Yale University Golf Course
Tenth hole,395 yards, Carries; Given the obviousdifficulties of thefourth, eighth andninth holes, one might be surprised to hear that many members consider this sub-400 yard hole to be the hardest par on the course.Despite the hole’s tee to green defenses, it is the violent green itself that leads many a critic to conclude thata more challenging uphill approach shot has not been built since Yale opened. Only the uphill approach to thesecond at Pine Valley compares.
Eleventh hole, 380 yards, Valley; The tenth through twelfth holes are laid over the most rambunctious portion of the property. The tenth is a roller coaster ride unto itself and it brings you to the eleventh tee, which is the high spot on the property. Aptly named, one’s tee ball must find the fairway in the valley some sixty feet below. Given the length of today’s technology, themirror image Redanplaying characteristics of the green are perhaps even more maddening than in Raynor’s day. Today’s tiger might be left witha fiddlyfifty yard pitch over a deep front bunker to a green that runs away. Such a conundrum has riddled golfers at The Old Course at St. Andrews for years.
Twelfth hole, 400yards, Alps; Since Green Keeper Scott Ramsey arrived here in 2003 and since Yale started spending the appropriate care and attention on this treasure of a golf course, this is the single most improved hole. Roger Rulewich did a fine job in re-creating the deep Alps bunker in front of the green and in rebuilding the bank before it. Set across tumbling land, this is one of thethree or fourfinestAlps holes in play today.
Thirteenthhole, 210 yards, Redan; Though a striking Redan with postcard qualities, its playing characteristics are somewhat diminishedbecause the hole is both downhill and Yale struggles to present firm and fast playing at this sheltered green. Thus, the needed release of a tee ball from right to left across the green that makes any Redan hole great is often times found wanting here. If anything, on a downhill Redan, the green slopes need to be more pronounced than usual given the steep descent of the tee ball. Here, the slope and right kick boardaretoo muted. Given the boldness of the Redan green at the eighth, the author would not be surprised to learn that this green has been softened/tinkered with over the years.
Fourteenthhole, 365 yards, Knoll; A first rate bunkerless Knoll hole, Raynor constructed the right side of the fairway to be considerably lowerthan the left, allowing the golferto sling a power fade off this created bank to propell a tee ballcloser to the green.A short iron approachis quite handy as this relatively small, firmgreen is a tough target to hold from a hanging lie well back in the fairway.
Fifteenth hole, 190 yards, Eden; Many of the greens have been enlarged and returned to their full size under the initial work accomplishedby Green Keeper Scott Ramsey. One of the most successful such instances occurred here where twelve feetof putting surface was recovered along the back and left. Now the green enjoys a ferocious amount of back to front tilt in keeping with the original Eden hole at St. Andrews.
Sixteenth hole, 555 yards, Lang; A tale of two halves. The driveis one of the more interesting ones onthe course as the golfer tries to play a draw off a pronounced landform in the right middle of the fairway to get a forward kick. If successful, the greeniswithin reach on one’s second. Unfortunately, the lastfifty yards of the hole is deadly dull, especially compared to all that has gone before. The primary reason for this let down is that Raynor’s green was movedthirty yards back and to the right from its original location.No one is clear who or when the work was done and the merit of the work is confined to placing the green site on higher ground. Raynor’s original green ringed by three bunkers was near a low-lying that timeproved was pronetofloodingand drainage issues. Hence, restoring Raynor’s green location is perhaps not practical. However, by all means, more thought and attention needs to be given to the last fifty yards of the sixteenth. At a minimum, the green complex should be made to look like it belongs on a Raynor course. Perhaps a proper Road Hole green that plays from right to left would fit nicely onto the existing site? Indeed, though Yale was built in the age of hickory golf clubs, technology has moved on and the variety of the course would benefit from picking up a long hard two shot hole on the back nine. As it presently stands,the seventeenth is the only two shotter on the back over 400 yards. Played from Raynor’s tees totoday’s green yields a hole in the 475 yard range,a type half par hole thatthe course doesn’t presently have. In so doing, some will howl that would make the par 69 but the course from the regular tees was in fact a par 69 in Raynor’s day.
Seventeenthhole, 435 yards, Nose; Though the golfer only has two holes to go, he still has well in excess of 1,000 yards to play. Thistwo shotterenjoys a Principal’s Nose feature sixty yards short of the green and one of Raynor’s favorite green complexes – the Double Plateau. C.B. Macdonald, Raynor’s mentor and a consultant here at Yale, first employed this combination of bunker and green complex at National Golf Links of America in 1909. The original purpose of the Principal’s Nose bunker at the sixteenth at The Old Course at St. Andrews was to create two different playing corridors off that tee. Raynor never went to St. Andrews and thus never observed for himselfthe bunker’s original purpose. Hence, he blindly reproduced thePrincipal Nosebunker and Double Plateau green as per NGLA at many of his subsequent designs.As atYeamans Hall, the Principal Nose bunker complex here provides visual deceptionfor approachshots as opposed to providing strategy off the tee.
Eighteenthhole, 620 yards, Home; Though controversial, this sprawlingthree shotter isthe perfectly impossible ending for this innovative design. It is difficult to describe other than to say the hole plays over and around a mountain. For the past several decades, the alternate lower right path was effectively not an option as tree growth had narrowed the right fairway to under fifteen yards in width. According to Ramsey, the right fairway was ”…was8-10 yards wide from the hill to the tree in 2003. Now it is 21 yards of fairway and 8-10 yards of rough to the tree line. We continue toincrementally recapture more fairway from the rough as we improve irrigation and drainage.Hopefully, we can get to 25-30 yards of fairway and continue to make it a really viable option.’ This courserichly deserves a unique ending and this hole delivers like few Home holes. Indeed, the author putsit forward as the best Long hole that either Raynor or Macdonald built due to its originality as well as its optional playing routes (i.e. for the same reasons that the fourteenth at the Old Course at St. Andrews isa standout).
Much work has been accomplished at Yale since 2003 and much work remains. However, the golfer of today is once again keenly aware that he is playing a very special course with Yale being a rare example of an architect successfully working withsevere terrain. Raynor struck an excitingbalance between challenge and fun in part by ensuring that the landing areas and the green targets were ample. Indeed, one of the course’s principle defenses is similar to that of the Old Course at St. Andrews: the size and the contouring of thegreens mean thatthe better golfer may well hit fifteen greens in regulation but sufferthirty-six plusputts to retard a good score. Depth perception becomes difficult when the golfer needs to carry a ball forty yardsdeep (!)into agreen just to begin to get near a back hole location. The challenge of getting an approach close to a hole on a massive green has never dimmed at St. Andrews and the United Statesequivalent is found here at Yale. And remember: nobody, including professionals, practices one hundred foot putts.
Like St. Andrews, Yale reminds the golfer of no other course. To call Yale the best university course in the country is to do it an injustice. Yale remains to this day a colossus indesign and a landmark achievement. Congratulations to the University for beginning to realize this and for starting to maintain and present it in the manner in which it deserves.
The author wishes to acknowledge and thank Dr. Geoffrey Childs for his photographs and contribution to this course profile.