I hear the name Pete Dye and think spectacular vistas and remarkable creativity, but mostly I think: Difficult. A course you will never forget, and not because of your stellar play. The views will be stunning, as they are at the Pound Ridge Golf Club, which opened in 2008, but you will also see into the depths of your own dark heart. I once played a Pete Dye course that had a plank extending from the 18th green over snake-filled marshland, daring any discouraged hackers to hurl themselves or their equipment into the muck.
So, know going in that Pound Ridge can bring all of the pain an excellent golfer desires. Stand on the tips and the course is truly daunting, with 250-yard carries to the winding ribbons they call fairways, blind approaches, guarded pins and punitive features everywhere you should not be. Play from the Granite, Sand or Pine tees and you find ways to survive. There are mounds, hills, knolls and ridgelines, wetlands and water hazards, large waste areas and enough rocks to start a quarry. The course is manicured and exquisite, but bring your straight ball. This is no place for beginners. I recommend a double dose, Saturday and Sunday. And take a cart.
Near the clubhouse is a driving range with limited-distance balls, a putting green that rolls at the speed of the greens you’ll see later, and a short-game area for sand play and chipping to prepare for the eventuality that you miss a green or two—which you will. The yardage book is a work of art. Dan Brown could write a thriller about it.
Since I had not played in a while and have issues with my back, I selected the middle tees for the first six holes to give myself a fighting chance. I opened with a medium hook, but the first fairway is wide and forgiving. After consulting chapter one of my yardage book, I knocked a 5-iron over the fairway bunker to the blind green and hoped. When it came into view, my ball was eight feet from the hole. Sand and water surrounded the green. Phew. I missed the putt.
I bogeyed the next two holes with errant drives, but birdied the short fifth. This place ain’t so tough, I thought. Let’s turn up the dial.
From the sixth hole on I played the back tees and things got more interesting. I missed the wide fairways and found bunkers, cold-topped a 5-wood into a marsh on a long par three, teed up another and did it again. On 16 I pounded (I thought) a drive down the left side of the fairway, but it took one wild hop left and plunged into a 200-yard trench. Still, after draining a lengthy putt on 18 for a Bill Clinton-90 (he’s a local), I sped back to the barn with the exhilarating sense of having ridden a roller coaster. Up, down, around and back. I wanted to play her again now that I’d seen her and knew more about her. I found her fascinating. I inquired about a tee time the next day, but they were booked (so make reservations). More than 120 golfers were expected on a Friday. Well good for them. They will make 120 fans.
My partner and I retired to the bar in the modest clubhouse and chatted with the head pro who stopped by to hear about our rounds. How often does that happen where you play?
A three-turn, 10-minute drive into the heart of Stamford leads our getaway foursome to the Marriott Hotel where the beds are soft and the rooms are well appointed. Downstairs at Sam’s American Bistro, the service is friendly and fast and the food is delicious. A live band was rocking the Northern Lights nightclub next door and people were dancing. If you go in there, don’t stay out late. You’ll want to face Pound Ridge again the next morning feeling fit. Otherwise you are within walking distance of Stamford’s main street where theaters, restaurants, shops and Columbus Park await. The concierge at the Marriott will be happy to arrange everything, including a stay-and-play package with Pound Ridge and that early wake-up call.
Take the Throgs Neck Bridge to I-95 North. Jump off quickly in the Bronx at Exit 9N to the Hutchinson River Parkway. On the Hutch, travel through Westchester to the Merritt Parkway. Get off in Stamford, CT at Exit 35 and mosey north to the NY state line. Snap-hook a left into the club. If you’re a Long Islander, you are now upstate and it took no time at all. Those lumps on the horizon are hills.