The Maidstone Club
New York, United States of America

Ninth hole, 415 yards; Few better courses to glean an understanding of minimalism than Maidstone. In general, minimalism refers to the desire of the architect to disturb as little dirt as required to provide good golf. Examples abound at Maidstone whereby an insignificant amount was moved tee to green other than the green site itself. Yet, the ninth is a fine example of minimalism too even though the architect moved more dirt here than any hole on the course. How can that be?! The concept of minimalism is to root the hole in nature. In this case, the 80 acres of the Gardiner Peninsula was mostly flat as it stretched from Hook Pond toward the Atlantic. Park, in a moment of brilliance, hollowed out an area parallel to the primary duneline and created a secondary, albeit faux, dunescape eighty yards inland. Such a long, shallow valley between dunes existed east of the clubhouse and perhaps Park took note of it. Regardless, in one fell swoop, Park created space for the glorious ninth fairway as curls between the two dunelines and gave the tenth its own voice. Both holes are great because he moved dirt, though it was so thoughtfully done that most people consider them to be the course’s most natural holes. Now that’s talent.

This low valley between two dunelines is east of the clubhouse and Park created something similar some 875 yards away on clubhouse’s other side when he …

… hollowed out an area for the 9th fairway and moved the fill to the left to create what appears to be a natural dunescape. In this manner, he gave seclusion to the 9th and 10th holes respectively.

The cross bunker in the foreground slashes into the fairway 345 yards from the tee. Should the golfer not find the fairway, a pitch shot from short of it becomes a likely scenario for one’s third, another example of the accurate driver gaining an advantage at Maidstone. The real showpiece is the nearly 8,000 square foot, angled green rife with contour.

The ten foot deep ‘Yale Bowl’ becomes visible as one nears the green. The putting surface was expanded by over 50%, highlighted by the fact that its front left extends out of the photograph and today’s back right hole location wasn’t possible in 2010.

Tenth hole, 415 yards; Unlike Pebble Beach’s legendary ninth and tenth holes, the ninth and tenth here play in opposite directions. Which pair is better is up for debate but the dilemma faced here is materially different. The golfer may try to hold a three wood approach under the wind at the ninth and a few moments later, try to control his wedge from going over the tenth green (or vice versa). What makes this of note? Maidstone’s two holes are identical in length! For the past thirty minutes or so, since arriving at the eighth tee, the golfer has played what is arguably as fine a three hole stretch as exists in the United States. Fans of nearby Shinnecock Hills (14-16), Fishers Island (3-5), Pebble Beach (8-10), Cypress Point (15-17) and Augusta National (11-13) will each lobby for their cause but regardless, Maidstone is in the conversation.

The 10th green sits on top of a hillock and its wicked green drops nearly six feet from back to front. Over is worse than short though …

… as short leaves the unhappy prospect of a ball being repelled all the way back into this bunker.

Eleventh hole, 465 yards; Holes of enormous distinction were created in and amongst the dunes to the point where Bernard Darwin wrote that they were ‘the finest stretch I have ever seen in America.’ Park’s real challenge was to knock character into the other holes so that the overall quality of the course remained of a high standard. That he did, as freshly witnessed here and at twelve. Given the standard of architecture across all eighteen holes, realization starts to dawn that perhaps no architect could have rendered a finer course from this property than Park. Yes, there were bountiful natural features but there were challenges too including a multi-prong road and flattish land that had to be overcome. Pick your all-time favorite architect: could he have done better? The increasingly popular viewpoint is ‘no.’

The player who can shape the ball enjoys a marked advantage at Maidstone. A draw around the inside nest of bunkers does nicely at the attractively bunkered dogleg left 11th.

Anyone who enjoys the pleasures of golf in the United Kingdom will delight in figuring out where to land one’s approach on the fine fescue/bent mix fairway and watch it release onto the putting surface.

Twelfth hole, 185 yards;  Similar to the eleventh, the twelfth might not endear the same passion as the dunes holes but nonetheless, is a very fine hole crafted by Park across ground devoid of much interest. The entrance to the green is an extension of the fairway, and Park built up and tilted the green so that the putting surface is in plain sight from the tee.

Though situated on flat land, the one shot 12th is visually appealing without appearing manufactured.

As seen from back right, the rear of the green is a peninsula with a drop off on all sides. Kudos to Genovesi and his crew for the delicate manner in which they fold the putting surface over the soft sides. Two holes later at the other one shotter on this nine, Park flared up the sides and back of the 14th green, in marked contrast to here. Variety is once again a hallmark of Maidstone’s greens.

Thirteenth hole, 535 yards; The chess game with Park continues at this long hole with playing angles galore, highlighting that Maidstone is about positioning the ball time and again to leave oneself with the best opportunity for the next shot. The members appreciate this component of the design better than the first time player, which helps to explain their undying loyalty to Park’s design. As with so many of the green complexes here, this one is angled to reward an approach shot from a particular spot in the fairway.

The long thirteenth transports the golfer into the dunes in a zigzag manner: first left, then right, then left to the green.

Another superlative false front simultaneously adds playing interest and an intense appreciation of the ground game. The tiger is satiated by the sight of a ball drawn by his 3 wood that bounds along the ground and clambers onto the top plateau. Meanwhile, the rest of us delight in a delicately played wedge whereby the ball lands beyond the false front and stays on top. All players regardless of their skill level find enjoyment and satisfaction.

Fourteenth hole, 150 yards; One of golf’s magical spots, this one shotter is set entirely in the dunes with the Atlantic Ocean as the backdrop. There is a tee and a green surrounded by scrub and bunkers – and that’s it. Park’s ‘less is more’ mentality shines through in such situations as too many other architects would have sought to make a statement. Not Park – let nature shine. Few holes compare, though the third at Kittansett comes to mind as a similar length hole ensconced in nature whose green also presents a ‘hit it or else’ proposition. Both holes quickly turn from friend to foe based on the wind.

The picture perfect (!) short 14th plays to a green ringed with trouble. Its natural sumptuous setting and clean lines lend the hole a regal quality.

Fifteenth hole, 495 yards; Coore & Crenshaw prefer building original designs to restoration work. A minor miracle is required to get them to agree to a restoration project, but once they do, they invariably place emphasis on improving the least distinguished holes, of which this was one as it was linear, cramped and devoid of strategy. The only necessity in 2010 was to hit the ball straight. What did Coore & Crenshaw do? First, they reintroduced the dunescape between the tee and fairway. After all, the tee sits high on a dune overlooking the Atlantic, so why not?! Second, they cleared back the thicket that closed in from both sides, making the hole less narrow and more multidimensional. Third, they introduced a pair of central hazards left center in the fairway some 135 yards from the green. Fourth, they expanded the putting surface to the edges of the green pad and in so doing, uncovered some wonderful right hole locations in particular. It isn’t the best hole on the course but whatever it is, this 1/2 par hole is certainly no longer the least interesting. Job well done.

People once stood on the fifteenth tee, turned their backs to the course and looked at the ocean. Now the view inland is just as captivating.

The 15th fairway is no longer clear sailing, thanks to these additions by Coore & Crenshaw. Such bunkers were not technically ‘restored’ as they never existed before but are an example of an architect judiciously adding a feature to account for how the game and equipment have changed over the past century.

Sixteenth hole, 485 yards; Park’s topnotch use of the natural hazards continues with a diagonal carry at the sixteenth tee. Picking the correct line varies from day to day with the wind by again as much as seventy yards (!) but the pressure is squarely on the tiger to cover the half par hole in four shots. This stress coupled with the uncertainty regarding the playing line preys on the golfer’s mind. Downwind, will he enjoy a short iron approach or will he tee three? There are six tee shots (here, the second, seventh, ninth, fifteenth and seventeenth) where the tee ball makes an enormous difference. These risk reward holes excel at just that: posing a stark risk but providing a commensurate reward. Just as many golfers bask in glory as are sent into a spiral of frustration.

Downwind, the angle off the tee is just inside the far right bunker. Into the wind, the line is toward the bunkers seventy yards back and to the left.

Seventeenth hole, 330 yards; Maidstone’s design plays no favorites and just as the sixteenth swings left to right, the seventeenth swings right to left. As with the short seventh, the green is bunkered on the inside of the dogleg, thus making making an approach from the outside of the dogleg the oft times preferred angle. The green complex rivals the eighth at Pine Valley as one of the meanest and most exasperating in the country – the sub 4,000 square foot putting surface slopes fiercely back to front and the shoulders of the elevated green easily kick balls away, including out-of-bounds. Given the green’s proximity to a busy intersection (some grumble that it is in the intersection), the commotion of automobiles, bicyclists and pedestrians add to the strain and congratulations to the man who can pull off the exacting, nervy approach so late in the match. To the author, it represents a far greater test of poise and technique than a 470 yard bruiser as few holes in world golf come to mind as being so pugnacious yard for yard.

A draw off the bunker in the distance makes for a disaster-free start to the cantankerous 17th.

The ideal approach angle is from the outside of the dogleg. And even then, great care is required as ….

… trouble of the worst sort surrounds the penultimate green.

Eighteenth hole, 390 yards; Maidstone’s opening and closing holes deserve more recognition. Here, the finishing hole plays up the same hill that the opener plays down and the tee ball likely deadens into the upslope, making the hole play considerably longer than the scorecard suggests. Topography is one of the few things that Maidstone doesn’t throw at the golfer and yet, sure enough, when things might matter the most, here it is. The approach is played up a gradual incline to a horizon green, with a view of the Atlantic the reward as one approaches the green. Though your caddy will give the exact yardage, the day’s final approach is still an instinctual shot with the golfer needing to trust his eyes as to where the flag is located on the low profile green.

Fittingly, the final approach shot is to an horizon green with little aid provided for depth perception. Park knew golf to be a feel sport and that point is driven home at the last.

With the Atlantic in the distance, does the golfer have what it takes to run a shot onto the back plateau?

The author is blinded by Maidstone’s charms as its golf is ideal in all meaningful aspects, as we have just seen. Indeed, detractors have grown quiet since Coore & Crenshaw completed their work. They once mumbled that a 6,400 yard, par 72 course wasn’t long enough, especially when the wind is down and the fairways baked. In effect, their comment centered around the fact that three of the four par fives once measured under 500 yards and were vulnerable to the tiger. Since Coore & Crenshaw, and with the recent addition of a new tenth tee, the scorecard now reads nearly 6,800 yards. True, the fifteenth and sixteenth still measure under 500 yards but so what? Quibbling over whether the scorecard deems a hole to be a ‘4’ or a ‘5’ misses the point.

When Park laid out the course, match play was dominant to stroke play, with the sole object to beat the opponent’s score per hole. If conditions are such that one’s opponent cards a’4′ on a 480 yarder, then one needs to best figure how to do the same. This is no mean feat as the holes in question at Maidstone feature out-of-bounds, water hazards and/or bracken covered sand dunes, which penalize imprudent tactics with no remorse. Unlike many par fives in the United Kingdom which tolerate lazy play on the first two shots, the pressure is kept on the golfer at Maidstone.

This sixty yard bunker down the right of the reachable par five 15th has left many a man with a far harder shot for an up and down birdie than he was originally anticipating when he went for the green in two.

On rainy Sundays, sometimes it is interesting to wonder which of his own courses an architect might most enjoy seeing today if he were still alive. While Willie Park Junior is closely associated with the historic Old Course at Sunningdale, and while he poured his heart (and money) into Huntercombe, how could a Scot like Park fail to select today’s Maidstone, where so much of the game’s original spirit and enjoyment is alive and well? Its playing angles, variety of obstacles and collection of greens are the work of two master architects, Park for building them and Coore & Crenshaw for dramatically revealing them. For those of us that think a round of golf should take three hours, and that the player should be equally taxed mentally and physically, Maidstone is a master class of design, one which any modern architect would do well to study intently. Afterall, Maidstone represents the progression of architecture in this country, from Dunn’s original effort to a Golden Age marvel to being caringly restored and augmented.

Located on the east end of Long Island, this family club is surrounded by world class golf.  Generally a course of this magnitude would be the ‘best’ in the region but such is not the case. It is plenty of people’s ‘favorite’ but to call it the best would reflect undue bias. Still, New York is far and away the country’s best state for golf. Located elsewhere, Maidstone would be the best course in  perhaps 44 states; it’s that ridiculously good.

The End