Whippoorwill Club, New York, USA

Seventh hole, 425 yards; The tee shot is one for position to a fairway that swings left and then the golfer is introduced to his third OMG moment in as many holes. Down in the landing area, the only good news is that the golfer draws a generally level stance. The disconcerting news is everything else. First, the golfer is likely to face a shot in the 200 yard range. Second, his approach must scale an abrupt 50 foot precipice. Third, the green features a false front, adept at sending balls thirty (!) yards back down the fairway. While the green is of the Punchbowl variety and the hopeful golfer might take solace, the reality is harsh. Like most superlative Golden Age course greens, it was built to quickly and economically shed water. Hence, it features more back to front tilt than any green on the course. Indeed, long time head professional Jim Wahl has seen more golfers ‘de-green’ here with their first putt than at any other putting surface. This is one of those exceptional holes that is a lot of fun to play despite its bearish nature.

The view from the seventh tee seems idyllic ...

The view from the seventh tee seems idyllic …

.... yet this granite wall up the left side of the fairway indicates just how Banks’ artistry fit a hole into this part of the property.

…. yet this granite wall up the left side of the fairway indicates just how Banks’ artistry was required to fit a hole into this portion of the property.

Game on! After the downhill flow of holes from the fourth to the seventh, and with holes running out before the turn near the clubhouse, one shouldn’t be surprised that the seventh and the ninth holes play dramatically uphill. Yet, it’s the spectacular manner in which Banks transports the golfer uphill at both that’s particularly noteworthy. Forget the 50 foot climb above – it’s the giant catcher’s mitt in the form of a Punchbowl green complex that soaks up the attention.

Not only are the template one shotters of Macdonald and Raynor etched into this design, so too is this Punchbowl.

Not only are the template one shotters of Macdonald and Raynor etched into this design, so too is this Punchbowl.

Eighth hole, 200 yards; After the rigors of the last, enjoyment is needed and nothing makes an admirer of classic architecture beam more than a Biarritz. Like proper ones, the eighth features a 70 yard monumental green and enjoys a significant drop from tee to green. This enables the golfer to appreciate the joys of trying to 1) keep his ball on the front plateau, 2) the thrill of going for a hole in one on the odd occasion when the hole is in the swale or 3) sort out a way for to scoot past the swale and find the back plateau.

One member noted that he has hit every club from 8 iron to a 3 wood into this green. The flexibility of a Biarritz is what makes it much more than a novelty hole.

One member noted that he has hit every club from 8 iron to 3 wood into this green. The flexibility of a Biarritz is what makes it much more than a novelty hole.

This side view from the left highlights the swale, which puts a smile on the face of every Macdonald/Raynor/Bank's admirer.

This side view from the left highlights the swale, which puts a smile on the face of every Macdonald/Raynor/Banks admirer.

As one heads to the ninth tee and looks back, one appreciates the pretty pocket of property that Banks found in which to locate the 11,000 square foot green.

As one heads to the ninth tee and looks back, one appreciates the pretty pocket of property in which Banks located the 11,000 square foot green.

Ninth hole, 380 yards; At least the fourth, and more likely the sixth OMG moment on the front nine features an eighty foot rise from tee to green. On sharply uphill slopes, most architects struggle – and ultimately fail – to get the sight lines right and create good golf. Not so here. The mid-length par 4 has become the step-child of golf architecture. Oohs and ahs greet the cute, short two shotters and long hard ones become feared and/or admired. Yet those in the 375-425 range are the backbone of most courses, or at least those courses that you would relish playing on a regular basis. Whippoorwill’s ninth and fifteenth are such examples and nicely round out its overall offering.

The author can't imagine any other architect turning such severe land work into such fine golf as Banks did here at the mighty ninth.

The author can’t imagine any other architect turning such severe land into such fine golf as Banks did here at the mighty ninth. Creating the different plateaus both in the fairway and the green – and having them function well for golf – was no mean task.

Tenth hole, 405 yards; In detailing Banks’ design tenets George Bahto averred in his Knoll book: ‘More than anything else, he was a firm believer in a tee box elevated enough so that the golfer would be able to view the problems of the hole presented before he teed off.’  That is certainly dramatically highlighted at Whippoorwill where one enticing view after another greets the golfer from perched tees.

Banks’ superb placement of teeing grounds on natural high spots must surely have stemmed from his time with Seth Raynor, one of, if not the greatest, all time router of golf holes.

Banks’ superb placement of teeing grounds on natural high spots must surely have stemmed from his time with Seth Raynor, one of the great all-time routers of golf holes.

Whippoorwill occupies a huge swath of land and as such there is always much to be done. In recent times a rock-strewn hill to the left of the green has been exposed by Gonzalez and his crew to reinforce the course's natural rugged character.

Whippoorwill occupies a huge swath of land and as such there is always much to be done. In recent times a rock-strewn hill to the left of the green has been exposed by Gonzalez and his crew to reinforce the course’s natural rugged character.

Playing angles and strategy abound at Whippoorwill. Note how the contoured green  allow shots to feed down to this tough right hole location.

Playing angles and strategy abound at Whippoorwill. Note how the contoured green allow shots to feed down to this tough right hole location.

Long is not recommended! Bahto hated the moniker 'Steam Shovel Banks' but it is easy to understand where the moniker came from.  Banks built some of the tallest green pads the game has ever seen. 'It really rankles me when that "reference"  used ..... he simply was very efficient and used the steam shovel and other heavy equipment to get work expedited.'  Most importantly, even his tallest green pads fit well in their environs. Have another look at the photo from the tenth tee and see if you don't agree.

Long is not recommended! Bahto hated the moniker ‘Steam Shovel Banks’ but it is easy to understand where it came from. Banks built some of the tallest green pads the game has ever seen. ‘It really rankles me when that “reference” is used ….. he simply was very efficient and used the steam shovel and other heavy equipment to get work expedited,’ groused Bahto. Most importantly, even his tallest green pads fit well in their environs. Have another look at the photo from the tenth tee and see if you don’t agree.

Eleventh, 195 yards; This is a good, not great, Redan but even good ones are more interesting to play than most par threes! Somewhat reminiscent of Yale’s, it plays over a pond to a green that offers less right to left tilt and doesn’t feed off back left like NGLA’s or the original at North Berwick. The author’s only reservation about Banks’ body of work is his reticence for building fallaway greens (greens that slope significantly from front to back); oh well.

A draw that lands just short of the gentleman in white will release to the middle of the green and the elevated tee allows the golfer to admire his handiwork.

A draw that lands just short of the gentleman in white will release to the middle of the green and the elevated tee enables the golfer to admire his handiwork.

Twelfth hole, 420 yards; Straightaway holes are rarely as clever as this one where Banks infused good golf by constructing one of the course’s best greens, highlighted by a large mound in front that effectively trifurcates it into left, high middle, and right sections. Lower left hole locations are the easiest and watching an ace player hit a draw at the middle of the green and see his ball spin sharply left and down toward the hole is a thing of beauty. Such quiet, graceful moments are often absent in the work of lesser architects.

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Handicapped by rock underneath, Banks did a fantastic job in giving the putting surface its graceful contours

Thirteenth hole, 320 yards; While the twelfth has real golf character, it plays over some of the least interesting land on the property and may conjure thoughts that this is where the course finally lets down. Not so! One delights to discover that not only does the course not tail off but indeed it screams toward home with a six hole stretch every bit equal to the first nine’s heroic six hole finish.

Banks's routing over the wonderful property combined with seven bunkers and a pulpit green give this sometimes drivable par four enduring character. Technology has actually increased this hole's fun quotient as the green becomes reachable under certain wind conditions, something not true in the age of hickory golf.

Banks’s routing over the wonderful property combined with seven bunkers and a pulpit green give this sometimes drivable par four enduring character. Technology has actually increased this hole’s fun quotient as the green becomes reachable under certain wind conditions, something not true in the age of hickory golf.

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