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Monday, August 26, 2013

Pound Ridge Is D*&#%d Hard

Pound Ridge #13
Pound Ridge #13  photo by Jim Krajicek
We all have "off" days on the golf course, but the last place you want to have one is at Pound Ridge GC, the Pete Dye design about an hour north of NYC. Show up with less than your "A" game and your ego will take quite a beating. The daily fee track is known for fabulous sculpturing of the land, majestic forests, and picturesque rock outcroppings, but it's always a good idea to keep Pete Dye's opening-day advice in mind: “Everyone agrees it’s a beautiful piece of land. You just need to bring a lot of golf balls.” If you can't hit it straight, you'll need a bucket full.

The first thing you discover at Pound Ridge is that precision isn't just nice to have, it's absolutely essential. Tee shots have to be not only in the fairway but in the right place in the fairway to have a shot at the green. Approach shots have to not only land on the green but end up in the correct place on the green to have a reasonable two-putt. Mistakes aren't just unfortunate, they're deadly. Off the fairway a yard or two? You'll be in four-inch rough with a wedge your best option. Miss it by ten yards or so? You've probably lost your ball in the fescue or one of the many, many environmentally-sensitive hazards. The same conditions apply, by the way, to most of the par threes.

That's not to say Pound Ridge isn't an enjoyable golf experience--just be mentally prepared for a tough round. The course is visually stunning, with 14,000 linear feet of rock walls, dramatic bunkering, and gorgeous water hazards. The green complexes have none-too-subtle but perfectly putt-able contours, well-placed but playable traps, and numerous pin positions to keep things interesting from round to round. The turf and putting surfaces are as good as any private club--and better than many.

Pete Dye pointedly built five sets of tees with large differences not just in length of hole but angles of play, forced carries, and even hazards and obstacles between them. Choosing the correct tee is essential if you want any hope of playing a successful round. The tale is in the course rating for each tee, not the yardage. The "Oak" tees, for example, play 6,773 yards, a not-unplayable distance for many decent golfers using modern equipment these days. The course rating from those tees, though, is 73.8. That means a scratch golfer is expected to score nearly two over par if he shoots to his handicap that day!

The course isn't a pushover from the next set of tees forward, either. The "Granite" tees measure 6,261 yards with a 70.4 rating and 140 slope. From there, you'll face 200-yard-or-so carries off the tee on a couple of holes (nine and fourteen), not to mention the need to shape your tee shots on a couple more (ten and eighteen). Approaches over water will affect your strategy on the second and possibly the eighteenth hole. Elevated greens add to the difficulty on nine, thirteen, and sixteen.

Regardless of the tees you play, a house-size boulder, aka "Pete's Rock," sits in your line off the tee on the thirteenth hole, a 448-yard par five (from the Granite tees). The glacial erratic draws a great deal of commentary, but it also distracts from the real difficulty of the hole, which is lined by hazards on both sides of the narrow fairway all the way to the green. Golfers befuddled by the rock are much more likely to lose a ball right or left than to bounce one off the boulder. Even if your drive finds the short grass, your second shot needs to be laser-straight even if you are laying up to the long, narrow green.

Dye plays all sorts of mind games on the equally-infamous fifteenth hole, a relatively easy 144-yard par three. Once again, a granite outcropping immediately behind the green draws the player's attention while the hazard lining the front poses a much greater threat. The green is huge--some 60 yards wide--and set at an angle to the tee, so distance control is the key to par. Just to mess with you some more, though, Dye set the tees so that foliage in the hazard typically blocks your view of much of the putting surface.

Pound Ridge opened in 2008 to great acclaim and much comment about both it's demanding layout and equally-demanding greens fees, which were easily the highest in the metro area. Deep-pocketed golfers flocked to the course, however, and owner Ken Wang's $40-million gamble appears to be paying off. Given the caliber of the golf course, players get their money's worth even at the top rate of
$195 (including cart, range, and other amenities). Off-season and off-peak rates are considerably lower.

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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