The Maidstone Club
NY, USA

Green Keeper: Robert Williams

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

Man vs. nature in its highest form: the two shot 9th at Maidstone.

Willie Park Junior is a largely forgotten figure among golf course architects. Yet, his design style without doubt bridged the gap from the straight forward Willie Dunn era to the Golden Years of the 1920s. Certainly, his work at Sunningdale Old in 1899 and Huntercombe in 1901 had a profound influence on many subsequent architects, including Hugh Alison, J.F. Abercromby and Sir Guy Campbell. In fact, after seeing Huntercombe in 1901, Walter Traviswrote in Golf Illustrated that it was:

‘…easily the best laid out links I have ever played over anywhere. There, in order to negotiate the round properly, you must be a master in the art ofboth scentific slicing and pulling, and be able to get the full measure of every conceivable stroke that occurs in the game, orelse can be subject to some penalty – in short, every shot has to be played for all its worth. That is GOLF.’

Travis’s remarks sum up Maidstone as well, though Willie Park Junior didn’t design Maidstone for another twenty-one years. In fact,around the world in 1922, Willie Park Junior may well have been the architect of choice. For instance, he had recently completed Woodway Country Club in Connecticut, having been selected ahead of Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast and Seth Raynor!

While at the height of his powers, Willie Park Junior was given his finest piece of property in North America when Maidstone acquired the 80 acres of the Gardiner Peninsula in 1922.The south end of this peninsula is framed by a 1,000 yard stretch of sand dunes with the Atlantic Ocean just over the other side and the soil is sandy throughout.Today’s 4th green all the way through to the 15th hole reside on this thrilling parcel of links land. No other architect at Maidstone ever had this property at his disposal, from Willie Dunn who laid out a rudimentary seven hole course for Maidstone in 1894 to Seth Raynor who drew up re-design plans for the club in 1921.

Willie Park Junior‘s routing on the 80 acres on Gardiner’s Peninsula and the remaining 50 acres is masterful as he introduces numerous forms of hazards at all sorts of angles to the player, including a marsh, Hook Pond, sand dunes, beach grass, reeds, well placed bunkers, out of bounds and the ever present wind. With such a variety of hazards with which to contend, Maidstone reminds one of the famed Royal North Devon in England.

Having won the Open in 1887 and again 1889, Willie Park Junior was aworld classplayer and obviously appears to have had akeen appreciation on how to challenge the golfer. One skill which he particularly admired was the art of putting and few links can compete with the imaginative green contours he created here, such as those found on the 6th, 10th, and 18th greens.The greens are central to the challenge for the ace player at Maidstone and Green Keeper Robert Williams has for years and years maintained them in a fast and firm manner that would certainly please Willie Park Junior.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

Green Keeper Robert Williams and his crew consistently present Maidstone in a manner so as to maximize the subtleties of Park's design. For example, the above bunker is well integrated with the 11th green.

Holes to Note

2nd hole, 535 yards; An advantage that the Golden Age architects enjoyed over modern ones is that they could incorporate out of bounds into their designs. In today’s litigious society, that is not possible. Take the 2nd holefor example. A road parallels the hole along the left from tee to green and Park made no effort to shield the golfer’s eye from the road (though obviously far less traveled then, it was nonetheless out of bounds). In addition, out of bounds hems in the hole from the right but Willie Park Junior angled the green so as to best accept an approach from the far right side of the fairway. Given the same bit of property, a modern architect would almost assuredly have to ‘hide’ the road with artificial mounds (thus reducing a psychological terror of the hole) and could not tempt the golfer to seek the better angle to the green by going down the right side of the property.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

From the 2nd fairway, the green is on the same angle as the Road Hole green at St. Andrews, which is to say on a diagonal from front right to back left. The bunker pictured above runs behind the 2nd green and is meant to replicate the terror of the road at St. Andrews.

3rd hole, 410 yards; One of the few straight holes on the course, Willie Park Junior created interest at the green with a false front as well as a step in the green. Whether down wind or into it, the greenisbest approached along the ground.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

The three foot rise before the 3rd green can be seen in this view from the left of the fairway.

4th hole, 170 yards; The 4th hole transitions the golfer onto the portion of the property that contains genuine links land. The tee itself is in the middle of Hook Pond and the author wishes he knew more about what was required to build it.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

Maidstone takes on a more expansive feel with this tee ball at the 4th.

5th hole, 325 yards; When the hole location is left and front, this hole can be had by plenty of players. However, many more times than not the hole location is either behind the right bunker or on the raised back portion of the green. When that’s the case, the odds of success shift away from the player and to the course.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

The simple yet effective bunkering of the 5th hole: to get anywhere near the day's hole location when the hole is downwind, the drive must slip past the bunker in the foreground.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

Like Garden City Golf Club, Maidstone is peppered with odd shaped bunkers that vary widely in depth. The one above creates problems when the hole is on the right of the 5th green.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

Though short, the 5th requires a nervy pitch to get the ball near any back hole location, especially once one realizes what awaits directly over the green.

6th hole, 405 yards; With reeds down the right, the golfer’s tendency is tobail left with his tee ball. The problem then becomes two fold. First, Willie Park Junior cut a dominate bunker into the ridge to the left of the green. Second,he also built one of his finest greens ever with the left portion a good two to three feet above the lower right portion. Together, the left bunker and green contour reduce the chance of success from an approach from the left.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

The bunker to the left of the 6th green almost dwarfs the 6'2' golfer. The sharp drop to the right in the green is noticable as well.

7th hole, 335 yards; Doglegs on tree-lined courses often accept nothing more than a straight shot off the tee, thus compromising any strategic merit. Nothing could be further from the case at Maidstone where the golfer must judge how much of Hook Pond to bite off on this dogleg to the right (and at the 16th and 17th holes as well).With the Atlantic Oceanwithin 200 yards, the wind is the real issue and the proper line changes from morning to afternoon, making it a prime example of why Maidstone remains fresh to play year after year.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

The Cape aspect of the tee ball is evidenced in this view back toward the 7th tee.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

With the fairway slightly below sea level, the greenside bunker was never going to be deep. Nonetheless, it is effective and suggests the best angle in downwind conditions is from the left side of the fairway.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

With the water right, plenty of approaches are pulled left and this random mound sends balls everywhere, including onto the green. If not overdone, such an element of chance can add to the overall appeal of a course.

8th hole, 150 yards; Though it is the start of one of the great – if not the greatest – three hole stretches in the game, the partially blind 8th hole is not as Willie Park Junior intended. As exemplified at Sunningdale Old, his strategic approach to course design eschewed blind approach shots while seeking to provide pleasure to the greatest number of people. In the case of the 8th, heavy storms throughout the 1930s and 1940s moved the sand dune inland and made the shot completely blind. An irate board member in the early 1960s leveled the sand dune with a tractor to the way it more or less is today. Though Willie Park Junior might disagree, the hit and hope aspect of today’s 8th is a rare treat/thrill in American golf where the quest for perfect visuals and ‘fair’ holes has contributed to a sameness of design for decades.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

Only the left quarter of the 8th green is visible from the tee.

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

The bunkering and green blend seamlessly into the dunes as seen above and....

Maidstone, Willie Park Junior

....below. Note how much longer the 8th green is than it is wide.

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