Hudson Hills draws public in private Westchester County
NEW CASTLE, N.Y. -- Hudson Hills Golf Course is public driven but its appeal strives for a country-club persona.
It has to, considering it's one of only six public courses in golf-affluent Westchester County, home to 59 private facilities including Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Trump National and Westchester Country Club.
Hudson Hills opened this spring, showing off its 6,935 yards layout from lethal championship markers. The $9.85 million, three-year Westchester County undertaking - none involved taxpayer money - was shaped into an upper-scale layout by architect Mark Mungeam, best known for his redesign handiwork at 2003 U.S. Open site Olympia Fields.
Condition of its bent teeing areas, fairways and greens are what you'd expect at a "members only" facility. Its level of difficulty is more grueling than its 70.6 rating and 123 slope from the men's regular markers (6,323 yards) indicate. And, course attendants treat players' golf clubs as if they were their own - they'll scrub'em down at the turn.
Ironically, Hudson Hills was designed on grounds of what used to be the private Pine Ridge course in the 1920s. If only Billy Casper Golf, managers of the facility, could locate more property for a much-needed driving range, and hide the monstrous water tower in the parking lot. But then no public course is perfect.
"One of the biggest surprises is that on Mondays when the private clubs are closed we have more groups from Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Mount Kisco Country Club, Westchester Country Club, Westchester Hills, Ridgeway, and Brae Burn," says course general manager Chris Martin. "They're all blown away (with Hudson Hills).
"A lot of them are even buying the Westchester County Park pass (for discount rates) to play here. That's probably the biggest compliment we've had: players from clubs of those statures enjoy playing here and see this as good substitute when their club is unavailable. I bet that 10 percent of our rounds a week are from the private clubs, 150 to 200 rounds a week."
Hudson Hills Golf Course unveiled Westchester County's newest chapter to public golf since the 1930s. Bill Clinton lives in nearby Chappaqua and was invited to play in May during the course's grand opening.
"He stated on several occasions that he loved the course and was very impressed with the layout and conditioning," said Tom Williams of Billy Casper Golf about the former president's visit. "He also stated that he would have his staff contact the course about coming back for nine holes some morning, but didn't expect that to happen until after his book tour was over."
The book on Hudson Hills, meanwhile, can be found on the serpentine par-5 10th. An abridgement, if you will.
Within the 521-yard area are substantial elevation changes, a deceptive tee shot and three fairway sections bordered by knee-high rough that link this challenging puzzle. By looking from the green back to the fairway, players get a better feel for the design. That best describes a day at Hudson Hills: Severe elevation changes, demanding hardships through the green, punishing rough and, for the most part, tree-lined fairways to keep players honest.
That's not to mention Hudson Hills' elevated and deep greens. Club selection changes three clubs from many of the front to back pin locations. Because of Hudson Hills' countless elevation changes, even single-digit handicappers will find the markers stretching the course 6,300 yards a worthy test. It resembles more like 6,600 yards.
From the championship tees? Not to be attempted unless you're A) near scratch; or B) near insanity.
Hudson Hills begins with four solid holes, including the signature 530-yard par-5 second that meanders to a green guarded by wetlands. The home hole par-4 has players aiming toward the modest A-frame clubhouse that is directly behind the green sheltered from fairway view.
But if you're searching for Hudson Hills' bona fide signature, it's the on the par-3s. All are unique and neatly framed. And extremely severe.
The third hole can literally break your ankles even from the 119-yard markers. On the right is a steep bank - more like a cliff - where tee shots and egos carom to a place of no return. The same can be noted about the 155-to-80-yard sixth, with its massive multi-tiered green with trouble on the left.
And, while the ninth also requires a short iron, it too is lethal because of a deep green protected with a grass basin and two front bunkers.
Both the 11th and 14th call for longer tee shots. The latter begins near a small cemetery with headstones dating back to the 1700s. If ghosts don't add jitters to your tee shot, certainly a left pin placement shaded by a tall oak will.
In the first year, Martin anticipates Hudson Hills to welcome 38,000 to 40,000 rounds compared to the "50,000 to 60,000" on the county's other public venues.
"The pace of play has been good," said Martin, who expects that to improve this month following removal to the cart path only rule. "You hear tales about the other county courses having six-hour plus (rounds). Even if you tee off at 2 or 3 in the afternoon on a busy Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you're still going to play in five hours or under. That's pretty good for around here."
But there is a price to pay, and it's higher than the other Westchester County public courses.
Locals can purchase a three-year Westchester County Park Pass for $45 for reduced rates of $65 on weekdays and $75 on weekends. Non-pass holders pay $85 on weekdays and $100 on weekends with exception of twilight ($65) and super twilight ($35) rates.
Hudson Hills definitely fills the need for public golf, not only in Westchester County, but to the horde of avid players who reside 30-plus minutes south in Manhattan. So far, the target-oriented course continues to maintain its premium course conditions, and with a degree of difficulty that rivals neighbor Trump National. More good news is course operators insist they'll keep Hudson Hills open as long as they can, anticipating those rare 50-degree days in November.
Whenever you come, bring an ample amount of patience. It's one of those layouts that grows on you the more it's played. You may be disappointed - like they are on most target courses - with a handful of quirky lay-up tee shots. There's also an excessive amount of blind shots, similar to the frustrating approach to the elevated and narrow 17th green.
But Hudson Hills' biggest fault is that holes 12, 16 and 17, all par-4s, run parallel with very little tree-line protection. Groups from all three holes potentially could be dodging white pellets and/or trying to find out whose ball is whose. It's a six-cart pileup waiting to happen.
Where To Stay
Wellesley Inn Armonk, 94 Business Park Drive, Armonk, NY 10504 (8.35 miles away).
http://www.wellesleyinnandsuites.com/hotels/wlar.shtml (914) 273-9090
Courtyard Greenburg, 475 White Plains Road, Tarrytown, NY 10591 (9.8 miles away)
http://marriott.com/property/propertyPage.mi?marshaCode=HPNGR (914) 631-1122
Casa Rina, 886 Commerce St., Thornwood NY 10594, (914) 769-4515
Elmer Suds, 171 Grand St., Croton On Hudson, NY 10520, (914) 271-6116
July 7, 2004