The Maidstone Club
New York, United States of America

Green Keeper: John Genovesi

Maidstone’s coastal setting makes it a standout in North America. Beyond that, though, its presentation is also unique compared to many United Kingdom links whose dunes are smothered by coastal grasses. As a result, Maidstone enjoys a sandy, rich texture virtually unmatched in world golf.

A renewed sense of Willie Park Junior and his contributions to architecture has emerged this century. His work at Sunningdale Old in 1899 and Huntercombe in 1901 had a profound influence on many subsequent architects, including Hugh Alison, J.F. Abercromby and Sir Guy Campbell. After seeing Huntercombe in 1901, Walter Travis wrote in Golf Illustrated that it was:

‘…easily the best laid out links I have ever played over anywhere. There, in order to negotiate the round properly, you must be a master in the art of both scientific slicing and pulling, and be able to get the full measure of every conceivable stroke that occurs in the game, or else can be subject to some penalty – in short, every shot has to be played for all its worth. That is GOLF.’

Travis’s remarks sum up Maidstone as well, though Park didn’t design Maidstone for another twenty-one years. In fact, around the world in 1922, Park may well have been the architect of choice. For instance, he had recently completed Woodway Country Club in Connecticut, having been selected ahead of Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and Seth Raynor.

Just how far has an appreciation for Park come in recent times? One example occurred at Meadowbrook outside of Detroit, when it elected in 2014 to unify its Golden Age course under Park’s design style. That’s saying something because Donald Ross had also worked there, and if the club had wanted to play the ‘name game’, it might well have gone the route of Ross. Instead, architect Andy Staples toured Park’s work in England as well as here at Maidstone to learn all he could about Park’s design ethos. As a result of Staples’s ‘retrovation’, Meadowbrook has never been more popular and in demand, highlighted by some scintillating Park influenced greens.

While at the height of his powers, Park was given his finest piece of property in North America when Maidstone acquired the 80 acres of the Gardiner Peninsula in 1922. The south end is framed by a 1,000 yard stretch of sand dunes with the Atlantic Ocean on the other side and the soil is sandy throughout. Today’s fourth green through the fifteenth reside on this thrilling parcel. No other architect at Maidstone ever had this coastal property at his disposal, from Willie Dunn who laid out a rudimentary seven hole course for the club in 1891 to Seth Raynor who drew up re-design plans in 1921.

The exhilaration builds as one crosses the bridge onto the Gardiner Peninsula.

Park’s routing on the 80 acres on Gardiner’s Peninsula and the other 50 acres is masterful as he introduces numerous forms of hazards at all sorts of angles to the player, including a marsh, Hook Pond, sand dunes, beach grass, reeds, well placed bunkers, and out-of-bounds. With such a variety of hazards, Maidstone reminds one of famed Royal North Devon in England. Additionally, his routing bore in mind the ever present wind and no three holes head in the same direction. Many holes elbow one direction or another.

Having won The Open in 1887 and again in 1889, Park was a world class player with a keen appreciation for how to challenge the golfer. One skill that he particularly admired was the art of putting and few courses can compete with the imaginative green contours he created here, highlighted by a slew of greens with dramatic false fronts including the first, second, third, sixth, tenth, thirteenth and fourteenth holes. The putting surfaces are central to the challenge for the ace player at Maidstone and Greenkeeper John Genovesi has maintained them for the past nine years in a fast and firm manner that would please Park to no end.

Indeed, Genovesi’s arrival in 2010 was well-timed as the club shortly thereafter extended an offer to Coore & Crenshaw to restore their course. Coore & Crenshaw’s desire to beat back the brush and undergrowth, return width to the playing corridors, re-establish Maidstone’s coastal roots and expand the putting surfaces to the green pad edges were vital things with which Genovesi concurred. From Coore & Crenshaw’s perspective, they saw the opportunity to increase playing interest for all level of players and as always, they sought to make their own involvement ‘invisible’, meaning Maidstone would only be thought of as a Park design from the Golden Age.

Having said that, it is vital to give a tip of the hat to Coore & Crenshaw and their crew for what they accomplished. Toby Cobb ran the project day-to-day and Jeff Bradley and Dave Zinkand were there throughout. Additionally, Dave Axland and Quinn Thompson joined in from time to time. A tremendous amount of time and energy was expended pulling back the brush and thicket and exposing the glorious natural landforms and dunescape. Many prominent features had been covered up and with the work done, the course once again enjoys a fabulous panoply of colors and textures.

No matter what direction one turns, the landscape at Maidstone is one of pure golf.

The last aspect – recapturing Park’s greens – is a subject matter worthy of great attention. In 2010, the eighteen greens measured 81,318 square feet, or an average of 4,518 square feet per green. In 2019, the greens measure 118,637 square feet for an average of 6,591 square feet. Think about that – that’s an increase of 46%! Statistically, that is quite dramatic but the end results might be even more startling because so many fantastic contours were uncovered. In the process, numerous perimeter hole locations have been reintroduced, many of which happen to be among the greens’ most vexing. To say it is a ‘new’ course would be an overstatement but many of its members are stunned by the number of ‘new’ hole locations that they never recall experiencing.

Bill Coore, who knows a thing or two (!) about building great greens, has this to say, ‘Maidstone enjoys extraordinarily gifted greens as they are both beautifully artistic and still work well for golf. That is a very hard thing to pull off yet Park produced a set of greens that feature the exact right combination of contours and elevation changes for a site with that amount of wind. The greens are perfect for that site, which is something that only a limited number of courses can claim.’

We highlight these exceptional greens as we tour the course below but here is the point: Before the restoration, critics judged Maidstone based on its coastal holes, which are alarmingly wonderful but not many in number. To the author, the more appropriate way to view the course now is one whereby all eighteen holes are unified by virtue of their remarkable greens. Whether the target (a.k.a. the green) is by the ocean or inland is immaterial as regardless, the player is given something beguiling to do, each and every hole. Park’s engrossing greens tie the course together and the golfer needs to have his wits about him from the moment he tees off.

Holes to Note

First hole, 425 yards; What may seem like a straightforward start can turn into anything but! A cornerstone design tenet of Golden Age designs is that the golfer is given room off the tee with the screws tighten the closer he gets to the green. That’s exactly what occurs here and Park was a master at it because he could build outstanding greens. Over time, the good player realizes that where he places his ball in the fairway can be advantageous to certain hole locations and that being slightly out of position on one’s approach shot has consequences.

Flowing downhill, the expansive 1st fairway instills confidence that the perched green can quickly destroy.

Though the green measures nearly 6,700 square feet, the effective area for hole locations is only half that, courtesy of the dramatic false front and soft sides. A ball with too much spin can hit ten paces onto the green and finish well off. As at Pinehurst No. 2, the process begins of examining the golfer’s mental strength.

Second hole, 560 yards; An advantage that the Golden Age architects enjoyed over modern ones is that they could incorporate out of bounds into their designs. In today’s litigious society, that is less likely. Take the second where a road parallels the hole along the left from tee to green. Park made no effort to shield the golfer’s eye from it (though obviously less traveled then, it was nonetheless out-of-bounds). In addition, out-of-bounds hems in the hole from the right but Park angled the green so as to best accept an approach from the right edge of the fairway. Given the same bit of property, a modern architect would almost assuredly elect to ‘hide’ the road with artificial containment mounds (thus reducing a psychological terror of the hole) and would not tempt the golfer to seek the better angle to the green by playing out to the right.

Out-of-bounds left and right with hazards everywhere – good luck.

Similar to the Road Hole at St. Andrews, no joy is derived from playing up the left of the hole. Better to …

… aim away from the flag on one’s second and approach the shallow green from the right. Coore & Crenshaw expanded this angled green by over 65% (!) and in so doing, re-introduced nearly 10 lost perimeter hole locations. The need to lay up to the proper place in the fairway is more acute now than ever.

Third hole, 410 yards; One of a handful of straight holes on the course, Park created interest at the green with a false front as well as a rise in the middle of the green. Whether downwind or into it, the optimal approach is often along the ground. Willie Dunn’s original seven holes were mostly to the right of this fairway, and Dunn’s efforts account for the 1891 underneath the club’s whale logo. None of Dunn’s features are included in today’s 1922 course that was built during the height of the Golden Age.

The 3rd may be straight but is full of playing interest.

The false front is evident in this view from the left rough.

Fourth hole, 240/175 yards; The fourth transitions the golfer onto the property’s seaside portion. The tee itself is in the middle of Hook Pond and the author wishes he knew more about what was required to build it. In a moment of rare, open hostility (!) toward the player, Coore & Crenshaw created a tee near the third green, which turns this hole into a 240 yard monster. Obviously, the tee is used only under certain wind conditions but many Golden Age architects felt no remorse in asking for a three wood or driver to a one shot hole. Clearly, Coore & Crenshaw share a similar sentiment and to be fair, they expanded the green to nearly 10,000 square feet, making it the course’s largest target.

The view across the 3rd green with the 4th green in the distance. Coore & Crenshaw’s new back 4th tee is near the 3rd green and the nicest thing that the player may think about it is that it shortens the green to tee walk!

The sight of the water leads most golfers to reach for the longer club should indecision exist. And yet, should one go over, Park’s six foot deep trench is no bargain from which to recover.

Fifth hole, 325 yards; The author considers Maidstone to be one of the world’s most clever designs. Why? Because Park does everything possible to unsettle the golfer. To support that contention, let’s compare it to Pine Valley, a course with even more exposed sand. At Pine Valley, there are no drivable two shot holes or reachable three shotters. The goal is to hit the fairway, many of which are essentially ‘islands’, and then the green. Because the pressure is unrelenting, the author has always found the design to be surprisingly conducive to sliding into a good swing rhythm and maintaining it throughout the round. Put another way, there is no point in heroics as it is hopeless to attempt to overpower Pine Valley; no one is dumb enough to even try. At Maidstone, a big, well placed drive can make a full stroke difference on at least one third of its holes, including here, which can be driven under certain conditions. Does the golfer get wooed by such opportunities or does he possess the self-restraint to ‘swing within himself’ and manage his game? All gofers know the correct answer but Park makes it supremely tempting to act foolishly, overswing and play the hero. To know when to thrust and when to parry at Maidstone is an art form.

The sight of exposed sand increases and the coastal aspects of the property are amplified at the 5th with bunkers both left …

… and right. Numerous interesting hole location exist, including those tucked behind the front right bunker and along the elevated back edge.

A highlight of Maidstone’s design is captured above, namely the variety and appeal of its green backdrops. In this case, back hole locations leave the golfer with the sensation that the flag is floating in Hook Pond.

Sixth hole, 405 yards; Coore & Crenshaw reintroduced a favorite design tenet here, namely what Max Behr referred to as ‘the line of instinct’ and ‘the line of charm.’ The line of instinct is the direct line between the tee and the flag and it is broken up by natural features. It represents the shortest distance between the tee and green and generally, the more the drive adheres to that line, the easier one’s approach. The line of charm differs as it is the safer play from the tee (away from the line of instinct) but alas, the approach is more difficult. Applying those principles here, the line of charm is to play safely left from the tee, though the approach then becomes problematic as Park cut a fierce bunker into a ridge front left of the green and built one of his all-time finest putting surfaces that cascades three feet from high left to lower right. The left bunker and green contour work in concert to thwart approaches from the left. Meanwhile, the line of instinct has the player carrying his tee ball longer over trouble for the sake of gaining the prefered playing angle from the right edge of the fairway for one’s second. Before Coore & Crenshaw’s arrival, the line of instinct didn’t exist as approach shots from the right weren’t obtainable due to unchecked growth of reeds and low-lying vegetation. With the reeds now gone, the sight of the flag acts as a siren and the playing angle is restored with the golfer needing to balance the desire for safety left against approaching from the right.

The distant yellow flag between the players was once invisible from the tee, hidden behind reeds.

In fact, this pair of bunkers was uncovered by Coore & Crenshaw as they pulled back the reeds along the right.

Maidstone’s greens are vastly underrated. To the author, they rank as a set among the two dozen or so finest in golf. Hats off to Park and Coore & Crenshaw – and to the club for being such a good custodian.

Seventh hole, 335 yards; Doglegs on tree-lined courses often devolve into nothing more than a straight shot off the tee followed by another straight one to the green with playing angles lost to tree growth. Maidstone stands at the other end of the spectrum, boasting fabulous diagonal playing angles off the sixth, seventh, sixteenth and seventeenth tees where the golfer must judge how much to bite off. Such tee balls epitomize ‘heroic’ architecture as a huge carry is often times greeted with a commensurately huge reward. With the Atlantic Ocean within 200 yards, the wind is an ever present issue and the proper line changes from morning to afternoon, making it a prime example of why Maidstone remains fresh to play year after year.

The second of four sensational diagonal tee balls where the line can vary ~70 yards depending on the wind.

With Hook Pond right, plenty of approaches are nervously steered left into this awaiting bunker. Note how Genovesi and his crew diligently drape the putting surface toward the bunker, ensuring that the bunker plays even bigger than its footprint.

Eighth hole, 150 yards; One of Long Island’s most famous one shot holes is, ironically, not as Park designed it as his entire green was visible from the tee when the course opened. As exemplified at Sunningdale Old, his approach to course design eschewed blind approach shots while seeking to provide pleasure to the greatest number of people. Park passed away in 1925 and heavy storms throughout the 1930s and 1940s moved the sand dune inland and made the tee ball blind. An irate board member in the early 1960s leveled the sand dune with a tractor to the way it more or less is today, which is to say that the left half of the green is visible from the tee. A peek of the tip of the yellow flag is sometimes afforded just over the dune when the hole is set right. Though Park might disagree, today’s hole is a rare treat/thrill in American golf where the quest for perfect visuals and ‘fairness’ have contributed to blah designs for too long.  At its highest level, the sport must contain mystery – and this hole does in spades.

Only the left half of the 8th green is visible from the tee.

The formalized bunkering blends seamlessly with the dune as seen from in front and …

… from behind.

Continued >>>