Pound Ridge Golf Club – Pound Ridge, New York Guru's Rating: 9.1
Non-Resident Weekend Rate (with cart): $195
The hottest day of the year was less than ideal to experience a Pete Dye designed golf course for the first time. I had heard the stories about Pound Ridge; the bunkers, the rocks, the mounds. “Your game better be tight,” they said, “don’t miss.” I took the advice to heart, but as I stepped onto the first tee, the reality was, nothing was going to save me.
It took all of one swing to find my first sand of the day: those strategically placed fairway bunkers that sit straight out on the opening fairway gobbling up seemingly perfect drives. I soon discovered that Mr. Dye takes “strategically placed” and “seemingly perfect” to levels that will make you sweat, throw clubs, curse and shake your head. If the course wasn’t so beautiful and unique, I’d have run out of patience and golf balls by the turn, and may have preferred the sanctuary of my air-conditioned car to take me home down the Merritt Parkway. But this is a grown man’s course – and as tortured as one can be playing it, the layout and design make you a glutton for punishment, begging for more. “I can tame the beast,” you think to yourself. But no…no, you can’t.
It’s almost like you’re part of a mean golf/science experiment at Pound Ridge. Think you hit a great drive to a wide open fairway? Nope, your ball just kicked off a mound (that you couldn’t see) and is buried in the rough. Didn’t you just stick your 7-iron to within 5-feet of the pin? Sorry, that was a false front; you’re actually down there in that collection area. To play Pound Ridge is to spend an afternoon flailing wildly at fescue, watching pro-V1’s disappear into wetlands, and getting acquainted with sand traps of all shapes, sizes, and locations. Sprinkle in undulations, dramatic elevation changes, tons of deception – plus a rock or tree blocking what would have been a simple approach to a not-so-simple and not-so-big green – and you’ve got Dye’s formula for frustration. While you can play five or six different levels of tees at Pound Ridge (7165 yards being the longest path), there is no escaping the danger.
Difficulty aside, if you can appreciate Dye’s Hall-of-Fame eye for design, attention to detail, and ability to utilize and showcase a course’s natural beauty (the 14,000 feet of rock outcrops that adorn Pound Ridge) you will walk away impressed. There just aren’t many public daily fee courses in this area that offer such an unusual layout and setting – let alone one crafted by Pete Dye. But if you’re easily annoyed by brutishly tough courses, you likely won’t see the appeal, and certainly won’t be happy paying top dollar for the beat down.
During peak season (May 1-October 31), a weekend tee-time at Pound Ridge, up until 3pm, will cost you $195. Steep, but actually a reduction from the $235 initially charged by the course when it opened in 2008. The Recession coupled with backlash prompted owner Ken Wang (who plunked down $40 million to build the facility) to slash prices. Sources say Wang is opposed to cutting the rates any further, however, so don’t expect this to be a trend.
Pound Ridge’s 172 acres are flanked by an attractive driving range and practice area, but notably, no clubhouse. Wang and his staff insist that a foundation is in the process of being laid, but its continued absence limits Pound Ridge’s ability to serve as a destination to entertain clients or guests and offer a truly full range of amenities. Until this structure is built, the $195 rate might be even tougher for some to digest.
The reality is, most folks will look at Pound Ridge in one of two ways:
1) A once or twice-a-year indulgence – particularly for those who want to experience a top quality course in the Tri-State area, but aren’t members of a country club
2) A less expensive alternative to a country club, with the same quality of play (but without the amenities – for now). Pound Ridge offers various individual and corporate plans (that work like a debit card).
Otherwise, see my “Guru’s Tip” below for the best ways to play Pound Ridge on a budget.
Most Memorable Hole: Oh, the options. The 7th hole, known as “Woodland,” a 499 par 5 from the tips, was also known as the first time one of my drives found a fairway (sad but true). The forest framed hole is gorgeous and includes a wide fairway at the outset, that narrows as you approach the green. Your second shot needs to be left for a good angle towards an uphill green – but not too far left or else you’ll be in some gnarly rough. The 9th is another Par-5 with an intense elevation change (50 feet uphill) from tee to green. The fairway is sloped from right to left leaving you with unorthodox setup positions. Number 10 is aptly known as “Lookout,” featuring stunning views from the tee. An 80 foot drop will make you feel like you’re hitting off of a cliff. Quirkiness sets in on holes 13 (a 485 yard par 5) and 15 (159 yard par 3) in the form of rocks. An enormous boulder (known as “Pete’s Rock”) stares back at you from the fairway on 13, letting you know where to aim your drive (right over it if you can); and 15 dares you to hit your tee shot OFF the sheet rock behind the green in hopes of a ricochet back towards the putting surface. Don’t laugh: legend has it that Dye tested out this natural backboard while designing the course, lofting 3-iron after 3-iron from the back tees at the rock, each shot bouncing softly and safely to the green. And how could one forget #18, a finishing hole with a family of angry bunkers on the left and a tight fairway to the right. Don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly if you avoid the sand because a lengthy approach awaits with a sneaky water hazard greenside left.
Most Challenging Hole: Oh, the options (part two). Hole #2 is listed as the course’s number 1 handicap (a picture of Pete snickering at you might as well be on the scorecard). The par-4 plays 451 yards uphill and should be considered a par-5. If you haven’t lost your drive into the thick rough or fescue on either side of the narrow fairway, your second shot will likely do you in: over water to a contoured green that yanks everything towards that hazard. On number 14 (a 429 yard par 4), you are required to bomb it uphill over a large wetlands area (which I conveniently found myself in), and then take a mid-to-long iron towards a falsely fronted green (which I conveniently found myself below). 16 is called “Ascension” and it’s quite the charmer: 564 yards of brutality. I ended up in not one, but two fairway bunkers – both with awkward distances to the flag. The second bunker left me about 100 yards to the stick – but making matters physically impossible was a large tree impeding my approach. Who put that tree in such a strange area? I think I have an idea.
The Bottom Line: Westchester and Connecticut have some of the nation’s best golf courses, but until Dye and Wang came along to create this gem, all were private. The Tri-State area now boasts a unique daily fee course designed by a legend. When (if) the clubhouse is finally built, this place will have it all and might be able to justify its price. Until then, there are ways to experience it cheaper. For example…
Guru’s Tip: Playing Pound Ridge for $195 might sound outrageous – but how about $115? That’s the course’s newest rate any day (including weekends) after 3pm. In the summer when daylight hours drag on, that leaves you plenty of time to finish eighteen. And for the golf you’re getting (as tough as it is), that’s a steal.