Nothwest of Manhattan and only a lob wedge away from the more famous Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge Golf Club in Scarsdale, NY, is often spoken of as perhaps the best golf course in the New York metropolitan area. That's high praise among company that includes Bethpage Black, Hudson National, Sleepy Hollow and the aforementioned host of numerous major professional championships. Golf Digest ranks Quaker Ridge No. 76 on its list of America's top 100 courses, and Golf Magazine currently ranks Quaker Ridge No. 39 on its list of the same. I was very fortunate recently to have an opportunity to visit the club and play the course, and I'm not sure I'd argue with Golf Magazine on this one. Quaker Ridge is an absolute gem.
Nearly 250 years ago, during the American Revolution, this area of the country was hotly contested land in the fight between the Continental Army and the British. For years since Quaker Ridge's founding in 1916, members of the club told the tale that General George Washington had camped for a night under a tree near what is now the 10th green at Quaker Ridge as he led his forces to fight the Battle of White Plains.
During the battle, on October 28, 1776, Washington's men were defeated by British troops, led by Sir William Howe. But, in what many believe to be the single biggest blunder for the British (or, alternatively, the single greatest stroke of luck for the Colonials) during the entire war, Howe neglected to pursue Washington and his battered forces as they retreated from White Plains. Washington escaped across the Hudson, allowing him time and distance to reorganize and rebuild his troops in order to keep up the fight.
As it turns out, the lore about Washington sleeping under the tree isn't quite true. It actually was Howe and his Redcoats who camped under the tree near what is now the 10th green at Quaker Ridge. Washington and his men were encamped elsewhere. But some members still refer to the tree (which was lost in a storm in 2014) as Washington's Tree, perhaps alluding to the fact that while Howe occupied the land and won at White Plains, Washington clearly owned real estate in the minds of the British. And, given that he and the Colonials ultimately won the war, well, to the victors go the spoils. Thus ... to many members of Quaker Ridge it will always be known as Washington's Tree.
The Quaker Ridge logo depicts a Quaker in 18th Century attire, and the club is named in honor of the Quakers who owned so much of the land in this area during America's earliest days.
I was able to play Quaker Ridge through Thousand Greens, a sort of matchmaking service for golfers who are members of private clubs. It's a free service (at present, though it is expected that a nominal fee will soon be required to help support the continued development and operation of the service) that connects folks who want to play at other private clubs and who are willing to host folks at their home clubs. It's a wonderful community of like-minded golfers who are generous with their time and who love to share the experience of their home clubs with others who love the game.
Throughout the year, Thousand Greens organizes a number of events at member clubs, and when I saw that a member of Quaker Ridge was hosting a Thousand Greens event, I jumped at the opportunity to join in ... knowing it would mean not only that I'd get to play the highly regarded course but that I'd get to meet a wonderful group of fellow golfers.
When I arrived on property, driving down Griffen Avenue past Winged Foot Golf Club on my left, I found the gates to Quaker Ridge wide open and the staff incredibly inviting. From the guys at the bag drop to the locker room attendant to the wait staff on the veranda where the small group of Thousand Greensers gathered for our pre-round lunch ... everyone connected with the club went out of their way to make us feel like we all belonged. There were 10 of us there to play together across three tee times, and as we ate lunch we swapped stories, got to know one another and organized the important small money game that would govern our play.
Quaker Ridge is a beautiful club. The expansive tudor-style clubhouse and outbuildings, including the halfway house, golf shop and indoor practice facility featuring state-of-the-art simulators are a perfect, classic fit in this very wealthy community just a short drive from New York City. The grounds are meticulously maintained. The rough is thick and uniform. The greens are pure and fast. It doesn't take a visitor very long to realize all the many reasons Quaker Ridge's members are so proud to call it home.
Quaker Ridge is often thought of as A.W. Tillinghast's first truly great golf course. A plaque on the wall just outside the golf shop features a portrait of this Golden Age golf course architect and celebrates not only his design of Quaker Ridge but his enshrinement in the World Golf Hall of Fame. A decade or so ago, the course underwent what members call an extensive, sympathetic restoration by architect Gil Hanse. Hanse's work set out to update the course to account for the length required of modern championship courses and current standards of turf management while honoring the spirit of Tillinghast's original design.
In 1997, Quaker Ridge hosted the Walker Cup, and some might argue that after 220 years, the Americans finally got their revenge on the British for that Revolutionary War defeat at the Battle of White Plains as the American Walker Cup team convincingly beat the team from Great Britain and Ireland 18 matches to 6. When the Curtis Cup was contested at Quaker Ridge in 2008, the American women similarly dominated the event, winning 17 matches to 3. George Washington would be proud.
The golf course at Quaker Ridge stretches to 7008 yards from the tips and plays as a par 70. On the day I visited, we played up one set of tees to the blues at 6,456 yards. All yardages mentioned from this point on in my blog will be from the blue tees unless otherwise noted.
Hole 1 - Par 5 - 510 Yards
The first hole is a challenging par-5 that plays mostly straightaway with out-of-bounds down the right hand side. Long hitters may want to favor the left side of the fairway in hopes of getting out there far enough to leave themselves a look at the green. The rest of us will likely be happy enough just to find the short grass off the tee, playing this as a three-shot hole.
From the left side of the fairway, players get a better look at the green with less tree trouble creeping in from the right. Still, the large fairway bunker about 30 yards short of the green should give players pause before trying to reach this green in two. A ball in the sand there could quickly turn hopes for an eagle into a scramble for par or even bogey.
For those who layup, the third shot plays uphill to an elevated green guarded by two greenside bunkers. The putting surface is deeper than it appears from the low point in the fairway, with plenty of room to land a ball beyond the bunkers.
Hole 2 - Par 4 - 405 Yards
The second at Quaker Ridge is a dogleg right with both out-of-bounds and possible litigation down the right hand side. In the last decade, homeowners from two of the properties right of Quaker Ridge's second hole have sued the club over complaints about the number of golf balls that land in their yards and golfers coming into their yards to retrieve their misfires. In response, the club has made changes to the location of the tees, planted trees and installed a net. And golfers are instructed not to retee if their drives go out of bounds.
Personally, I appreciated the instruction our caddies gave us to just aim down the left side of the fairway, "And don't go right!" Long hitters may want to play something other than a driver to avoid going through the dogleg. Ideally, a tee shot of about 250 yards will set up a clear approach.
From the fairway, the second hole offers up one of Quaker Ridge's juciest scoring opportunities. The green is protected by two long bunkers, left and right, but the large putting surface is accessible on the ground or through the air, with the back-to-front slope helping players to hold the green.
Hole 3 - Par 4 - 424 Yards
No. 3 is a tight driving hole -- a long, straight par-4 with OB to the right. The fairway bunker on the left isn't likely a problem for most players as any tee shot longer than about 180 yards will carry it. The fairway bunker on the right, however, will catch offline drives between about 220 and 250 yards, making the left half of the fairway the ideal line off the tee.
The approach shot is to a green that, much like the entire hole, is long and narrow. The greenside bunker on the right runs nearly the entire length of the green itself -- more than 30 yards -- but once again Tillinghast offers players the option to keep the ball low and run it up onto the putting surface through a chute between bunkers.
Hole 4 - Par 4 - 408 Yards
The 4th hole beat me up, but I really enjoyed playing it. An island of rough rises up from the heart of the fairway, and the ideal drive is right over top of it. Anything longer than 200 yards on that line will provide an excellent angle for your approach. But straight is more important than long off the tee on this hole, with OB right (again) and tree trouble down the left-hand side.
The approach plays to a large green that is partially obscured by a bunker front-right. Shots pulled to the left on this hole risk finding the bunker and low collection area between the green and the water hazard, leaving players a very difficult up-and-down in the attempt to save par. This is one of the flatter greens on the course, and birdie may be a real possibility for the golfer who finds the green in regulation.
Hole 5 - Par 3 - 151 Yards
The 5th hole is a terrific mid-length par-3, playing over water to a green that slopes severely from back to front. With bunkers left, right and long, there aren't many places to safely hit the ball other than the green. But players who find the right level of the putting surface will be rewarded with the opportunity to score well here.
Hole 6 - Par 4 - 434 Yards
No. 6 is a ball-striker's hole -- long and tight, with OB right and a stream running down the left side of the first two-thirds of the fairway. A couple of fairway bunkers on the right side serve to further narrow the safe landing zone. Miss the short grass off the tee here, and big numbers quickly come into play.
Cross bunkers on this hole likely don't come into play for most players whose drives find the fairway, but for those whose drives find the right bunkers or the thick rough off the tee, they may present an additional challenge. Players may want to favor the right side of the green with their approach. There is plenty of room to fly or run a ball into this green, but a deep greenside bunker on the left could quickly turn a birdie bid into a scrambling bogey on this hole.
Hole 7 - Par 4 - 416 Yards
I've noticed a pattern at great courses; my favorite holes seem to often be holes on which I played really poorly. Maybe that's because I get to see so much more of those holes while I'm chasing my ball to so many places from which you aren't meant to play it. Whatever the case, the 7th at Quaker Ridge was definitely one of my favorite holes on the course. The tee shot must carry the stream in order to reach the fairway with out-of-bounds, once again, on the right-hand side of the hole. My drive -- a terrible hook -- somehow found its way to the base of a tree behind the 10th tee box on the hill up to the left. When I caught up to my caddie, he looked down at my ball and simply said, "That's not where you're supposed to hit it." I appreciated his commentary.
The approach on No. 7 plays once again across the stream and over a series of cross bunkers to an elevated green. As tempting as it is to fly the ball to the hole in order to avoid all of the sand, the smart play is likely a low chaser that runs up the fairway and into the green. Controlling the line of entry for your shot into this green seems the less-risky play, perhaps sacrificing a bit of distance control for accuracy to find the putting surface and avoid the sand.
Hole 8 - Par 4 - 335 Yards
No. 8 is the only par-4 under 400 yards on the front nine, but don't let that fool you into thinking this hole is easy. With a large mound in the middle of the fairway covered in deep, gnarly rough, players can't just step up to this tee and swing away. There is more room to play left of the mound to find the fairway, but the narrower landing area to the right opens up more of a view of the green.
The green on the 8th is hidden behind a high-walled bunker short-left and is guarded by another bunker on the right. It's one of the smallest greens on the course, befitting the short length of this hole. And the undulations of the putting surface make par a challenge even for those who find this green in regulation.
Hole 9 - Par 3 - 143 Yards
The par-3 9th hole is just a short-iron shot for most players but makes for one of the toughest holes on the course given the size of its small green, shaped like a slice of pizza, and the five bunkers that surround the putting surface. Hit a really precise shot into the middle of the green, and you'll likely have no more than a medium-length putt for birdie. But miss this green, and bogey becomes a good score.
An overhead view of the pizza slice-shaped 9th green and its surrounding bunkers, courtesy of Google Maps.
Hole 10 - Par 3 - 186 Yards
Back-to-back par-3s are a rare feature among golf course designs, making the 9th and 10th holes at Quaker Ridge particularly noteworthy. For all the challenge that the 9th presented by being small, the 10th offers up a real scoring opportunity because the green is so big. Five bunkers surround the putting surface, once again, but at nearly 40 yards deep, this green offers a lot of acreage for a safe landing from the tee.
Hole 11 - Par 4 - 372 Yards
While No. 7 was one of my favorite holes on the course, No. 11 is my number-one favorite hole. I love the way the stream stretches in front of the tee and then runs all the way down the left side of the fairway before cutting back again in front of the green. The player's drive needs to be long-enough and far-enough right so as not to be blocked out by the trees on the left side of the fairway but not so far right as to find the bunkers, from which it can be a real challenge or even near-impossible to reach the green.
The approach on No. 11 plays across the stream again to a green guarded by water front and right and bunkers left and behind. The green slopes fairly severely from back to front, making it important to carry the ball deeper than you might think in order to keep your ball from spinning back into the hazard.
Hole 12 - Par 4 - 403 Yards
The 12th hole is another long par-4 that looks to be exceedingly narrow due to the shape of the fairway and the way the trees close in from both sides. It doesn't seem to play as tight as it looks, though. The landing area from the tee is relatively generous with only the one fairway bunker on the right presenting real trouble.
Playing from the right side of the fairway is likely the better strategic option, as it offers a more direct angle to the green with less bunker trouble to negotiate. From the left side of the fairway, three bunkers come into play on the approach, and a left pin placement runs the risk of being blocked out by the large trees on the left side of the hole. For those who do find the green, the relatively flat putting surface here offers up a rare opportunity to hole a putt for birdie.
Hole 13 - Par 3 - 209 Yards
The final par-3 on the course, No. 13 is a beast. At nearly 210 yards, and with difficult bunkers protecting the front and right sides of this green, this hole demands a long, straight ball off the tee to set up a potential scoring opportunity. The severely undulating green also requres that the tee shot find the right position relative to the hole. I wouldn't be surprised to find that three putts outnumber two putts on this hole on any given day.
Hole 14 - Par 5 - 517 Yards
No. 14 plays longer than its yardage on the scorecard. A parade of bunkers begin on the left and essentially run the length of the hole. Those bunkers on the left make for a dangerous, potentially par-killing risk for those who try to cut the dogleg. Most players will instead aim their tee shots out to the right off the tee, accepting that doing so will lengthen the hole a bit as the fairway turns back to the left from the landing area.
After the tee shot, the hole plays almost entirely uphill. Deep cross bunkers traverse the fairway about 140 yards from the green, forcing players to play this hole through the air. From tee to green, there are 20 bunkers on the 14th hole, stretching the entire length of the fairway and ending at the green. If you ever told a date that you enjoy long walks on the beach, this may be the most romantic hole in the entire state of New York!
Three bunkers to the right and one to the left guard the challenging green on No. 14. Mounds line the middle of the green from front to back like a small mountain range, essentially creating two greens, left and right. If you can bring your approach into the green on the same side as the flag, you just might have a shot at a birdie. But for those who have to putt up and over the mounds from one side of the green to the other, a three-putt may actually be a happy result.
Hole 15 - Par 4 - 375 Yards
The fairway on No. 15 plays slightly downhill and runs out at just over 250 yards, where a stream crosses from left to right. Players may want to tee off with something other than a driver to keep it short of the water on this hole, where even a 200-yard tee shot will leave you with only about 175 yards into the green.
The approach plays uphill, across the stream and over a couple of fairway bunkers to a green protected by bunkers both left and right. The green slopes significantly from back-left to front-right and is the 15th's strongest defense against birdie.
Hole 16 - Par 4 - 414 Yards
The 16th hole places a premium on the tee shot. A stream down the left side of the hole stretches out to about 230 yards before turning away from the fairway. Drives played to the left run the risk of getting wet or being blocked out from the green by tree trouble, making the right side of the fairway the better angle ... provided you can avoid the bunkers that stretch from about 240 to 290 yards on that side of the hole.
The approach on 16 plays uphill in the direction of Quaker Ridge's wonderful clubhouse. This hole is another that gives players the option to run the ball into the green instead of attempting to reach through the air. Bunkers left, right and long guard this two-tier putting surface that slopes severely from back to front. Finding the right level with the approach is absolutely critical to your chances of posting a good score here.
Hole 17 - Par 4 - 344 Yards
No. 17 presented me with my best opportunity for a birdie this day. I missed the putt, but it was a satisfying par nonetheless. From the tee, conservative players will play a hybrid or long-iron to keep the ball safely short of the right-side fairway bunkers. Only those who can carry the ball 265 or so off the tee will clear the bunkers. Favor the left side as the fairway turns gently in that direction to give yourself the most open angle to the green.
The green on 17 is only 26 yards deep, and four bunkers -- two let and two right -- mean that the only way to get near this pin is a high lofted shot that travels the right distance and lands softly on the green. There isn't much room for error here. And even if you do find the green in two -- as I discovered -- there is no guarantee of an easy two-putt on this challenging hole.
Hole 18 - Par 4 - 410 Yards
The 18th at Quaker Ridge is a fantastic finishing hole -- long, tight off the tee, fair but reluctant to give up a par except in answer to two high-quality shots from tee to green. The tee shot doesn't demand anything clever; it simply challenges you to hit a long, straight drive. A downslope in the fairway will catch drives of 200 yards or so and kick them forward down the fairway. But miss this fairway, and the likelihood of par on this hole is seriously diminshed.
The final approach shot on this epic course plays slightly uphill to a back-to-front sloped green with rolling undulations. A greenside bunker on the left forces players to target the right side of the green, bringing a fairway bunker 30 yards short of the green into play for anyone who mis-hits their approach or fails to get the ball sufficiently up into the air. Players who manage to close out their round with a par or better can hold their heads high and bask in the accomplishment as they enjoy a post-round drink on the clubhouse veranda overlooking the swimming pool or the practice green.
Quaker Ridge was even better than I expected. After playing it, it's easy to understand why players like Jack Nicklaus have sung its praises, even though the course hasn't hosted a major professional tournament and why guys like Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazan made a point of playing it during their lives.
The Thousand Greens event that brought me here -- the opportunity to meet and get to know this group of guys -- made the experience of visiting the club so much better. I would have liked to have scored better, but that's not the real reason I play. I've said since I began my quest to play the great courses of North America that the relationships I'd develop and the friendships I'd make would be the real prize. And this event was a terrific demonstration of that. We had a great host, and my playing partners -- David and Rich -- were terrific. I've already talked with a number of these guys about getting together again and playing elsewhere. And I'm looking forward to hosting some of them when they make their way toward my part of the world.