THE LINKS AT HIAWATHA LANDING
2350 Marshland Road
Architect: Brian Silva and Mark Mungeam
Par – 72
Excitement Level – 9/12
Difficulty – 8/12
Design: six stars
Natural Setting Five and 1/2stars
Conditioning – Six Stars
Value: seven stars
Overall: Six stars
Cost – $45 peak, $23 reduced, $12 replays
Yearly Memberships – No, but $400 frequent player cards
save $100 over 20 rounds
Tees Yards Rating Slope
Tournament 7104 73.5 133
Back 6586 71.2 131
Regular 6195 70.0 125
Senior 5801 67.9 116
Forward 5101 68.4 113
Golfers who are not from upstate New York may look skeptical when faced with the premise that one of the best courses they never heard of is located in Binghamton, New York, but golf cogniscenti have made the trek to Hiawatha Landing for over ten years and have been rewarded with some of the country’s most superlative and inexpensive golf. Along with sister course Conklin Player’s Club, this tandem, located a mere fifteen miles from each other, offer two completely different, but flawlessly executed designs. Factor in that each costs a mere $45 in high season and one can understand why New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians alike endure two hour drives to play. Set in the lovely vale of the southern tier region of upstate New York, when the leaves turn in fall and the valley bursts into a palette of yellows, oranges and reds, a heavenly setting.
Hiawatha Landing is as authentic an inland links design as can be found anywhere in the U.S. Truth in advertising is critical and many people, including many in the golf industry over use the term “links style” these days (incorrectly in my opinion). Two popular guides to golf courses call anything that has overgrown native grasses and artificial mounds a links course. Perhaps the most unfortunate suspect is quintessential Robert Trent Jones layout Montauk Downs, hailed in one golf guide as “Shinnecock Hills for the masses.” The course is on the seaside at the end of Long Island and yes it gets windy, but the typical Jones parkland layout is the furthest thing from a links design. Hiawatha Landing, however, is a welcome exception to this downward trend in marketing. The course features all the hallmarks of an authentic links experience. The open routes to all the greens encourage and welcome a variety of approaches, from traditional lofted iron shots to cleverly conceived and executed bumps and runs. The mostly treeless landscape ensures windy conditions on most days. Hip high fescue covering subtle mounds guards the fairway edges and swallows errant shots. Finally, the greens are firm, lightning quick, impeccably conditioned, and roll as true as any tour layout. Their large size and subtle contours require precision to card birdies and pars.
Hiawatha Landing demands reasonable accuracy as both sides of each fairway are lined with hip high rough, water or in some places, the Susquehanna River. In keeping with its name, all the holes are named after the various Indian tribes which inhabit upstate New York. As the course pays homage to the game’s ancestral heritage, so to does the course’s name pay homage to the rich colonial history of the region. All the holes are masterfully woven into a seamless whole and every hole is memorable – each feels like an integral chapter in a compelling book which you cannot put down.
ON THE COURSE
Hiawatha Landing is a fair test for players of all levels. Higher handicappers who keep out of the fescue will not be overmatched. Lower handicappers love Hiawatha’s challenging shotmaking requirements. The first hole is a microcosm of Silva and Mungeam’s success in satisfying these dual requirements. A gentle dog-leg left with the shortcut guarded by a menacing fairway bunker, advanced players must hit a draw off the tee, then a fade into the green. Shorter hitters have a fair chance at par if they find the fairway off the tee and either hit the green by lofted shot or bump and run. The second, also a medium length par four, requires a tee shot on the right side of the fairway. Such placement not only avoids a menacing lake that guards the left side all the way to the green, but allows the player to play to the open side of the green. The third is a gorgeous par three played to a green guarded by a great oak tree. The only anomaly in design as it would feel at home in a parkland layout, the hole nevertheless flows well with the rest of the course.
The fourth begins a difficult stretch which does not let up until the turn. A short but tight par four, driver is not needed and risks a severe penalty as swamp and rough line both sides of the fairway. The fifth is a brilliant cape style par 4 played along the first of the “great lakes” which take the place of the seaside admirably. Any shot right is wet. The par three sixth turns in the opposite direction, also playing with the water’s edge along the right. The longest of the par threes, it requires anything from a long iron to a driver – again emulating a feature of classic links courses of the UK and Ireland, one par three usually requires a driver. Once again any shot right is doomed.
Seven and eight play along the edge of the Susquehanna River and are long stern tests. The par five seventh, a true three-shotter, features a long carry over fescue off the tee. The second shot must avoid a large bunker squarely in the center of the fairway. The second of the great lakes guards the left side of the hole and cuts in front of the green. The front nine closes with a fantastic and atmospheric reachable uphill par five. The entire hole is lined by bunkers and reaches a climax at an elevated green guarded by a mountain of bunkers on the right. This is a quintessential example of Silva’s cathedral bunkering style, where an enormous hill guards the green, with deep penal bunkers piled high one upon the other. The access road to the course is immediately behind the green, so any approach long is OB.
After a birdie opportunity at the short, straightaway par four tenth, the eleventh showcases Silva and Mungeam’s depth of design features. After a draw off the tee around one of the few stands of trees left on the property, the approach is played uphill to a punchbowl green. Silva had mapped out the course on paper and left the landscaping primarily to Mungeam. After reaching the green on his first time at the course, Silva smiled and exclaimed to Mungeam with delight, “You made a punchbowl green!” According to Silva, Mungeam grinned and sheepishly admitted that he kept its contours mild so as to minimize any potential outcry. Happily the typical Hiawatha patron is both knowledgable and open-minded to such creative design features and 11 is a player and critic favorite.
But the excitement is only beginning. If 11 is a charming and subtle masterpiece, then 12 is a juggernaut. Quintessential Hiawatha Landing, the fairway on this long par five bobs and weaves its way back and forth through shaggy fescue covered mounds, giving it an elusive, will-o-the-wisp quality before a hard right turn leads to a semi-blind green. Big hitters can try for it in two, but a large, deep bunker guards the front of the green and the shot is almost totally blind.
The finish is wildly dramatic and offers terrific excitement for players and spectators alike. The 415 yard par four 15th plays through massive dunes to a green featuring a severe false front. Two long accurate shots are required to earn a par. Next, one of the most creative risk-reward options greets the player at the 420 yard par 4 16th. Short hitters can play safely to the right of a massive cross bunker, but since the hole dog-legs left, the approach will be between 200-230 yards. Bold players who carry the 200 yards over the cross bunker will catch a down slope and have a short iron approach left, but be careful. Once again the green slopes off hard short and right and is guarded by some of the deepest bunkers on the course on all sides.
In a brilliant coup of design, the sixteenth tacks back close to the clubhouse and a man made hill provides adequate seating for a large group of spectators, who then have a prime seat for the shots played to the par 3 17th. With the second immense great lake on the left, sand short and rough right and long, this hole is arguably the best in a long line of great holes. Finally, the 18th is an unforgettable cape style par 5 playing from right to left along the steep edge of the lake. True to the concept that a great finishing hole summarizes all that came before, the player must once more negotiate around a great central lake, while threading shots between deep bunkers and hip high fescue. It takes two perfect shots to reach with a hope of an eagle, but one mistake and double bogey is certain. The green is shallow and sits right below the clubhouse restaurant. As visitors and other players love to watch approach shots while enjoying a bite or a drink, players are assured a gallery that will enthusiastically applaud good shots. In perhaps the most thrilling finish in course history, one player won the annual Thanksgiving Day Turkey Shoot Tournament by making an incredible two. In the deep chill of upstate New York Novembers, the great lake had frozen. The player bounced his drive off the frozen pond, across the hazard to within chipping distance of the green. His chip-in for double eagle won the tourney by one shot.
CHIP SHOTS AND TAP-INS
Since opening in 1994, Hiawatha landing has attracted a broad, deep and loyal following. Serious players and golf connoisseurs love the course for its terrific shot values and faithful recreation of golf on the other side of the pond. Average players also love its gorgeous and memorable design. Higher handicappers must keep the ball in the fairway as the fescue is deep, thick and penal. The par fours are all uniquely designed, charmingly beautiful and feature fascinating shotmaking requirements. The two reachable par fives are well guarded with heroic all or nothing shot values. Silva and Mungeam use a seemingly endless variation of design features, from false front greens to punchbowl greens, from amazing cross-bunkers to idyllic, but dangerous lakes.
Hiawatha Landing deserves its mantle as a course of national significance. The course is the overwhelming choice for tournament play, from U.S. open qualifiers and New York State championships to the annual Sylvania National Golf Writers’ Tournament. Even rock stars and politicians are frequently repeat patrons. PGA Head Professional Bernie Herceg could not be more pleasant or accommodating and the food is terrific.