Thursday, January 22, 2015

#67 (World) / #37 (U.S.) Maidstone Club

September 15, 2014

There are a few times in life when the stars align, a gift falls into your lap, and you get to create a lifelong memory.  One of those happened to me in September. When I planned my trip to New York, Maidstone Club wasn't even on my radar. It is one of the clubs in the U.S. that a privileged few get the honor to experience. It is the kind of club where you usually have to know someone that knows someone to even get an invitation to play. On this trip, however, the stars aligned just right on the first day of my New York trip and I did indeed get the chance to experience Maidstone.

The club derives its name from the original name for East Hampton, Maidstone, named after Maidstone in England. It was founded as a nine-hole course in 1891 and expanded to eighteen holes in 1899. The golf course was originally designed by William H. Tucker and is one of the first 100 golf courses in the United States. Willie Park, Jr. designed the 80-acre, Gardiner Peninsula addition in 1922. The expansion resulted in the club having two 18-hole courses, but this was reduced to the current 27-hole layout by the hurricane of 1938.

As most of my golf trip was scheduled on the western end of Long Island, or points further west, I choose to stay at the Marriott next to the Nassau Coliseum. This meant I had to leave myself with about four hours of travel time to make sure I arrived well before my scheduled tee time. With an 8 am tee time, I woke up well before sunrise and set off on the several hours drive to Maidstone. I was very happy to find perfect weather for golf; it was 68 degrees, no clouds at all, and barely any wind. It appeared the golf gods were smiling on me this day. After an uneventful drive, I finally arrived at the club just as the sun was rising.  It was a gorgeous sky full of orange and reds. There was only two other cars in the parking lot so I parked, got out of my rental car, and just stood there breathing in the early morning salty sea air. It was a good day to be alive.

The entrance sign to the property.
After a few minutes of letting it sink in that I was about to play one of the most exclusive golf courses in the U.S., I made my way through the opening in the hedgerow towards the clubhouse. I was promptly greeted by name by a gentleman standing at the entrance. After introductions, he advised my caddy would be along in about an hour and to make myself at home.  I wandered the inside of the clubhouse taking in the ambience and history of the place, but out of respect for the membership, I did not take any photos of the inside of the clubhouse. A brief description of what I saw? Sure, you got it!  Dark, deep wood is found everywhere, exposed beams are seen along the ceiling, and off white paint covers the walls, that give it a true feel of what can only be described as "old money-chic." The feeling you get when strolling the halls and various rooms is an appreciation for turn-of-the-century architecture mixed with modern day luxury. It really is a special feeling.

After the half hour stroll, I made my way to the gentlemen's locker room where I was again greeted by name by an attendant and shown my locker for the day. He asked if I would like anything to eat or drink but I respectfully declined. He took my golf shoes and ensured each cleat was in place and fitted snugly, used a polishing brush to give them a slight shine, and handed them back. He advised my walking shoes would be taken care of while I was out on the course. All of this was offered without any request on my part, showing why Maidstone really is a top notch club in all aspects. With his permission, I took several photos of the locker room.

A look from the sitting area into the locker room.
A look across the sitting area.
A closer look into the locker room.
Finally dressed and ready for play, the attendant walked with me and chatted about my quest to play the top 100 as we made our way to the starter, the first gentleman I had met. I was then introduced to my caddie who had been at Maidstone for more than 30 years. He asked a few, brief questions about my golf game, made a few mental notes, and advised he would wait for me at the first tee.  A few more minutes taking in the area around the clubhouse and I was ready to go.

Maidstone Club appears in The World's 500 Greatest Golf Holes and receives quite a few accolades. Among them are:

  • Hole 9 is listed as one of the top 100 holes in the world.
  • Holes 10 and 14 are listed as two of the top 500 holes in the world.
  • Hole 9 is listed as one of the top 18 best holes with bunkers in the world.
  • Hole 9 is listed as one of the best 18 links holes on the planet. As Rees Jones said, "Maidstone's ninth is the purest links hole in America."
Maidstone has four sets of tee boxes. From back to front they are blue, white, green, and red.  Since the blue tees are only 6,574 yards, with a 72.9 rating and 139 slope, I decided to play from the back on this day. 

The first shot of the day, the tee shot at #1, is fairly intimidating, not because it is a tough hole. The hole is rather straightforward and short for a par 4. It is because the practice putting green is located very near the first tee box so anyone on the putting green is watching and sizing you up on your first swing of the day. My shot was made even more intimidating by the fact I had forgotten to ask if there was a practice range and if I could use it, so my first tee shot was truly my very first swing of the day.  Luckily, I hit it square on the face and drove it within a wedge shot of the green.

The first hole is a par 4 that plays 424 yards long. It is a straight fairway that has a large, natural sand area on the right side. The green guarded almost completely by moderate to large sized sand traps. The green also slopes steeply on the back so it is better to hit the front of the green than the back.

A look down the fairway from the 1st tee box.
A look into the 1st green from 75 yards out.
The second hole is a par 5 that plays over water to 537 yards. The landing area is fairly wide but is guarded on the left and right edges by natural sandy areas. The green has a fairly steep slope on the front so playing the ball to the middle is advisable. If an approach shot is hit on the front part of the green, there is a good chance it will roll back into the fairway. The green is also slightly domed shaped so the ball also stands a good chance of rolling off the sides and into a green-side bunker if you are unable to stop it quickly.

A look down the fairway from the 2nd tee box. 
A look into the green from 150 yards out.

A closer look at the 2nd green from just off the left side.
The third hole is a par 4 that plays to 408 yards. Much like the first hole, it is a straight fairway that leads to a deceptively tricky green that is guarded by five bunkers. The fairway is guarded along the right side by natural areas of sand and thick brush. A drive to the left side of the fairway leaves a good look at the green on the approach shot.
A look down the fairway from the 3rd tee box.
A look into the 3rd green from 150 yards out.
The fourth hole is one of my favorites. It is a par 3 that plays across the water to the green 176 yards away. With multiple deep bunkers on both sides and behind the green, as well the slope that runs right to left, a fade to the center is likely the best shot.

A look into the green from the 4th tee box.
The fifth hole is a short par 4 that only plays to 325 yards from the tips. However, that doesn't mean the hole is an easy one. There are bunkers scattered about the fairway that place all drives in jeopardy that are not dead center into the fairway. The green is very large, tempting long drivers to go for the green in one. However, the green tilts sharply towards the water on the back side just waiting to punish risk takers who do not hit a perfect shot.

A look down the fairway from the 5th tee box.
A look into the 5th green from 120 yards out.
The sixth hole is a par 4 that plays to 403 yards. Bunkers line both sides of the fairway, with the majority down the right. This allows a risk versus reward tee shot. There is a large landing area on the left side of the fairway with minimal risk of the ball ending up in the lone, left-side bunker. However, it leaves a long second shot.  A drive to the right side of the fairway, lined with numerous bunkers, is likely to catch any drive not hit far enough and on a straight path. However, a well placed drive to that side leaves a short iron or wedge shot into the green.

A look down the fairway from the 6th tee box.
The 6th green is a two-tiered green that slopes right to left. There are two moderately deep bunkers that guard both sides of the green.

A look into the green from 75 yards out.
The seventh hole is a third consecutive par 4 that plays to 341 yards. It is a crescent shape hole with the green 320 yards across the water. The landing area is tricky as it runs left to right and isn't very wide. On the left side of the fairway, the side farthest from you, is scrub area and sand. A strong fade or even a sliced shot hit to the correct part of the fairway is probable the most advantageous on what can prove to be a very difficult hole.  The green is sloped away from the center on both sides, but is relatively slat in the center. A well placed shot could lead to a good chance at birdie on this hole.

A look towards the fairway and green from the 7th tee box.
A look into the 7th green from 75 yards out.
The eighth hole is a par 3 that plays to 151 yards. It is a fairly challenging hole and the caddie's advice is best taken as it is a blind tee shot to a green set behind the dunes. The green is a challenging one with a sharp fall off short, right and left, and a big dip in the middle.

A look down the fairway from the 8th tee box. 
A look into the 8th green as it comes into sight just past the dunes.
A look closer look onto the 8th green.
A look onto the 8th green from 50 yards out and from the top of the dune.
The ninth hole is a par 4 that plays to 415 yards. The tee box is on top of the dunes and to your right is Atlantic Ocean as far as you can see. Once your tee shot is in the fairway, you have a tricky uphill shot to a green that is set at an angle to you. There is a severe drop off to the right of the green.

A look down the fairway from behind the tee boxes.
A look down the fairway from the 9th tee box.
A look into the 9th green from 100 yards out. 
A closer look at the 9th green.
The tenth hole is a 401 yard par 4. A three wood should likely be used from the tee box as the fairway is crossed almost completely by sand at 200-220 yards out. The green is set on top of a hill and has a left to right slope. Sand guards all four sides and the edge of the green has sever slopes that lead down to those traps.

A look down the fairway from 300 yards out from the green.
A look into the 10th green fro,m 100 yards out.
The eleventh hole is a long par 4 that plays to 461 yards. Luckily, it is a very wide and straight fairway. There are bunkers down both sides of the fairway. However, if you keep your sots with in 20 yards of center to either side, they shouldn't come into play. The green has a slight right to left slope and is guarded by no less than five deep, green-side bunkers. As long as you hit your approach shot into the green fairly straight, none of the bunkers should come into play.

A look down the fairway from the 11th tee box.
A look into the 11th green from 200 yards out.
A look into the 11th green from 75 yard out.
The twelfth hole is a 181 yard par 3. With a challenging green that slopes from right to left, and with three large bunkers protecting it, this is not an"give-me" hole. A fade into the center of the green is probably the best approach to take as the ball should land comfortably on the green and come to a rest somewhere in the center.
A look into the green from the 12th tee box.
A closer look at the 12th green.
The 13th hole is a par 5 that plays to 500 yards and is a very slight dogleg left. There are bunkers that guard both sides, as well as a wooded area to the left. Depending on how far you drive the ball, the landing area becomes very narrow at around 250-275 yards.  Hidden from view until you get fairly close is a deep bunker on the left side of the green. After you clear the initial ridge in front of the green, it is fairly flat. If you land your approach shot on the front edge of the green, it will roll back to the fairway.
A look down the fairway from the 13th tee box.
A look into the 13th green from 50 yards out.
A closer look at the left side of the 13th green.
The fourteenth hole is my favorite on the course. It is a par 3 that plays to 152 yards. With the Atlantic Ocean in the background, make sure you stand and take it all in for several minutes. It reminds you of how good golf can be no matter what score you have on your card.

A look into the green from the 14th tee box.
As you walk up to the 15th tee box, you top the dunes and have an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean. Below are photos looking to your left and right with the 15th hole behind you leading away from the ocean.
A look to your right while on the 15th tee box. 
A look to your left while on the 15th tee box.
The 15th hole is a par 5 that plays to 493 yards. It is a tight window to place your drive over a dune and onto the slightly obscured fairway beyond. Once you clear the tight opening of the tee shot, you find a large landing area with more room to the left than right. Your second shot is down a long, straight fairway to a medium sized green guarded by several bunkers.

A look down the fairway from the 15th tee box.
A look down the fairway towards the 15th green after clearing the dune.
A look into the 15th green from 100 yards out.
The 16th hole is a 485 yard par 5that plays to a fairway across water. Depending on how risky you want to be, and how much you want to shave off your second shot, will determine where you aim your drive. The fairway runs left to right at a 45 degree angle towards the green offering many different options of how to approach the drive.

A look across the water and down the fairway from the 16th tee box. 
A look down the 16th fairway from 300 yards out.
A look into the 16th green from 120 yards out.
The 17th hole is a short, crescent shaped par 4 that plays to only 328 yards. It is another hole that let's you determine how short you want your second shot to be by taking a chance at crossing more water. The main road leading to the clubhouse runs right behind the green on this hole.  The green has several deep bunkers that will catch any errant shots to the left and right so center is your best option.

A look across the water and down the fairway from the 17h tee box. 
A look into the 17th green from 100 yards out.
The 18th is a 390 yard par 4 that plays back to the ocean. It is almost all uphill so take an extra club on your second shot into the green.
A look down the fairway from the 18th tee box.
A look at Maidstone's clubhouse as you walk up the 18th fairway. 
A look into the 18th green from 150 yards out.
A look into the 18th green from 80 yards out.
When I got back to the locker room, I found that my walking shoes had been cleaned and polished to a nice shine, and then placed neatly under my locker.  After tipping the locker room attendant and getting his advice on where to play an afternoon round of golf, I made my way to the pro shop where I purchased a logo ball for my cabinet and a burgundy polo shirt for future wear.

Maidstone is unfairly judged by many as having a weak start and a weak finish, but I have a differing opinion. Something I did not realize until halfway through the round is that no two holes play in the same direction. The first, second, seventeenth and eighteenth holes are more strategic than they first look and require you to place the ball in the appropriate place in order to score well on each hole. In addition, you play three par fives in a four hole stretch and five holes in a row without a par four. The stretch of holes from twelve through sixteen are an incredible test of golf skills and a test I will long remember.

Overall, Maidstone has been one of my favorite golf courses, and overall golf experiences, since I started this quest. I get to experience nearby Shinnecock Hills in 2015 and may very well try to play Maidstone again while on Long Island.  It as an experience that I can't recommend enough and if you ever get the chance, clear your schedule and let Maidstone add a lifelong memory to your golf experiences.

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