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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Paramount Coming Back Under Jim Urbina's Deft Touch

It's not quite finished, but the rejuvenation of Paramount Country Club is putting big smiles on the faces of those lucky enough to try out the A.W. Tillinghast gem in New City, NY. Jim Urbina is masterminding the two-year project. When completed, it will be yet another big feather in his cap.

"Urbina's vision for the property is incredible," says Paramount Superintendent Brian Chapin. The architect is not simply restoring the course to Tillinghast's original design; it's more accurate to say he's remodeling it to execute Tilly's philosophy as it applies to today's game. The result is a course designed for golfers who use their brain as well as brawn to play the game.

More than a few holes on the 6,724-yard (from tips) par 70 course will make you stop and think before whaling away with your driver. The 361-yard first hole sets the mental tone for the entire round. A well-traveled road cuts across it about 200 yard off the tee, making driver a less-than-wise choice unless you're absolutely sure you can carry the ball 235 yards dead straight. Plenty of players used to try that shot since the worst that could happen was generally a couple of scuff marks on your ball. Then Urbina restored "Tilly's Sahara," a narrow cross bunker full of sand and surrounded by fescue along the road. No more lucky rolls across the asphalt.

In general, the bunkers and tee boxes have been tweaked throughout the course. The greens were restored to their original size (they tend to shrink over the decades), but the original Tillinghast contours weren't changed much. The greens at Paramount have traditionally been the course's main defense and Urbina wisely kept them slick and curvy.

Paramount's Fifth Hole

A particularly devilish revision was to the 400-yard fifth hole. Urbina moved a dangerous cross bunker directly into the landing area off the tee and added a new bunker on the left side of the fairway, which also happens to be the best place to aim your drive. A safe shot to the right side of the cross bunker can leave you blocked by overhanging trees for your approach, so take careful aim off the tee and consider whether you really want to hit driver here.

The most controversial change was to the seventh hole, which went from a mediocre par five where players were literally required to lay up off the tee to protect traffic on the road to what is now a short, funky, and fun par four. It's now only 307 yards from the tee, making it drive-able if you can draw your ball around the bunkers and fescue guarding the sharply-slanted green. Big-hitting members (and those who think they drive the ball 350 yards) objected to the short hole, however, so a new tee box at 380 yards was under construction when I was there. In my opinion, those who opt to play from there will have made a mediocre choice.

A prime example of how Urbina adapted Tillinghast's design to the modern game is the thirteenth hole, a monster par three even in Tilly's day. When most drives went 180 yards, it was a near-impossible 229 yards from the tips, which made it sort of a par three-and-a-half. To keep up with today's technology, Urbina put in a new tee box that stretches it to 250 yards, still beyond the reach of most players even with a driver.

The pride and joy of the new Paramount is the eighteenth hole, a 179-yard par three. Before Urbina gave it his special treatement, it was an anti-climactic finish to your round. Now, it's a shot-maker's delight that will reward the player who makes the right choices and punish the ones who over-reach. The new eighteenth is a "reef hole," a Tillinghast concept that Urbina refined to perfection. The player has three options created by bunkers, ridges, and rough that require absolute commitment to the shot strategy. It can be played short and right, leaving a pitch over bunkers in front of the green, long and left where you'll have a moderate (depending on pin position) chip, or right at the flag--as long as you can float the ball 180 yards and stop it on a dime.

Paramount Country Club (formerly Dellwood) got new owners a couple of years ago. They're sinking money into all facets of the beautiful, classic property including significant upgrades to everything from the banquet facility to the tennis courts. They are to be most heartily commended, though, for their investment in this fine, fascinating golf course.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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