TALLGRASS GOLF COURSE
24 Cooper Street
Shoreham, NY 11786
Architect: Gil Hanse
Highest cost – $79 (weekends, a.m.)
Lowest cost – $30 (weekdays after 2 p.m.)
Tees Yards Rating Slope
Black 6550 72.2 125
White 6148 70.1 123
Gold 5613 67.5 115
Red 5044 68.6 110
Tallgrass is a most welcome addition to the Greater-NYC golf landscape. Like Bethpage Black and The Knoll Club (West Course), it gives New York public golfers a great course, close to home, at a terrific price. Just under an hour out on Long Island, it’s easy to get to, easy to get a tee time, inexpensive, and has excellent strategic golf course architecture.
In that respect, architect Gil Hanse built a silk purse out of a sow’s ear because the property used to be a small, square-shaped sod farm with one foot of elevation change. But by using such ingenious ideas as terracing the fairways, (so that they play well above or below one another), routing several holes around a visually arresting centrally-located sand quarry, encouraging the ground game through open routes to many greens, using grassy chipping swales as greenside hazards as well as deep bunkers, and incorporating design features from great courses such as National Golf Links of America, Pine Valley, and Garden City Golf Club Hanse designed a character-rich golf course that shows you something interesting at each hole.
“Given that the site had very little in the way of topography or interesting natural features, we had free rein to route the golf course wherever it made the most sense,” explained Hanse. “Once we settled on the concept of the “quarry” we knew that we would have holes play along the upper shelf to start and that we would want to wind down into and back out of the quarry before finishing back at the clubhouse. The use of the quarry in the routing allowed us to create some particularly dramatic holes.”
Terracing is a creative, clever, and cost-effective solution to fitting a golf course on a small or irregularly-shaped piece of property. Moreover, as Hanse observed, it also provides a natural and dramatic hazard for the golf course. It’s an important arrow in the designer’s quiver, especially in tough economic times such as these where costs need to be streamlined, and where one must make the best possible use out of every square foot of the property. Bayonne Country Club outside New York City also uses terracing to great architectural effect.
ON THE COURSE
The front nine at Tallgrass runs around the perimeter of the square-shaped parcel of property, (with a quick turn in to the interior at seven, then returning along the quarry edge back to the perimeter at eight). The back nine meanders through the interior, with several holes playing along the lower level of the quarry.
“In particular, eight, 11, and 15 jumped right out at us because they had some dramatic drops into and along the quarry,” said Hanse. “The par-3 8th hole is a Redan hole, and the short [par-3] 14th drew its inspiration from the “Short” holes that were built by Macdonald and Raynor.”
In fact, Hanse drew many general themes from courses such as National Golf Links of America, Garden City Golf Club, Pine Valley, and other great U.K. links when designing Tallgrass.
“For National, we were thinking about the large scale hazards on [its] 7th and 17th holes, and at Garden City the large sand area [at its] first [and second] hole,” he observed. “At Tallgrass some good examples of our attempts to “borrow” from these examples are the large scale bunkers to the right of the 15th hole, (second shot territory), the large sand area between the 11th and 16th holes, and the large bunker to the left side of the short par-4 sixth hole.”
Interestingly, it is the short holes that Hanse recalled most fondly most when discussing Tallgrass.
“Being that the course is considered short by modern standards we took a lot of interest in making sure that the short par-4s and the par-5 holes were considered interesting or sporty in nature. As we built the golf course, the short par-4 holes became the most exciting to build, like six and 10 because we were able to mold these into fun and interesting holes.”
Fun and interesting? You can argue that Hanse did that at every hole. Right out of the gate, Hanse gives you a center-line, illusion bunker guarding the green at the short, par-5 first, which curves like a scimitar from right to left along one edge of the property.
“You know you’re in for a treat right out of the gate. The first green has the appearance of a Lion’s Mouth bunker complex, with gull wings around the bunker, but the hazard is actually 15 or 20 yards short of the green even though it looks greenside,” explained one local golfer. “It’s architectural tricks like those that make us all glad we have a Hanse design so close to the City. He makes us think on every shot.”
At the second hole, Hanse presents the first of several excellent short par-4s and introduces one of his trademark design quirks, a particularly narrow green guarded by a steep fall off to one side. He also uses this concept at the 10th hole as well. This puts a premium on accuracy; even though the golfer will have no more than a mid-iron in his hand, the margin for error is slim. Miss the green and recovery is testy. The grassy chipping swales bring onto play all manner of recovery shots options: bump and run, pitch and check, lob, or putt, but it’s the indecision of which shot to play that can lead to a poor swing and a ball returning to the players feet or rolling away into three-putt territory.
“But those chipping areas can also help keep everybody in the game,” observed golf design expert Bruce Moulton. “It’s certainly a lot more fun – and easier – than gouging lob wedges out of six inch rough or dropping a ball and taking a penalty stroke. I’m glad that style of design has come back into vogue.”
Other interesting holes on the front include five, six, and eight. The long, rumbling, par-4 fifth is perhaps the sternest test on the front. A deep arroyo diagonally bisects the fairway, so most players are required to lay back with a fairway metal leaving a mid or long iron/hybrid into the undulating green. Fade off the tee, draw into the green are the optimum shot shapes. Three bunkers and two large hummocks guard the green.
The short par-4 6th may be the most interesting hole on the front. Though a mere 280 yards, (295 from the tips), it is no pushover as the entire left side is guarded by a deep, scruffy, sandy, waste area. Short, but sexy, the hole can give out any score from eagle to triple bogey, depending on how well you plan and execute your tee shot.
The par-3 eighth is actually a Reverse Redan, (called by some a “Nader”), where the kickplate is on the left side of the green and the hole falls away to the right side. The front closes with another short par-5 with a cluster of bunkers guarding the knee of this right to left dog-leg.
As mentioned earlier, the short par-4 10th is another hole that defends par admirably on the second shot with a narrow sliver of a green guarded by a deep swale of close shaved grass. Player must challenge the right side bunker for the best angle into the green. The further left you play to avoid the fairway bunker off the tee, the more you bring a dangerous left greenside bunker into play. This is another example of how many modern designers could toughen a golf course without merely relying on ridiculous length. A hole like says more in its mere 330 yards than a penal architecture hole with bracketing bunkers can say in 470 yards.
The mighty par-4 11th is one of two centerpieces of the golf course. The hole plays a full terraced level below the holes on its right, and along the quarry floor on its left. The green features two large humps on the back right recalling the old “Maiden” feature – i.e. breasts in the green – that would be found on many classic Golden Age courses.
Indeed the greens get more contoured as the round progresses and after climbing out of the quarry at the short-long par-4 combination of 12 and 13, the par-3 14th is an excellent example of the “Short” holes made famous in America by C.B. Macdonald, Seth Raynor, and Charles “Steamshovel” Banks. The green is almost completely encircled by five bunkers, while a depression loosely in the shape of a thumbprint appears at the front right quadrant. Though a mere 143 yards from the tip, it’s uphill and all carry, and even then there’s no guarantee of a two-putt.
The straightaway par-5 15th is the other showstopper on the homeward nine. Water, then sand guard the entire right side, while the quarry floor extends along the left.
The routing turns one last time into the quarry floor at the long par-4 16th, not only the longest par-4 on the course, but perhaps the toughest hole as well. A 472-yard behemoth of a dog-leg right with the knee of the dog-leg guarded by a deep bunker with a shaggy hump in its middle, the players must also carry a diagonal bunker complex on their approaches or face a long pitch to a green with three humps around its edges.
“The humps around the edges make the green actually much smaller than it is,” explains Moulton. “It’s really one little green in the middle of those humps. If your short game is off that day, that hole will murder you.”
Hanse’s puckish side emerges at the long par-3 17th – the hole is almost completely blind. Perhaps only Tom Doak, Coore and Crenshaw, and Gil Hanse could get away with designing a blind par-3. If Jim Engh or Robert Trent Jones, Jr. did it, there’d be more cacophonous howling then at a Radiohead concert. But when one of the minimalists tries it, they get a free pass. Even so, the hole is a great deal of fun to play. The green is hidden behind a huge hill with a deep bunker at its base. Moreover, shots tend to bounce forward as they carom off the back of the hill, so you can play one less club than the distance indicates. It’s no “Dell hole” from Lahinch, but it’s still a creative idea and one you don’t see almost anywhere else. (For those of you scoring at home, Jim Engh had exactly the same idea at the 17th hole at Blackstone Country Club, one of his private designs outside Scottsdale, Arizona. His versionis only semi-blind, the right half of the green is visible.)
At the home hole, a semi-blind approach plays to a green canted sharply from left to right.
CHIP SHOTS AND TAP-INS
Some people refer to Tallgrass as an east coast version of Hanse’s California course Rustic Canyon, an excellent example of minimalist architecture and another quintessential public golf bargain in America. However, idealistically the two courses differ in one important way:
“Tallgrass is completely created and on a small site while Rustic is completely natural on an expansive site,” Hanse explained. Indeed, it might be more accurate to call it a proper rejoinder to Tom Doak’s Rawls Course in Texas: completely manufactured, looking eminently natural. Indeed, Tallgrass has a rustic, homespun feel almost scruffy feel to it that you would find at the great seaside links of Ireland.
Though only 6,587 yards from the tips, Tallgrass is an excellent example of how intelligent strategic architecture can provide a more stern and interesting challenge than many courses even as much as 1,000 yards longer. Smaller, well guarded greens with interior contour defend par much more admirably than machismo-tauting length, ubiquitous water hazards, and cookie cutter bracket bunkering could ever do. Tallgrass only has 73 bunkers, but as Hanse’s former mentor and employer Tom Doak wrote, “fewer bunkers more interestingly placed,” is a better architectural design principle.
“We hope that the demands presented by these holes will outweigh the notion that the course is not up to standards since it is short. The truth is that the course is plenty long for most golfers and the focus should be on the character and creativity of the course, which are its strongest assets. Primarily the length of 16 and 17 and the difficulty of those holes, (16 with the long area of sand and length, and 17 with the semi-blind nature), while we are at it you could probably throw in 15 for most golfers with the water on the right being the big challenge,” explained Hanse.
“Given that the length was constrained because of the size of the property we knew that we needed to create something fun and interesting for players to keep them coming back,” Hanse continued. “We also focused on a strong finish, which would leave the golfers feeling as if the course was longer or “stronger” then the scorecard might indicate.”
“And let me tell you something,” energetically adds PGA Head Professional Phil Tita (pronounced TEE-tuh), “when that southwesterly wind starts kicking up at 35 miles an hour, you’ll wish the course was 1,000 yards shorter!”
Well he can rest easily – few people think Tallgrass is a pushover, but a great many find it interesting and exciting. Everyone seems to agree – once a public golfer plays Tallgrass, it stays in their rotation.
“Bethpage Black, The Knoll Club (West), and Tallgrass – everything else is at least a step below,” explained our above mentioned local golfer, whose name we never caught. “If we could play all our rounds at those three, we would. We can play Tallgrass every weekend and never get bored. Plus we can afford to come here every weekend, and we can get a tee time without too much fuss. We love it, and so do all our friends. The guys that rotate in and out of our regular group frequently ask me, ‘Hey! Let’s go play that Tallgrass place again. That was cool, and the wife won’t get mad when she asks how much money I spent!'”
As we go to press, Gil Hanse is perhaps the hottest golf architect in the World right now, having won the jobs for Ridgewood, Doral, Winged Foot, and the Rio 2016 Olympics Course all in a period of a few months. He is riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave of golf course architecture revival and renaissance, indeed he is one of the leaders of its vanguard. Moreover, it’s a smash hit for the DeLalio family and the RDC Group. With folks like Hanse, the DeLalios and the Chris Schiavone, who put golf’s best interests first and foremost, the real winners are NYC-area golfers.