May 3, 2018 By: Mike Dougherty – Noted golf course architect Gil Hanse hit the pause button Monday at Pinehurst just long enough to head back to a familiar neighborhood and provide candid insight on Quaker Ridge as part of a Curtis Cup preview.
It was the kind of conversation that prompts A.W. Tillinghast geeks to salivate.
The landmark course in Scarsdale is labeled Tillie’s Treasure and will play host to the Curtis Cup Match next month, testing 16 of the best female amateurs in the country.
Hanse began a consulting relationship with Quaker Ridge in 2002 and over the years has completed a “sympathetic restoration” of the Golden Age master’s original work. Where the course needed to be modernized, it was done so considering the spirit and intent of Tillinghast. He’s also done extensive work over the last decade at Sleepy Hollow, Fenway and the East and West courses at Winged Foot.
Quaker Ridge will look and play differently than it did in 1997 when the club hosted the Walker Cup.
Here is a sampling of the conversation that took place:
Q: Is Quaker Ridge a good match play course?
Gil Hanse: “I may get in trouble for saying this, but Quaker Ridge is not a great match play course, and the only reason I say that is that it’s a rigorous examination of golf, and when I think of great match play courses, I think of heroic half pars, chances to really go for broke. This golf course requires you to be patient, to figure out angles and strategies. I think the golfers, when they walk off the greens with a par four, they’re going to be delighted. That’s going to win a lot of golf holes. It doesn’t take away from the greatness of this golf course in any way, shape or form because I think it’s a completely different mindset. It’s more of a methodical, thoughtful golf course as opposed to a golf course where you can go for broke. From that standpoint, the players who are going to be patient, who are going to be willing to let the golf course come to them, not force anything, they’re going to be rewarded because it’s that type of course.
“Where it can become a great golf course is in the setup. … I think there is flexibility in the strategy and setup of this golf course that can make it a great match play course. … It’s more of a grinders golf course. I don’t know if our team has that sort of a mentality. It will be interesting to see because in this day and age with most young golfers it’s just like, ‘Pow. I want to hit it as far as I can and go find it and hit it again.’ This golf course, I think, will require very thoughtful play.”
Q: This course is highly ranked, but is sometimes overshadowed by the courses at Winged Foot, which Tillinghast also designed. What is it about him that provided for such great championship courses and how does Quaker Ridge embody that?
GH: “He was a genius in the way that he laid out his courses. And the great thing about him is he was a bit of a chameleon. You never quite knew what you were going to get. The two golf courses across the street are very different from this, very different from Fenway. Within a very tight area you’ve got these four fabulous golf courses. This one, I think fits its property better than any of the four. It is probably the best piece of ground of the four golf courses and it’s no coincidence that I think the finest natural holes at Winged Foot are sort of 15, 16 on the West and 14, 15 on the East. And those are the ones that are closest to Quaker Ridge. I think Quaker’s valleys and the way he laid out this course is phenomenal. It’s obvious he drew the ball because out of bounds right on eight holes is killer for anyone who cuts it or slices. There’s a little bit of a bias in his design when he laid this place out. I think it’s that attention to maximizing the potential of the landscape, and he always built solid golf holes. You rarely find a clunker in them, but when he had a great piece of ground and he matched the golf holes and the strategy to them, that’s when you get a great result like Quaker Ridge.”
Q: What holes aside from No. 17, the short par 4, do you believe could be pivotal during the Curtis Cup?
“A hole like 14, the par 5, is Tillinghast’s example of a Sahara, which he built on many golf courses, but in my mind, this is the most dramatic one he’s ever built. … In my mind, it’s one of the finest par 5s I’ve ever seen.
“I think No. 6 is another hole where there is focus on the tee shot. You’ve got a creek down the left-hand side. You’ve got bunkers on the right-hand side. You’ve got ground that is kicking your ball toward the creek, so you need to control the angle that you’re bringing your shot in at. Tillinghast has these cross bunkers that are well short of the green, and for the accomplished players, they’re probably not even looking at them, but if they get in the fairway bunkers, or they get on the back of the creek or they get in the rough, now all of a sudden, they’ve got this second set of problems they’ve rarely ever seen before. Not only are you compounding the penalty by having a difficult green to hit in to, but now you’ve got to think about, ‘My God, the worst shot in the world is having a 70- or 80-yard bunker shot for my third shot in a match.’ So there are all these compelling issues that can present themselves on this golf course and you don’t see them much in modern golf course architecture.”
Q: Can you think of a better 54-hole collection in the same proximity as Winged Foot and Quaker Ridge?
GH: “Not by the same architect. Granted, there are different stages. He did this one first, then he did those two, then he came back and improved this golf course with additional land. I think him having a great knowledge base made all these golf courses better. I think him having worked here first made Winged Foot better and then after the experience there, coming back. I think the brilliant thing about this is they have the same DNA, but they’re not easily recognizable as the same architect or the same golf course and I think that’s really, really special. For him to have the ability and the creativity to build 54 golf holes that all smack of some certain character, the guy was really good.”
Q: Can you talk about the green complexes at Quaker Ridge?
GH: “One of the great things we so appreciate about the leadership here is they allowed us to restore the greens to their original size even if it wasn’t creating any new hole locations. Even if there were slopes coming into the greens, the reason Tillinghast put that there is because it was a recovery option. If you were coming out of the rough or coming out of a bunker, you could use that slope to feed the ball back to the hole. Those guys thought of every square inch because it wasn’t easy to move dirt back then. It was a chore, so if you were going to build a 3-foot ramp in the back of a green, you wanted it to be used for something.”
Q: What’s different about the course from 1997 when the Walker Cup was here?
GH: “I can’t say a number, but a significant number of trees (have been removed). People have asked me what was the most difficult thing to get accomplished here, and that’s true anywhere. Clubs become attached to their trees. It’s not just Quaker Ridge, it’s everywhere. What happens on great parkland golf courses like this is they get overcrowded. There are too many trees and they choke each other out and they start to affect the agronomic aspects of the golf course, so our goal is to pull out enough trees to keep the parkland character, highlight the specimen trees and allow for recovery and playability.
“The bunkers are also back to the scale and the style and the appearance from best we can tell, to Tillinghast.”