Appeared in March 2004 LINKS
Golf architect Stephen Kay likens course design to filmmaking. “I like to design holes that absorb golfers, holes that they remember afterward,” says Kay. “It’s no different than what moviemakers strive for—to create something engaging and memorable.”
A prime example is the Links at Union Vale, the product of Kay and his senior associate, Doug Smith. The site evokes links-style golf, which is no surprise considering it is the realized dream of roughly a dozen metropolitan New York Gaelic golf societies. Filled with passionate players, the societies had operated since the 1940s on the munis of the city and its environs. Their love of the game impelled them to spend Friday nights in parking lots just to secure Saturday-morning tee times.
Clearly these men needed a course of their own. Armed with seed money, Phil O’Meara and a site committee bought 200 acres of fallow ground in the rolling countryside of Dutchess County and hired Kay on the strength of a resume that includes the highly regarded Links of North Dakota, sited on similarly open terrain.
The product is a flexible design that rewards the tactician over the attacker. Shrewd are the players who walk off the 18th green with a score better than their average. It’s a course that can’t be outmuscled, but it can be thought through with very good results.
The round begins with a 400-yard par 4 and a 500-yard par 5 that both cross wetlands on the approach. (Don’t be disappointed: The forced lay-ups off the tees don’t signal the texture of what is to come.) The course gains more flavor at the 200-yard 3rd. A bunker is the best place to miss to the right, for just beyond is the chaos of the rough.
Here as well, for the first time but not the last, the beauty of the surrounding landscape becomes apparent. The rolling hills of Dutchess County spread in all directions, the Hudson Highlands rise in the south and the pastel blue of the Catskills rumples the horizon to the northwest.
The 16th, nearly 450 yards, may be the best hole on the course. Bending to the left, it breaks downhill and finishes with a deep, lozenge-shaped green. A pond protects the left side; driving to the right corner of the dogleg is safe, but leaves a long approach. The risk-reward option: Start the drive left and carry three circular bunkers guarding the turn, the reward being lots of roll down the slope and a wedge into the green.
Union Vale is crowned by a 25,000-square-foot, Georgian-style clubhouse on the property’s highest spot. Inside, the clubhouse bar offers compelling evidence that the course’s antecedents are Irish: Guinness on tap, poured slowly, in traditional fashion. It’s a final reminder that at Union Vale, the race goes to the patient, not the swift.
Year founded: 2000
Architect: Stephen Kay