So here we are back where it all began . . . Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. For the recent followers of my Top 100 quest or the long time visitors who don’t know the full story, this is where all of the Top 100 madness began. In the summer of 2007 I received a surprise invitation from my buddy Jay to tag along with him for a game at Shinnecock Hills. To make a long story short, we had a GREAT time visiting the club and upon returning to Virginia I got it in my head that I wanted to play the entire Top 100 list. Whew, I had no idea what I was getting myself into!
Playing the Top 100 has been nothing if not an education and the deeper into the list I have gotten the more I feel I’ve learned about golf courses as well as honed my personal tastes. Having seen Shinnecock Hills so early in my quest I was excited at an opportunity to get back there and view the course through a slightly more experienced lens. Also, with Shinnecock Hills being a key part of the modern the U.S. Open rotation (1986, 1995, 2004 and 2018) it’s always nice to have an opportunity to further familiarize oneself with a course of this caliber. I have a friend who always say his goal is not to play the Top 100, but to play the Top 10 over, and over, and over, and over. I can’t say this is a bad approach. Anyway, I was excited to get another bite of the apple at Shinnecock.
Our afternoon game at Shinnecock Hills was to be the final round of an epic Long Island golf trip that also included visits to National Golf Links, Tallgrass Golf Course, Maidstone Club and Sebonack Golf Club. This particular day started off with a morning round at Sebonack and once we wrapped up there we hopped in our cars for the three minute drive to Shinnecock Hills. After dropping our clubs off at the bag drop we parked in the gravel lot and made our way to the locker room. I absolutely love an old school, bare bones locker room and Shinnecock’s is one of my all time favorites. The wooden lockers with their wire screen fronts have been painted a crisp, pure white as have the legs of the wooden benches that sit between the rows of lockers. Decades of spike marks on the black painted tops of the benches hint at the club’s long history and the vibrant red wall to wall carpet throughout the room is the only real splash of color. To top it all off there are a couple of wooden tables with windsor chairs that very well might be old enough to sell for tens of thousands at a Sotheby’s auction of antiquities. I just love the unique feel of the room. I’ve seen a lot of old school locker rooms, but none that feel quite like Shinnecock’s.
Once we changed our shoes we made our way to the practice tee and hit balls until it was our turn to tee off. Based on Shinnecock’s reputation for difficultly and with the wind blowing at a steady clip it wasn’t a really difficult decision to play from the green tees. The next option back was 6,781 which sounded a little too long to have any fun with a par of 70 and the wind blowing. Once the tee decision was made we headed to the 1st tee.
Hole 1 – Westward Ho – 380 Yards – Par 4
Here we have the view from the 1st tee. The bunker straight out in front is in play on the drive. When I played here in 2007 I thought this was the narrowest fairway I had ever seen. I thought just the pale green grass was fairway until our host pointed out that the fairway actually extended almost all the way to where the native fescue grass is. The way that the course is mowed creates this two tone fairway look. This time around I knew it was all fairway and didn’t look quite so foolish.
Below is a view of the approach into the green. The bunker on the left side is quite a bit deeper than it looks in the photo.
Hole 2 – Plateau – 193 Yards – Par 3
Shinnecock Hills doesn’t waste much time in letting players know that the one shot holes here are going to be tough. This one requires a long uphill shot where anything that goes to the left side will likely find trouble in the bunkers.
I don’t know how big this green is, but it seemed huge when we were on it.
Hole 3 – Peconic – 415 Yards – Par 4
I consider any par 4 measuring over 400 yards to be pretty long and this one certainly fit the bill. Tee it high and let it fly here . . . be wary of the bunker on the right as it is in play.
Below is a look at the long approach into the green.
Hole 4 – Pump House – 373 Yards – Par 4
Next we have mid-length par 4 with a slight dogleg to the right. The bunkers on the right side of the fairway are in play and the ideal line is just to the left of them.
The approach shot into the green.
Hole 5 – Montauk – 491 Yards – Par 5
Here we have the first three shot hole on the course. Moving down to the green tees shaved a good 40 yards off this hole and made it very reachable for many players, especially with a favorable wind. The green is not visible in the photo below, but a good line for the drive would be right over the tire tracks straight in front of the tee box.
A view of the approach into the green. Note the severe false front to the putting surface. My ball lies at the bottom of that front. I was able to reach there in two and thought for sure I had a good look at birdie.
This view of the green shows just how tricky these putting surfaces can be. In many areas the edges take a downhill turn and players who hit shots that get too close to the downside will find their ball trundling down the hill and off the green. This is exactly what happened to my third shot from the front of the green. Ouch!
Hole 6 – Pond – 421 Yards – Par 4
This hole was having some construction done in preparation for the 2018 U.S. Open that will be held here. We played from a forward tee that made the hole about 368 yards. There is water out there on the right side of this hole so from this tee box drives need to be hit to the left side of the fairway.
Here is a view of roughly where the approach shot may be hit from when playing the regular green tees.
Hole 7 – Redan – 164 Yards – Par 3
Here was have the infamous Redan hole. This is the hole that during the 2004 U.S. Open got so baked out that the players could not hold it and a controversial decision to water the green mid-round was made. The ideal way to play this hole is to aim to the right of the flag and hit a shot that will run down the slope of the green and find its way close to the hole.
Here is a view from the back of the green looking back towards the tee. As shown below there is not a lot of depth to the green on the right side where the player in the blue shirt is standing.
Hole 8 – Lowlands – 327 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a short par 4 that really only requires a 200-220 yard shot from the tee. It’s a little difficult to see the green in the photo, but it is just below the middle electrical tower in the distance.
A view of the approach into the green.
And a view of the putting surface. The greens at Shinnecock had some great movement to them and I thought they were unlike most of the other Flynn greens I have experienced.
Hole 9 – Ben Nevis – 379 Yards – Par 4
Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles, so this hole is very appropriately named. From the tee the hill up to the green looks steep, but it’s nothing compared to what it looks like up close. The view from this tee box is one of my favorites.
Here we have a view of the approach shot. This one may require two and maybe three extra clubs.
This photo was taken from about 70 yards away from the green and shows just how steep the hole really is.
Another gorgeous view back across the course from the 9th green.
Hole 10 – Eastward Ho – 404 Yards – Par 4
I love this tee shot where the ball disappears and lands out of sight. It’s the only blind tee shot on the course. Incidentally, this was originally the 1st hole when Flynn redesigned the course in 1931. The membership thought this hole and the next which is a devilish par three were too difficult of a start so they switched nines and this hole became the 10th instead of the 1st.
Here is a view of the approach from the top of the hill. Shots that come up short will likely roll all the way down to the bottom of the hill.
A look from a little closer and on the left side of the fairway.
Hole 11 – Hill Head – 146 Yards – Par 3
This is one of my all time favorite one shot holes. Last time I played I hit my tee shot into the second bunker on the right and made a double. I was hoping for better this time.
As seen below, I found the same bunker AGAIN along with two of my friends. I exacted my revenge on the hole by getting my ball up and down for par this time.
I love this view of the 11th green from the 12th tee. It’s an excellent example of the rolled off edges that are so prevalent in William Flynn’s work here.
Hole 12 – Tuckahoe – 427 Yards – Par 4
Here we have another stout par 4 but luckily this one plays a little bit downhill so there is some extra yardage available there. The bunkers on this side of the road in the distance are all in play from the tee.
A look at the approach shot into the green. Just slightly uphill.
Hole 13 – Road Side – 354 Yards – Par 4
On this hole we find ourselves playing over the road yet again (three times total – 10, 12, 13). This hole plays fairly short from the green tees and players can opt to take the safe route out the left or challenge the bunkers for a shorter shot into the green.
The approach shot into the green.
Hole 14 – Thom’s Elbow – 438 Yards – Par 4
This is another long par 4, but it does play downhill which gives a little bit of help. From the tee the fairway feels narrow, but there is plenty of room.
The slightly uphill approach shot into the green.
Hole 15 – Sebonac – 357 Yards – Par 4
This hole plays as a shortish par from the green tees which are nearly 50 yards shorter than the red tees. This is an instance where the green tees significantly change the hole. The bunkers on the right side of the fairway are in play so something out to the left is the safest play. A 220 yard shot is really all that is needed from the green tees.
A view of the green which is surrounded by bunkers from nearly every angle.
Hole 16 – Shinnecock – 464 Yards – Par 5
Like the 5th hole, the 16th hole is a three shot hole that is shortened significantly by the green tees . . . 56 yards to be exact. This is the second and final par 5 on the course and it is definitely reachable in two for many players from this tee. The bunkers on the left and right are in play so something down the middle is ideal.
I liked this view with the bunkers in the foreground and the green and clubhouse in the distance.
A view of the green from the right side of the hole.
Hole 17 – Eden – 149 Yards – Par 3
The final one shot hole on the course is probably the friendliest of the bunch but is still no slouch. The bunkers on the left resulted in a double bogey for one of the players in our group. Like all of the par 3s at Shinnecock Hills there is a high price paid by players who miss the green.
A view from the rear of the green looking back towards the tee.
Hole 18 – Home – 380 Yards – Par 4
Here we have one of the great closing holes in championship golf. When the U.S. Open is here this hole plays a LONG 457 yards. This of course was the site of Corey Pavins infamous 4 wood that cinched the victory for him in 1995. Note that the green at the top of the hill is the 9th green and the 18th is just below that and not visible in this view from the tee.
Here we have the approach shot into the green.
This was our final round of the trip and there was a long drive for us to get back to Philadelphia where we would be spending the night, so we didn’t hang around too much once we finished playing. After a quick trip to the proshop to pick up some gear we headed back to the car and got ready to hit the road. Here is one last view of the front of the clubhouse as we left. This structure was built in 1892 and is believed to be the first golf clubhouse in America. Its a fantastic building and one of the coolest and most understated clubhouses that I’ve seen. It’s a real treasure.
I’m a firm believer that it takes many plays to really understand a golf course and that a player will notice different details each time he plays a course for the first 5-10 times . . . sometimes even more than that. I was anxious to see what details I noticed this time that I did not the first time I played. I think the biggest thing that I took away from this loop at Shinnecock Hills is how incredible the greens are. The first time I played I was so worried about hitting my ball tee to green that I don’t think I noticed how absolutely unreal the greens are. The edge in particular with all of the roll offs are just fantastic and the contours on the putting surfaces themselves are something that I don’t remember seeing at other William Flynn courses.
It was great to get a second chance to see Shinnecock Hills and I think I appreciated it in a whole different way after spending the last six years traveling and playing great golf courses. Theres no question in my mind that this is a great golf course, one of the very best in America and a fitting test for the U.S. Open Championship. I can’t wait for 2018 to get here!