National Golf Links of America

National Golf Links of America – Played July 2017

  • Rankings: Golf Digest #11, Golf Magazine #8
  • Location: 149 Sebonac Inlet Road, Southampton, New York
  • Year: 1911
  • Original Architect: C.B. Macdonald
  • Additional Work By: Seth Raynor, Perry Maxwell, and Robert Trent Jones
  • Course Access: Private
  • Walking Rules: Carts & Caddies Available

Score Card Information:

  • Championship: 6,935 yards, Par 72 , 73.9 Rating/136 Slope
  • Regular: 6,505 yards, Par 72, 71.9 Rating/130 Slope (Men’s), 77.0 Rating/142 Slope (Women’s)
  • Short: 5,771 yards, Par 72, 68.1 Rating/123 Slope (Men’s), 72.7 Rating/133 Slope (Women’s)

Some days on the golf course are just better than others.  This was destined to be one of those days.  To say I was excited as I was driving up to NGLA would be an understatement.  My heart was racing as the clubhouse and iconic windmill below came into view.

Then I got to the front gate and was positively giddy.

The place feels old school, but even I thought it was a bit funny to have an old Model T in the parking lot!

There has been a ton written on the history of National, but I will hit the highlights.  The club was started by C.B. Macdonald, widely know as one of the fathers of American golf.  Due to his affluence and heritage he spent time in Scotland as a young man and learned a great deal about golf architecture.  Upon returning from Scotland, he wanted something more out of American golf.  So he created Chicago Golf Club and was instrumental in creating the USGA.  What a run.  For further reading, check out Bahto’s Scotland’s Gift: Golf and Evangelist of Golf: The Story of Charles Blair Macdonald.

He wanted more and decided to create a course that drew inspiration from the greats of the British Isles.  He settled on the land where NGLA currently sits.  He designed and constructed the course with the help of Seth Raynor.  Talk about a duo!  The course features many famous template holes and all are named.  The course is a master class in strategy and course architecture.  I am privileged to have played it, even with my feeble knowledge of architecture.

I got to play this magical place through the generosity of a good friend who has helped me along on my quest.  We were paired up a great member who made us feel at ease.  The area it pretty sweet with Shinnecock and Sebonack next door.

Once we got into the clubhouse, we changed our shoes in the locker room.  It was quite understated as was the pro shop.  This is a golf club first.  I can’t wait, let’s get into it!  All yardages are from the regular tees.  Additionally, all the holes are named.

Hole 1 – 315 yards – Par 4 – Valley

The strategy and challenge starts on the first hole.  If you go too far left you will likely lose a ball in high grass.  If you go along the correct line you have numerous options on club selection.  The carry on the left side is much longer than the right.

The green, seen below, is raised.  This view gives a good angle, but from the right side it is more blind.

The photo below doesn’t of the contours of the green justice.  Your approach must be spot on to have a reasonable putt.

Hole 2 – 290 yards – Par 4 – Sahara

Decisions will be the theme of the day.   A bold line is up the left with driver over the bunkers to get to the green.  Shorter shots to the right are less difficult and should yield par.

You get an up close view of the windmill here.  The story goes it was a member’s idea to hide the water tower.  They went with it and Macdonald sent him the bill!

I somehow didn’t get a picture of the hole’s namesake bunker, but it is a brute.  I’ll chalk it up to being so distracted by the course :).  The fairway slopes toward the green that is open in front for running shots.  Long is the worst miss here for sure, trust me.

Hole 3 – 407 yards – Par 4 – Alps

This one is a tough test.  It plays long and uphill.  The fairway moves to the right and the bunkers/tall grass are in play.

The approach is mostly blind.  In the second photo you can see the bell tower used to mark the green.  Picking the correct line is crucial.

The green is large, but has a massive cross bunker in front to catch poorly struck balls.

Hole 4 – 181 yards – Par 3 – Redan

Redan is one of the most famous terms in golf.  It is a brutal hole.  You cannot miss left and expect any better than 4.  The slope repels the ball from the green.

See below for the view you get on a left miss.  I told you it was tough.  You are best served coming in from the right side and using the slope to get on the green.

Hole 5 – 451 yards – Par 4 – Hog’s Back

You get no rest on the fifth.  The large cross bunker is the main obstacle on the tee shot.  The slope will propel balls severely here.

The bunker below will be in play for longer drives.  I loved it because it is a style you don’t really see anywhere else.  The green is in the middle of the photo in the distance.

A closer look at the green is below.  The opening in front gives you options, but you don’t want to be in the bunker on the left.

Hole 6 – 123 yards – Par 3 – Short

This one is named Short, but it is not a pushover.  The front is ringed with a large swath of sand.  Some more is on the left.

The slopes here are wild.  You can seen the mounds in the green.  If you miss your spot the ball will roll quite a ways.

Hole 7 – 467 yards – Par 5 – St. Andrews

Named after the Home of Golf, this is a tribute to the Road Hole.  The tee shot it obscured by the topography.  You have to carry a waste area.

There are two bunkers on the left of the photo below that are barely visible.  It is astonishing what you can do with flat land to play tricks on a golfer.

The Road Hole bunker awaited me on my third shot here.  Thankfully I was able to avoid it.  The thing is a beast, but I can’t imagine it in the days before high quality wedges and the 60 degree.

Not much slope is visible on the green, but it slopes off on all sides.  It will be difficult to hold if you can get home in two.

Hole 8 – 385 yards – Par 4 – Bottle

I’ll admit I didn’t know much about the Bottle template.  The options here are to take the straight tee shot or go up the left side.  The left has bunkers, but a much better angle for the approach.  Your tee shot crosses over the road here.

I didn’t get a shot of them, but there are some nasty bunkers that guard the center of the fairway.  This angle from the left shows the slight elevation change up to the green.  There is plenty of sand up there as well.

The green is more elevated than it looks from the fairway.  The slopes are severe.  You do not want to miss right here.

Hole 9 – 534 yards – Par 5 – Long

What’s in a name?  Only the longest hole on the course.  Plenty of sand is out there and the fairway plays narrower due to the sand just past the left side of the short grass.

The view below is from the left side just short of the large bunkering.  You can get some nasty lies in there.

The green is guarded by bunkers short left and long right.  It is wide open in front though for maximum options.

Hole 10 – 420 yards – Par 4 – Shinnecock

The first hole on the back is named for NGLA’s famous neighbor Shinnecock Hills.  You can see it from this hole, which is pretty cool.  This hole needs your attention though as it is plenty challenging.  The fairway is pretty wide, but hidden bunkers await.

Below is the view from the fairway.

A closer look starts to reveal the large green and the slopes within.

Some awesome runoff areas surround this green.  Due to its size the pin location is very important for club selection.  You want to be on the correct tier for a chance to make a putt.

Hole 11 – 418 yards – Par 4 – Plateau

The tee shot is blind here.  The proper play is to avoid the left side.  From this view a good line is over the worn spot in the long grass past the cart.

The approach is masked by a berm.

Once you get over the hill you are treated to a wonderfully sloping green.  There is a principal’s nose bunker here as well that I missed capturing.

Below is some of the greenside bunkering.

And below you can see a closer view of the green contours.

Hole 12 – 427 yards – Par 4 – Sebonac

The fairway here is angled to the tee.  Deep bunkers guard the left side and must be avoided at all costs.

The approach plays over a rumpled fairway.  The green has a bit of a false front and runoffs as well.

You can see the slope on the front of the green below.  Shots must carry into the green to stay on the surface.  Precision is a must.

Hole 13 – 159 yards – Par 3 – Eden

This hole is tucked into one corner of the property with the trees behind framing the hole nicely.  The water is the main hazard from the tee.  Multiple bunkers also surround the green.

The green is no picnic as there is plenty of slope.  Downhill putts are extremely slick.

Hole 14 – 341 yards – Par 4 – Cape

The hole here is a MacDonald original design.  The tee shot plays over the water to a fairway moving right to left.

The approach view below is from the right side of the fairway.  This is a difficult angle due to the pond cutting in on this side.  Shots from anywhere on this fairway are difficult.

Hole 15 – 368 yards – Par 4 – Narrows

This tee shot earns the name of the hole.  Bunkers pinch both sides of the fairway.

You can’t see it below, but there is plenty of sand around the green.  You can’t lose focus on this shot.

The green slopes severely from back to front.  It is wide open in front though to give you plenty of options on approach and chip shots.

Hole 16 – 394 yards – Par 4 – Punchbowl

The fairway rises back up the hill with a large bunker to the right.  The best tee shot is to get over the hill to the flat part of the fairway.

The hole continues to play uphill on the approach.  There is a deep hollow on the right side that makes the slope even more pronounced.

There is a large bunker off to the left that is not shown.  The punch bowl feature is evident here.  The green contains plenty of slope.

Hole 17 – 342 yards – Par 4 – Peconic

The 17th features on of the best views on the course.  Once you get over that the hole has options.  If you are a long hitter the green is in play.  Shorter plays need to layup short of the fairway bunkers or carry them on the left side.

The left side of the fairway is the preferred angle as you get a good view of the green.  The right side has a large sandy waste area that obscures the view of the green.  It is crazy how close this green is to the front gate behind.

The view below gives a good look at the slightly domed green.

Hole 18 – 483 yards – Par 5 – Home

On the card this may look like an easy birdie opportunity, but the hole plays a lot longer in real life.  The hole plays up the hill to the flag pole.

The green is open in front, but shots must be on line to not be funneled away.  Like many holes here there isn’t much behind the green for a frame of reference.

There is so much to say about this course.  I truly don’t feel qualified to write about it from a beauty and golf architecture standpoint.  Macdonald is a master.  The challenges around this course are both obvious and subtle.  The greens are spectacular and bring out plenty of creativity in golfers.  When you pair this routing with the view and near constant challenge of the wind you are in for quite a day.  Quite frankly this is one of the best days I have had on a golf course.  World class to say the least.

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