Whippoorwill Club, New York, USA

Fourteenth hole, 440 yards; Standing on the tee just 35 miles from Manhattan, the golfer could be forgiven for thinking he was in Vermont or Massachusetts. Banks’ placement of the fairway between the shoulders of a short right and long left hill is nothing less than brilliant as he created the rarest of features: a split fairway that actually functions properly. When strategic options are organically created from the architect’s imaginative use of one-off landforms, something special emerges.

Every golfer hits somewhere between the two lines as seen above. The blue is the safe path off the tee to the lower left fairway while the red one is the riskier from the tee but offers future rewards.

Golfers hit somewhere between the two lines as seen above. The blue is the safe path off the tee to the lower left fairway while the red is riskier but offers future rewards.

The golfer who plays safely left off the tee faces this depressingly blind approach shot.

The golfer who plays safely left off the tee faces this depressingly blind approach shot.

While he who takes the daring line high right ends up with a clear view of the uphill green from a much shorter distance.

While he who takes the daring line high right ends up with a clear view of the uphill green from a much shorter distance.

Fifteenth hole, 370 yards; Back to the east side of Whippoorwill Road, one is again where Ross had worked. After the wonderful thirteenth and fourteenth, a hole over tame land would have been both jarring and a letdown. Happily, the transition is comfortable because Banks keeps the accelerator down with the creation of this driving hole over a crest with only a directional marker as a guide.

A directional marker is a welcome sight to an old trooper as it indicates heaving land.

A directional marker is a welcome sight to an old trooper as it indicates heaving land.

Though huge, the built-up green pad rests comfortably on the ground and presents a striking target once the golfer crests the hill.

Though huge, the built-up green pad rests comfortably on the ground and presents a striking target once the golfer crests the hill.

The right bunker at 52 yards in length is the longest greenside bunker on the course. As golfers have found out for over a century at St. Andrews, hitting a large green with a short iron is one thing but getting it close is something else entirely. The hole location can alter one's approach shot by as much as three clubs on a green that is more than 100 feet deep.

The right bunker at 52 yards in length is the longest greenside bunker on the course. As golfers have found out for over a century at St. Andrews, hitting a large green with a short iron is one thing but getting it close is something else entirely. The hole location can alter one’s approach shot by as much as three clubs on a green that is more than 100 feet deep.

Sixteenth hole, 550 yards; Given the topography, Banks didn’t have to create many fairway bunkers in order to lend the course playing interest tee to green. However, when the land didn’t readily dictate something, Banks wisely employed man-made hazards in the form of bunkers. Such is the case in the second landing zone on this long three shotter where two bunkers protrude well into the fairway from the left side. The tension created from needing to carry/play around/avoid them without veering too far right and down a slope holds the golfer’s attention on his second. The pitch is to a well defended pushed up green pad featuring a fierce left to right slope. This hole fits the definition of a classic par five, namely that each shot gets progressively more exact.

Whip16a

For the umpteenth time, the golfer is presented a choice: does one carry these two bunkers on his second shot for the sake of gaining a better angle into the sixteenth green for his pitch? Or play away from these bunkers and contend with the deep right greenside bunker?

Seventeenth hole, 155 yards; All the prerequisites are here for a great Eden save length. The Hill and Strath bunkers are dutifully cut left and right. Happily, recent work by Davis and Gonzalez has opened the area beyond the green exacerbating the wind’s impact. Finding a charming length hole of such quality late in the round is wonderfully refreshing. Only the penultimate holes at Sand Hills and St. George’s on Long Island spring to mind as examples in this class.

Whip17

As recently as 2012, trees virtually overhung the thirty yard long strip bunker behind this Eden green complex. Recent tree work has seen those trees felled and the flag is now rarely limp on this elevated, exposed part of the property. Alas, the trees in the far background are off the club property. Pity, for if they could be felled, a ten plus mile view would be exposed!

Whip17b

Like all great Edens, the green here is wider than deep and is once again exposed to the vagaries of the wind. Many more balls are now unceremoniously dumped into the left Hill bunker than when the green was more sheltered.

Eighteenth hole, 440 yards; While virtually unknown, there is no clearly superior Home hole in the northeast of the United States. A preposterous assertion considering the vast number of quality and world class courses in the region, you say! Yet, look below – what more could you hope for? Back in the day, a stylish golfer might fade the ball off the tee before drawing his approach into certain left hand hole locations. To the very end, Banks asks – and allows – the good golfer to show off his full arsenal of shots.

Finding a suitable ending to such an epic ride was no mean feat but Banks succeeded, as this view from the eighteenth tee indicates.

Finding a suitable ending to such an epic ride was no easy feat but Banks succeeded. This Home hole was recently enhanced by the removal of a string of cherry trees behind the green that while pretty, were poorly positioned as they stifled Banks’s infinity green.

The 8,400 square foot Home green is second only to the Biarritz as the largest green on the course. Its width allows for some particularly vexing left hole locations, as is evident above.

Banks wrote a fair amount and much of his work is found in Golf Illustrated. He regularly used the word ‘expensive’ and was evidently quite a disciplined architect (not in the Stanley Thompson mold!). He took great pride in delivering courses on time and under budget while tackling difficult properties with great aplomb. His courses while strategic and handsome have stood the test of time from maintenance and drainage perspectives.

Sadly, he never capitalized on the fame that one would expect for a man who worked on courses like Yale and Yeamans Hall with Raynor and built originals like Whippoorwill, Forsgate and The Knoll. He was done in by the Great Depression and then his health. He succumbed to a heart attack in 1931 while working on the sporty Castle Harbour course in Bermuda. His passing at the young age of 48 is eerily reminiscent of Seth Raynor’s untimely death.

The greatest courses in the world – as defined by their ability to stir a strong visceral reaction – feature ‘one of a kind holes’ where a master architect exploited unique landforms. Examples include Eastward Ho!, Royal Hague, Fishers Island and Yale. Whippoorwill belongs in this category, it’s that good, that memorable – and that much fun.


The End