I awoke on Sunday morning, May 13th feeling somewhat rested following one of the most intense weeks of golf during my one-year quest to play the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 Courses in America. Over a five-day period, I had played on seven courses in New York. It started with 19 holes of golf on a composite of the East and West Courses at The Winged Foot Golf Club in Scarsdale on Tuesday afternoon, it continued with a round at Sebonack in Southampton on Wednesday morning followed by a morning round at Friar’s Head in Baiting Hollow on Thursday. Friday was a 36 hole day with a morning round at National Golf Links of America in Southampton and an afternoon round at The Maidstone Club in East Hampton. I finished off the week with a Saturday afternoon round at The Quaker Ridge Golf Club. To say I was exhausted on Saturday night would be an understatement.
It was an intense week, but I made a lot of progress, moving from needing to play 29 courses in 35 days to needing to play just 22 in 30 days. Sunday would be one of the few remaining days before June 12th that I would not swing a golf club. I slept in that morning and then took a leisurely drive from Yonkers, NY to New London, CT ahead of another intense week of golf. The week would start with a round on Monday at Fishers Island Club. I’d invited “Billy from Philly” and Tim to join me for the round.
Billy is a friend and fellow participant in the annual Black Jacket Tournament that I play in on Kiawah Island where the winner is awarded the Black Jacket and the last place finisher is awarded a pair of pink pumps (stilettos) to display prominently in either their home or office for a year. Billy also introduced me to my host for my rounds at Prairie Dunes Country Club and Merion. We had tried to play together at some of the previous courses but couldn’t get our schedules to match. While Billy didn’t live in Connecticut, he was just a few hours on a train away.
I met Tim on the evening before my round on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park back in mid-September of 2017. Tim and his son Drew make annual pilgrimages to Bethpage to play golf together. They had invited me to play with them after a random meeting in the parking lot at the park. Tim lived in Connecticut, so I thought it only natural to invite him to join me at Fishers Island after my host arranged for an unaccompanied foursome. I’d invited a fourth who also lived in the area and had hosted me at a top 100 course, but he was unable to make it.
I was introduced to my host, Cliff by Jeff Johnson the President of Flint Hills National, another top 100 courses. Jeff and I met when I played Flint Hills as the third course in my quest. Boy, that seems like such a long time ago. He’d offered to help me after I told him about my quest. Jeff became one of the most crusual people I’ve met during my quest. He asked me for a list of the courses, reviewed the list and identified the ones that he could possibly help me with. During my quest I tried to limit my help from any one individual to no more than three courses. Jeff was one of the few people with whom I violated that guideline.
You are probably wondering why I’d even have such a guideline. Let me explain. First, I am always grateful for the help that people give me because I see that help as a meaningful selfless act. I feel that relying on a single person for too much help, even when they’d be more than happy to give it, would be taking advantage of their generosity and kindness. My mother taught me that how you achieve results is just as important as the results themselves and achieving results at the expense of your principles is no achievement at all. I also worked for a company for almost 35 years that reinforced that same value.
The second reason is that my quest is about more than just playing golf. It is also about reaffirming my belief in the innate goodness of people. The more people I meet and include in this amazing journey, the more that belief is reinforced. So, my rational may be corny but I think the guideline is appropriate.
While Jeff had included Fishers Island as one of the courses he could help me with I made several other attempts to identify a contact for Fishers Island before accepting his help. One of the caddies at my home club told me about a member at my club who had played there. That member was not able to help. I asked my home club if they couldn’t help. While they’d helped me several other courses, this was one that they couldn’t help with because all unaccompanied guest must be sponsored by a member. I also contacted Dan Colvin the head pro directly to see if he had any suggestions. Dan was helpful in providing dates for outing that I might be able to join through contacting the organizers. My best lead came when my host at Riviera Country Club asked me which courses I didn’t have contacts for. At the time Friar’s Head and Fishers Island were the only two remaining courses where I didn’t have a contact that was working on access. He mentioned that he had a friend that was a member at Fishers Island. He offered to contact that friend on my behalf. He did, and that friend was willing to sponsor me but by the time I found that out, I’d already gone back to Jeff and he’d introduced me to Cliff.
Fishers Island is in New York, but it’s close to the coast of Connecticut. Access to the island is by Ferry from New London. That’s why I drove from New York to New London on Sunday in preparation for my Monday morning round. Billy took an extremely early morning train from Philly. I met him at the train station at 5:45 am ahead of our 7 am ferry reservation. Tim arrived moments later. The train station is next door to the ferry dock.
With nearly an hour before our Ferry we asked Pete, the parking lot attendant where we could grab a cup of coffee. Pete is a retired firefighter who wanted something to do in his free time. He directed us to a Dunkin Donuts nearby. Dunkin Donuts is to the northeast what Starbucks is to Seattle and Dairy Queen is to Texas, there is one on every corner. We drove to the Dunkin Donuts and had the opportunity to mix it up with some of the locals before heading back for our 45-minute ferry ride across Long Island Sound to Fishers Island.
We arrived at the fog covered island and made the 20 minute drive from the ferry dock on the western end of the island to the club on the eastern end of the island. The clubhouse was being renovated, so it wasn’t obvious where we needed to go to check in. I called Dan and he and Randy the starter met us to provide guidance on where we could park. I changed my shoes on bench in the makeshift pro shop and Tim, Billy and I jumped in carts and were on our way. After a brief warm up we made our way to the first tee.
We chose to play from the white tees which measure 6161 yards with a 70.1 rating and a 133 slope. The first hole at The Fisher Island Club is 390 yard par four. It’s a straight forward hole with a wide fairway. There is a 130 yard carry over some thick rough to reach the fairway. There are small bunkers in the left rough starting at about 160 yards from the tee and several additional small bunkers in the right side of the fairway at about 220 off the tee. I hit my drive straight down the middle. The ball didn’t go far but it went straight. I was left with 200 yards from a front of center pin on the right side of the green.
The first green is a typical Raynor green. It has a straight-lined open front and a rounded back. There are long bunkers off the sides and another one off the back. In addition, this one has ponds off both sides beyond the bunkers. I took dead aim at the flag with a three hybrid. The ball stayed on line but dropped just short of the green and then rolled one foot onto the green leaving a 39 foot putt for birdie.
On this the 79th course in my one year quest to play the Golf Digest 2017-18 Top 100 Courses in America was one of the rare rounds where I didn’t play with a caddie. My read of the putt was that it would break two cups from left to right. Tim said he saw at as a straight putt. He was right. It was straight, but I left it 5 feet short. I made the next putt to open my round with a par.
The second hole on this 1926 Seth Raynor designed course is a classic Redan hole. Redan holes are par threes that usually measure from 150 to 180 yards with a green that slopes severely from right to left. This one measures 165 yards from the white tees with a carry over rough and the right edge of a pond. There are bunkers running along the left and right sides of the green.
The pin was toward the back left side of the green, so the hole was playing more like 170 yards. The green is also at a slight angle to the tee box. Too avoid having to carry more of the pond and to clear the left bunker, I tried to draw a six iron around the bunker and back to the flag. I hit the ball on a good line and it drew toward the flag, but I didn’t have enough club. The ball landed short of the left side of the green.
I chipped on to eight feet below the flag. I made a good read and hit a good putt, but just didn’t put enough oomph in it. The ball stopped two turns from dropping into the cup.
The third hole is a short but tricky par four. It measures just 311 yards. The fairway is elevated and at an angle to the tee box. A straight uphill drive off the tee must carry 210 yards over rough and rocks to reach the right edge of the fairway. I attempted to hit a three wood on a line with a shorter carry. I chose a three wood so that I wouldn’t hit through the fairway. I hit the ball on a line much farther right than I expected. The ball landed in the rough on the upslope well short of the fairway.
The third green is shaped like an elbow pipefitting that bends right to left. There is a bunker that bends with the green from its right side to around the back side. The ocean is beyond the back bunker. A bunker also runs along the left side of the green. After walking up and looking at the green and considering the shot I’d have to make to reach the green, I decided to just pitch the ball to the fairway and take my changes making a par with a one putt. My pitch left me 70 yards from the back-left flag.
I left my pitch to the green a little farther below the hole that I had planned but that was better than going long and ending up in the bunker or worse yet, in the ocean.
I hit my par putt on line, but it lacked even more oomph than my putt on the second hole. I left the ball two feet short of the cup. I made the two-footer for a bogey.
The fourth hole is another short par four measuring only 355 yards, but like the third hole it is uphill, so it plays much longer. My only double bogey on the front nine came on the fourth hole. The fairway starts at about 200 yards from the tee, but of course plays longer since it is up hill. The fairway takes up just 125 of the linear yards on the hole. There is rough before and rough between the end of it and the green. My ball didn’t touch the fairway even once. I popped up my drive and the ball landed in the rough short of the fairway.
I pulled my second shot and the ball landed on the slope off the left side of the fairway.
I hit my third shot to the right side of the punch bowl green. The punch bowl green is another feature that Mr. Raynor like to include in his designs. The green has sloping sides all around it.
The problem with hitting my ball to the right side of the green was that the flag was on the left side of the green. I three-putted for the only double bogey on my scorecard for the front nine.
The 170 yard par three fifth hole plays along the ocean to an uphill green with a steep slope toward the ocean off its right side. There is a 155 yard carry to the front of the green. There are bunkers off to the left and right at about 30 yards short of the green and additional ones off the left and right sides of the green.
All three of us hit tee shots that missed the green. My tee shot hit on the front of the green, but it’s a false front so the ball rolled off. I pitched on to five feet and made my putt for a par. Billy pitched on to 20 feet and sank his putt. Tim pitched on but missed his putt and made a bogey on the hole.
By the sixth hole, the fog had completely lifted. Billy looked out toward the beautiful blue sky and said, “I see why this is a top 10 course!” It is actually number 11, but it’s a top five in my opinion.
The sixth hole is the first par five on the course. It measures 493 yards from the white tees. The fairway is on a straight line from the tee box to the green but is one of the most undulated fairways on the course. There are no fairway bunkers, but there is a street that crosses the fairway at about 180 yards from the middle of the green. I hit my drive to the left side of the fairway leaving 300 yards to the middle of the green.
I laid up to the right side of the fairway, the ball rolled off the fairway to just into the rough. I was left with 120 yards to the pin.
I played a 130 yard shot to the pin on the right side of the uphill green with bunkers running along the left and right sides. I caught the ball cleanly and hit it right at the flag. I thought I’d have a tap in birdie. Unfortunately, the ball landed just right of the flag. The green slopes to the right. The ball rolled off the green and into the bunker.
I was pin high in the bunker with the ball sitting on the slight uphill portion of the bunker. I hit my sand shot to 12 feet from the pin.
I made the putt for my third par on the front nine.
The seventh hole is a 353 yard par four with a fairway that doubles as a land bridge between water on the left and the right along a path to the ocean. The water is hidden from view off the tee box by trees. At its widest point the fairway is 60 yards across, but in sections where the water comes into play, it is much narrower. I hit my drive down the middle of the fairway leaving just 145 yards to the flag.
The approach shot to the middle pin position was playing longer to an uphill green. I hit my approach shot to 20 feet left of the pin.
I should have eaten more than a couple of donuts when we were at Dunkin Donuts, I left another birdie putt two-feet short of the cup. I finished off the hole for a par.
The eighth hole is the longest par four on the course. The hole is stretched to 423 yards from the white tees. It’s a beautiful hole with the ocean off to the right and a large pond off to the left. The fairway slopes slightly from right to left. I hit my drive to the left fairway leaving 200 yards.
The pin was positioned on the left side of the green. The green is positioned at a 45-degree angle to the fairway which essentially puts what looks like greenside bunkers as bunkers in front and off the back. The is a lot more room to miss to the right than there is to the left. I aimed at the right front corner of the green with my approach shot. The ball landed pin high, just to the right of the green.
I putted from off the green to 15 feet short of the flag, but just inside where Billy’s ball was.
I got a good read on my putt from Billy’s putt, but left the putt just short of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey.
The final hole on the front nine is a 320 yard par four with an uphill shot off the tee and a downhill shot to the green. There is a large bunker off to the left at the beginning of the fairway. I hit a 3 hybrid off the tee. I hit New York before I hit Titleist. The ball went about 140 yards and into the one fairway bunker on the hole. The fairway is wide, I should have hit my driver rather than my 3 hybrid.
I hit out of the bunker to the fairway leaving 90 yards to a back pin position on a green that is downhill from the fairway and has the ocean in the back drop. The pin was on a back tier.
I hit my third shot to fifteen feet below the flag just short of the top tier. I couldn’t get the ball all the way to the pin without risking going long.
I missed my par putt and made a bogey on the hole. While I shot a 41, it was a disappointing finish to the front nine. I was swing the club about as well as I’m capable of swinging it. I had one bad hole and should have made pars or birdies on the other holes. I felt well rested after taking the day off on Sunday and after getting a good night’s sleep. Billy shot a 39 and Tim shot a 43.
The back nine opens with a 370 yards par four. The tenth tee box is set to the right of a fairway that rises and falls as it flows toward the green. The ocean is off to the right. There are no bunkers on this hole. The green is significantly uphill. I hit a short drive to the left fairway leaving 190 yards to the middle of the green.
I hit my approach shot right at the flag, but the ball hit into the steep slope in front of the green and rolled back into the fairway leaving 45 yards to the pin.
I pitched onto the green to within eight feet from the cup.
I missed the eight-foot putt and tapped in for a disappointing bogey to open the back nine.
The par three eleventh hole plays uphill and was playing into the wind. The pin was also positioned past the middle of the green and to the right. This meant the hole was playing more Iike 170 yards rather than the 157 yards it measured. The green is open on the front but has bunkers off the left and right sides that bend around to behind the green. I pulled the wrong club, I had intended to hit my six iron, but mistakenly hit my seven iron. I hit the all right at the flag, but it wasn’t enough. The ball landed on the slope short of the green.
My pitch shot was wasn’t enough to get back to the flag, the ball rolled off the right side of the green into the rough.
I chipped on to 8 feet and made the putt for a bogey.
The 12th hole has a multi-tiered fairway. It’s another wide fairway, but a tricky one. There is a short carry to the lowest tier of the fairway. A pond is off to the right between the fairway and the tee box but a carry of just 150 yards clears the pond easily. There is a bunker just beyond that pond. I think it is a cruel feature. A drive that is mishit but clears the pond could end up in the bunker. You end up happy to have cleared the water, but not happy that you didn’t get off Scott free. Fortunately for me, I popped my drive up to the left rather than the right.
I thought I was fortunate until I got to my ball. While I didn’t have to worry about water or a bunker, the rough wasn’t friendly. My ball came to rest in a clump of weeds to the left of the fairway.
I had 200 yards remaining to the hole. I tried to muscle my three hybrid to the green but left the ball 50 yards short of the green.
I pitched onto the green to pin high albeit 30 feet to the left of the hole.
I two-putted from thirty feet to record another bogey.
The 357 yard par four thirteenth hole seemed like it was forced into a tight area. The 12th hole is off to the right and wetlands and a pond are off to the left. The tee box is elevated above the first part of the fairway, but the fairway rises as it gets closer to the green. The fairway ends about 90 yards from the front of the green. I hit my drive to the fairway leaving 140 yards to a front pin position.
The is water and rough between the end of the fairway and the green. I hit my approach shot a little fat. The ball landed short of the green.
I putted from off the green to five feet from the flag. I missed the five-footer and made my fourth bogey in a row on the back nine.
The fourteenth hole is rated as the toughest hole on the course. It was tough to just figure out the hole. From the tee box it wasn’t clear where the green was. Tim, Billy and I put our heads together and determined how we thought we needed to play the hole. The hole measures 418 yard and plays around a pond. There is a short creek in front of the tee boxes that connects the pond to a small cove off to the right. The fairway is in between the pond and the cove. It ends at about 260 yards from the tee. The green that we could see way off to the left over the pond was what we decided was the right green. We hit our tee shots straight out to the fairway. To play it safe I just hit a 5 hybrid down the middle of the fairway. That way I would have options if we had assumed incorrectly about the green.
Once we were in the fairway, it was clear that we had assumed correctly regarding the green. The only problem was that I was left with a 200 yard shot to the green including a carry over a portion of the now infamous pond. I hit my three hybrid directly at the flag but left the ball just short of the green.
I hit a great putt from off the green that rolled to one foot from the hole. Billy took his putter and hit the ball back to me. I’d finally made a par on the back nine and I did it on the toughest hole on the course.
The fifteenth hole is the longest hole on the course. It is a 505 yard par five. The hardest part of the hole is the tee shot. It is a blind tee shot over wetlands to an uphill fairway that is two hundred yards away. The rest of the hole is just fairway and green. I hit my drive to the right rough just off the edge of the fairway.
I hit my second shot to the left fairway leaving 160 yards to a back middle pin on a green with bunkers on the left and right.
I was more worried about the bunker on the right. While I’d been hitting more draws than fades all day, I am always mindful of my tendency to fade my long irons. I hit my approach shot on a line between the right bunker and the pin. The ball drew rather than fading. It hit just left of the green and kicked into the greenside bunker.
I hit my bunker shot to 8 feet from the pin.
I missed my par putt and got back on the bogey train.
After playing the longest hole on the course, Billy, Tim and I made our way to the shortest hole on the course. The par three sixteenth hole measures a mere 141 yards. Most of those yards are a carry over wetlands to an almost round green surrounded by four bunkers. I didn’t hit enough club and I hit the ball fat. The ball didn’t clear the wetlands. It got close enough to clearing the hazard that it was playable.
Well somewhat playable. I didn’t however play it very well. I hit my second shot short of the bunker in the front of the green. I pitched over the bunker onto the green and two-putted for my first and only double bogey on the back nine.
The seventeenth hole is straightforward once you get past the pond off the front the tee boxes. The par four hole measures 410 yards. The cove that is in play on the 14th and 15th holes is off to the right of the 17th fairway. There is another pond, the first green and the eighteenth tee box off to the left. I hit my drive down the middle of the fairway leaving 190 yards to the green.
I pulled my five hybrid on my approach shot to a pin that was positioned in the middle of the green, left of center. Just like it did on the fifteenth hole, the ball hit left of the green and kicked into the greenside bunker.
My bunker shot made it out of the bunker but not to the green. I chip on to two feet and made the putt for another bogey.
Three hours and ten minutes after teeing off Tim, Billy and I stood on the tee box for the 441 yard par five eighteenth hole. The fairway is across a cove from the tee box. The carry across the cove is only 180 yards. I hit my drive to the right side of the fairway leaving 230 yards to the middle of the green.
The second shot was a made for Jimmie driver off the deck shot to an uphill green with no trouble between my ball and the flag. There are trees off the right side of the fairway, but they are far enough off the edge to not be a concern. On cue I caught the ball cleanly with my driver. The ball had a perfect ball flight for a shot off the deck with a driver. The ball came up a few yards short of the green, in line with the flag.
While I loved my driver off the deck, my pitch to the back right flag was not one of my finest moments. I pulled my pitch shot way left of the flag leaving a fifteen-foot birdie putt.
I pushed my birdie putt and the ball missed the hole. I tapped in for a par to close out the back nine with a 44 and an 85 total for the round. Billy shot a 78 and Tim shot an 88.
After finishing our round in less than three and a half hours, we had a chance to make the 12:45 ferry. We rushed to the car, loaded our clubs, bid a quick farewell to Dan and Randy and high tailed it to the ferry dock. We made it with just moments to spare. After a 45 minute ferry ride we arrived safe and sound back to New London. This gave us the opportunity to have lunch before Billy caught an earlier train back to Philly and I started my earlier than expected drive to Boston where I would play golf for the rest of the week.
It was a fun day with Tim and Billy. I was very glad they were able to join me. I’d like to thank Jeff for the introduction to Cliff and I’d like to thank Cliff for sponsoring us. I’d also like to thank Dan Colvin for accommodating us and for working with me to identify opportunities to play the course prior to my introduction to Cliff. I’d also like to thank Michael for asking his friend to sponsor me. While I didn’t have to use him I still appreciate that he followed through on requesting that he host me.