Yale University Golf Course

Tenth hole, 395 yards, Carries; Given the obvious difficulties of the fourth, eighth and ninth holes, one might be surprised to hear that many members consider this sub-400 yard hole to be the hardest par on the course. Despite the hole’s tee to green defenses, it is the violent green itself that leads many a critic to conclude that a more challenging uphill approach shot has not been built since Yale opened. Only the uphill approach to the second at Pine Valley compares.

If the golfer clears this embankment off the tenth tee, …

… he is faced with this steeply uphill approach shot. Two deep bunkers are at the base of the green complex, from which the dozen plus wood steps ascend.

Yale calls for a fascinating mix of aerial and running approach shots. The tenth green complex certainly calls for the former!

An ingenious putting surface, an approach putt from the back right corner can be played into a slot near where the flag’s shadow is and come to rest close to this front right hole location, having traveled more than twice the distance as the direct line.

Eleventh hole, 380 yards, Valley; The tenth through twelfth holes are laid over the most rambunctious portion of the property. The tenth is a roller coaster ride unto itself and it brings you to the eleventh tee, which is the high spot on the property. Aptly named, one’s tee ball must find the fairway in the valley some sixty feet below. Given the length of today’s technology, the mirror image Redan playing characteristics of the green are perhaps even more maddening than in Raynor’s day. Today’s tiger might be left with a fiddly fifty yard pitch over a deep front bunker to a green that runs away. Such a conundrum has riddled golfers at The Old Course at St. Andrews for years.

The exhilarating view from the elevated eleventh tee captures some of the rugged charm of the New England landscape including the granite face below which Raynor placed the left fairway bunker. Drives in the valley near there leave the best angle into the long green.

In all of world golf, there are not four greens with more spectacular interior contours than the ones found from the seventh through the tenth at Yale. As a follow-on to those four, Raynor wisely opted for a more subtle green here at the eleventh. However, don’t be fooled: its high front to lower back tilt has its own bedeviling playing qualities.

Twelfth hole, 400 yards, Alps; Since Green Keeper Scott Ramsey’s arrival and since Yale started spending the appropriate care and attention on this treasure of a golf course, this is the single most improved hole. Roger Rulewich did a fine job in re-creating the deep Alps bunker in front of the green and in rebuilding the bank before it. Set across tumbling land, this is one of the three or four finest Alps holes in play today.

This view from behind the Alps green hints at the recently restored deep bunker that now fronts it. Before Rulewich’s work, two small bunkers of no consequence were in front of the green.

Thirteenth hole, 210 yards, Redan; Though a striking Redan with postcard qualities, its playing characteristics are somewhat diminished because the hole is both downhill and Yale struggles to present firm and fast playing at this sheltered green. Thus, the needed release of a tee ball from right to left across the green that makes any Redan hole great is often times found wanting here. If anything, on a downhill Redan, the green slopes need to be more pronounced than usual given the steep descent of the tee ball. Here, the slope and right kick board are too muted. Given the boldness of the Redan green at the eighth, the author would not be surprised to learn that this green has been softened/tinkered with over the years.

If the thirteenth enjoyed firm playing conditions (and the damn cart path were relocated!), watching a tee ball play out and roll right to left across its huge putting surface would be one of the most rewarding shots on the course.

This view from forty yards short hints as to how relatively flat this Redan green is and that it doesn’t possess a sufficient right to left cant.

Fourteenth hole, 365 yards, Knoll; A first rate bunkerless Knoll hole, Raynor constructed the right side of the fairway to be considerably lower than the left, allowing the golfer to sling a power fade off this created bank to propel a tee ball closer to the green. A short iron approach is quite handy as this relatively small, firm green is a tough target to hold from a hanging lie well back in the fairway.

This famous wood carving was once three rows of trees deep into the right woods. Now it can be seen from the fairway as the golfer walks past.

The elusive built-up fourteenth green seems tiny relative to many of Yale’s greens and that’s because it is. At twenty-four yards in depth, it is easily the shallowest target on the course.

A view from the fourteenth green back down the fairway shows the bank in the fairway that Raynor created.

Fifteenth hole, 190 yards, Eden; Many of the greens have been enlarged and returned to their full size under the initial work accomplished by Ramsey. One of the most successful such instances occurred here where twelve feet of putting surface was recovered along the back and left. Now the green enjoys a ferocious amount of back to front tilt in keeping with the original Eden hole at St. Andrews.

The view from the tee shows how much of the left and back slope of the Eden green has been recaptured. Beforehand, the green was nearly a flat oval devoid of much playing interest.

Sixteenth hole, 555 yards, Lang; A tale of two halves. The drive is one of the more interesting ones on the course as the golfer tries to play a draw off a pronounced landform in the right middle of the fairway to get a forward kick. If successful, the green is within reach on one’s second. Unfortunately, the last fifty yards of the hole is deadly dull, especially compared to all that has gone before. The primary reason for this let down is that Raynor’s green was moved thirty yards back and to the right from its original location. No one is clear who or when the work was done and the merit of the work is confined to placing the green site on higher ground. Raynor’s original green ringed by three bunkers was near a low-lying that time proved was prone to flooding and drainage issues. Hence, restoring Raynor’s green location is perhaps not practical. However, by all means, more thought and attention needs to be given to the last fifty yards of the sixteenth. At a minimum, the green complex should be made to look like it belongs on a Raynor course. Perhaps a proper Road Hole green that plays from right to left would fit nicely onto the existing site? Indeed, though Yale was built in the age of hickory golf clubs, technology has moved on and the variety of the course would benefit from picking up a long hard two shot hole on the back nine. As it presently stands,the seventeenth is the only two shotter on the back over 400 yards. Played from Raynor’s tees to today’s green yields a hole in the 475 yard range,a type half par hole that the course doesn’t presently have. In so doing, some will howl that would make the par 69 but the course from the regular tees was in fact a par 69 in Raynor’s day.

Seventeenth hole, 435 yards, Nose; Though the golfer only has two holes to go, he still has well in excess of 1,000 yards to play. This two shotter enjoys a Principal’s Nose feature sixty yards short of the green and one of Raynor’s favorite green complexes – the Double Plateau. C.B. Macdonald, Raynor’s mentor and a consultant here at Yale, first employed this combination of bunker and green complex at National Golf Links of America in 1909. The original purpose of the Principal’s Nose bunker at the sixteenth at The Old Course at St. Andrews was to create two different playing corridors off that tee. Raynor never went to St. Andrews and thus never observed for himself the bunker’s original purpose. Hence, he blindly reproduced the Principal Nose bunker and Double Plateau green as per NGLA at many of his subsequent designs. As at Yeamans Hall, the Principal Nose bunker complex here provides visual deception for approach shots as opposed to providing strategy off the tee.

Though the ridge has been lowered some nine feet since Raynor’s death, the sharply uphill tee ball remains full of challenge.

From back in the fairway, the Principal’s Nose bunker complex obscures half of the high left plateau of the putting green. Getting an approach shot to chase to the far back hole locations is an art form.

As seen from behind, the seventeenth green features a high left and back plateau. To best access this day’s lower forward hole location, the golfer needs to drop his approach shot past the Principal’s Nose bunker complex and have it roll near this hole location.

Eighteenth hole, 620 yards, Home; Though controversial, this sprawling three shotter is the perfectly impossible ending for this innovative design. It is difficult to describe other than to say the hole plays over and around a mountain. For the past several decades, the alternate lower right path was effectively not an option as tree growth had narrowed the right fairway to under fifteen yards in width. According to Ramsey, the right fairway was ”…was 8-10 yards wide from the hill to the tree in 2003. Now it is 21 yards of fairway and 8-10 yards of rough to the tree line. We continue to incrementally recapture more fairway from the rough as we improve irrigation and drainage. Hopefully, we can get to 25-30 yards of fairway and continue to make it a really viable option.’ This course richly deserves a unique ending and this hole delivers like few Home holes. Indeed, the author puts it forward as the best Long hole that either Raynor or Macdonald built due to its originality as well as its optional playing routes (i.e. for the same reasons that the fourteenth at the Old Course at St. Andrews is a standout).

Step one off the tee is to slot one’s tee ball between the near ridge on the right and the far left one. A good drive allows the golfer to scale the hill in the background and take the short route home.

This view from behind the green shows the alternative routes of Yale’s Long hole with the shortest way being to come in from the high side of the fairway (i.e. above the white Yale flag). However, options now abound thanks to the excellent tree clearing work down the golfer’s right of the hole.

Much work has been accomplished at Yale since 2003 and much work remains. However, the golfer of today is once again keenly aware that he is playing a very special course with Yale being a rare example of an architect successfully working with severe terrain. Raynor struck an exciting balance between challenge and fun in part by ensuring that the landing areas and the green targets were ample. Indeed, one of the course’s principle defenses is similar to that of the Old Course at St. Andrews: the size and the contouring of the greens mean that the better golfer may well hit fifteen greens in regulation but suffer thirty-six plus putts to retard a good score. Depth perception becomes difficult when the golfer needs to carry a ball forty yards deep (!) into a green just to begin to get near a back hole location. The challenge of getting an approach close to a hole on a massive green has never dimmed at St. Andrews and the United Statesequivalent is found here at Yale. And remember: nobody, including professionals, practices one hundred foot putts.

Like St. Andrews, Yale reminds the golfer of no other course. To call Yale the best university course in the country is to do it an injustice. Yale remains to this day a colossus in design and a landmark achievement. Congratulations to the University for beginning to realize this and for starting to maintain and present it in the manner in which it deserves.

The author wishes to acknowledge and thank Dr. Geoffrey Childs for his photographs and contribution to this course profile.

The End