When one considers parkland golf—gently rolling terrain, lush turf, stately trees, and an intimate playing environment—few areas possess as many fine examples of the style as Westchester County, just north of New York. In this golf-rich neighborhood, perhaps the best natural setting for the game can be found at Quaker Ridge, a quiet yet vibrant private club in the village of Scarsdale. This is saying a lot given the pedigree of so many of its neighbors, but the truth is the lower Hudson Valley is a hilly, rocky area that has never been the easiest place in the world to build a golf course. Many fine layouts feature the occasional cardiac climb or awkward routing moment as their architects attempted to deal with these obstacles.
Quaker Ridge has no such troubles. Designed by the great A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1918, the course is a smooth, unimpeded walk in the park. The site is steeped in history—one gnarled and ancient oak on the tenth hole is said to have sheltered a British encampment shortly before the Redcoats (temporarily) evicted Gen. Washington from New York at the Battle of White Plains. The course's routing is Muirfield-esque—the holes of the front nine run counter-clockwise around the club's perimeter, embracing the clockwise homeward nine and allowing for a satisfying exploration of the property. Along the way, the golfer is tested comprehensively but seldom with severity. While one can easily wash a Pro V1 on the pond-crossing 5th (a picturesque if slightly banal par-three, below), the vast majority of one's hours at Quaker Ridge are spent not concerned with losing one's ball but engrossed in classic strategic golf, with the land constantly on the rise and fall according to nature. Just so.
Jimmy Demaret once said that Quaker Ridge could host any tournament, up to and including the U.S. Open or PGA Championship. It's hard to disagree with that statement, but to date the club has mostly preferred to focus on high-level sectional golf—Met Opens and PGAs, as well as its own prestigious, 75-year-old amateur event, the Hochster—with the 1997 Walker Cup standing as its lone foray into the international spotlight. During the run-up to that event, Quaker Ridge hired Rees Jones to rework bunkers and add back tees; his father, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., had made alterations back in the mid-1960s. The course remained a strong test, but it's safe to say it had lost some of its original flavor.
Several years ago, Gil Hanse was brought on board to recapture the course's golden era; the restoration proceeded incrementally. The work was mostly complete by the time I first visited the club in 2010, but it was easy to tell which holes he'd yet to work on. A full two decades before the debut of the show-stopping par-five 4th at Bethpage (Black), Tilly designed a three-shot hole in Scarsdale with similarly grand fairway bunkering—the 14th at Quaker Ridge (below). This twenty-bunker salute, designed to scare golfers off to the right side of the fairway—much lengthening the hole in the process—was nowhere to be found in late 2010, but it has since been restored. Thanks to Hanse's sensitive, research-driven approach, today the course sings with Tillinghast character. Whatever that means—as Hanse points out in the video above, the concept of what represents "typical Tillinghast" is something of a chimera. In any case, what's out there today—the bold shapes and subtle strategies, the challenge, the simple fun of the place—feels both timeless and fresh as the day it was built.
On that note, a friend who was about to play Quaker Ridge for the first time recently asked me if I thought it was more like Winged Foot (West) or Somerset Hills, two other prominent Tillinghast layouts with which he was familiar. I thought it over and decided that it lands right in the middle. On one hand, it has the "long and strong" two-shot holes of its major-hosting neighbor on Mamaroneck Road. The 6th and 7th, in particular, are a pair of deadly doglegs-right that play even longer than their scorecard yardages (446 and 437, respectively). The 456-yard finisher features a perspective-skewing fairway bunker some fifty yards short of a green that tilts from back-to-front. Finding a way to stay below the hole with a mid- to long iron in hand is the type of crafty shot that good players relish.
On the other hand, like Somerset Hills, Quaker Ridge also gets high marks for design variety through Tilly's incorporation of compelling short holes. The front nine ends with a split-fairway par-four that's nearly drivable and a gorgeous, petite par-three with a green that retreats on the diagonal. The 17th, for its part, is a first-rate drive-and-pitch hole. Here, after having spent many years as a broad-yet-shallow target straight out of the RTJ Sr. playbook, Hanse returned the green to its original, diminutive shape. With a pair of tough fairway bunkers suggesting that players take something less than driver off the tee, this is the kind of hole where anything can happen, especially in a closely contested match.
This well-struck balance between might and finesse goes a long way toward locating the particular brand of genius that Tillinghast brought to Quaker Ridge. The variety of questions posed by these holes, presented in the quintessential parkland setting, may be why it is the favorite course in Westchester for many a well-traveled golfer. And thanks to Gil Hanse's deft touch, the club is in a fine position to pass along one of Tilly's best works for the enjoyment of future generations.