severe penalty for failure may be out of proportion for those who (mistakenly) insist that golf be fair, this is a stand-alone unique hole in the history of golf course architecture. Perhaps the fact that golf was more of a match play game back in Strong’s day emboldened Strong to build such an all or nothing hole – whatever the reason, it is a shame more short, waterless holes aren’t built like it. In The American Golfer in 1923 J.S. Worthington wrote a series of articles entitled “The Best Golf Holes I Have Played.” Worthington was a world traveler who visited all the great courses in America and the United Kingdom and he started his discussion on great par-3’s with the 14th at Engineers: “More malediction, praise and lamentation has been bestowed upon this particular creation than any other short hole in existence.”

The all-world 2 or 20 hole.

Sixteenth hole, 365 yards; Some green complexes appear both ruggedly defended and stunningly beautiful at the same time. Famous examples include the 2nd at Pine Valley Golf Club, the 7th at Royal Melbourne West, the the 5th at Royal County Down, and the 10th at Friar’s Head. Where the natural defenses are so interesting,  the hole in turn becomes equally arresting. Such is the case with the 16th at Engineers where the green complex is on the far side of an embankment. Strong leveled off the hillside (some would say not enough!) to create a large, wildly pitched green that falls sharply from back left to front right. The sight of this well fortified green complex as one comes over the crest of the hill stays with the golfer for a long time.

The current 16th putting surface is presently maintained at approximately half the size…

…of Strong’s original design.

This view back back up the 16th hole highlights some of the rugged attributes of the property.

Eighteenth hole, 420 yards; Following the example established by The Old Course at St. Andrews, many architects see fit for the 1st and 18th holes to parallel one another heading in opposite directions. In some cases such as Shoreacres, the ground near the clubhouse isn’t inspiring and the architect uses the two holes to get the golfer out and then back in from the better golfing terrain. However, there is no such let-down with the 18th at the Engineers.

The approach to the Home hole plays through a valley to a green well below.

The 18th green as seen eighty years ago was more heavily bunkered.

Again, Tom MacWood’s research has found this gem of a quote from Grantland Rice prior to Engineers hosting the U.S. Amateur in 1920:

‘With the rugged texture of its bordering trouble–with its baffling, sloping greens and the penalties that await mistakes, the Engineers Course near Roslyn, Long Island, will be a test that no entrant in the impending championship will ever regard as a light one…Scenic beauty and natural ruggedness are two of the outstanding features of this battlefield of golf where the finest are gathering for the next big title. Many of the leaders have tried to take it by direct assault the past two years but only a pitiful few have succeeded in returning a score with four or six strokes of par. And the ghosts of dead hopes and wrecked dreams wander in multitudes up and down the ravines and valleys and drift across the hills. While all the hazards are not so annihilating there are many spots of trouble where one might as Dante read before the gates of Infreno–All hope abandoned, ye who enter here. No young course in the history of golf, let it go back four hundred years, has come in for as much discussion and comment or has at such an early period been awarded two big championships as the golfing rendezvous of the Engineers upon Long Island’s north shore. There are those who think it the finest course in the country. There are others who look upon it as a bag of tricks and who finish a round muttering strange things. In any event it is something different in golf and since variety remains the spice of life with no able substitute, the fact that the course has attracted so much interest is not be overlooked.’

Strong’s feature rich design with its variety of hazards and bold greens was once considered ‘…the finest course in the country’ according to the astute Grantland Rice. However, these same features which made the course good enough to host a PGA Championship in its second year were also viewed by some as too quirky. Devereux Emmet was hired by the Club to consult and advise on changes after the 1920 U.S. Amateur, despite Strong still living in the area. In part, he softened the contoursof several of the greens.

And during the next 80 years, at least five other architects have altered Strong’s design as well. Still, the course of today generally plays the way that it did in Strong’s day: the set of eighteen targets more than make up for any lack of length.

Still, given the praise that reigned down on Engineers throughout the 1920s and 1930s, one can only wish that club boards at Engineers will appreciate what they once had. As the black and white photographs found by reseacher Tom MacWood for this course profile show, plenty of photographic evidence exists to act as a blueprint for fairway expansion/mowing patterns, bunker scheme and green recapturing, and additional tree removal efforts. The property and routing are still in tact and fully restored, Engineers becomes one of the must-see original designs in the world of golf – short in length but long in design character like so many of the great inland United Kingdom courses such as West Sussex and Swinley Forest.

And perhaps the great Herbert Strong would then eventually begin to get his due as well.

The stately clubhouse has seen many of golf’s greats like Gene Sarazen and Bob Jones come through its doors.

The author thanks Tom MacWood for his help and research for this course profile and for sourcing the black and white photographs.

The End