FRIar's head - 19 points
Friar's Head is a relatively new course on Long Island, not far from the bastions of American golf that are Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America. It is the first Coore and Crenshaw course that I have played and has given me a great taste to play more of their designs. This course is simply wonderful, this is one of the very best experiences you will ever have on a golf course and surely it will only continue to rise in the rankings.
I have been lucky enough to play at Friar's Head twice now and I enjoyed it even more the second time. It's not the easiest place to find - the entrance just marked with a black mail box - and it's closed from early November through to the spring, even when it is open only gets an average of 10 tee times a day. That's pretty quiet. The first time we played it the condition was perfect, the second time after a tough summer a couple of greens were suffering. It is testament to how great the course is that that didn't diminish our enjoyment at all.
Some of the reviews I had read beforehand made me think that the atmosphere may be a little oppressive. I read about strict rules about no photos (apparently relaxed as no-one mentioned it to us) and the importance of hitting your practice shots in such a way as to minimise the divots on the range. This was mentioned in the nicest possible way and it made perfect sense.
The range facility itself was phenomenal. Playing brand new pro v1s to proper greens before moving to a short game area and a putting green to die for. The speed of the practice green was spot on with the rest of the course and served as a great way to get your eye in.
Before venturing out onto the course you can play a delightful little nine-holer. No hole was longer than 160 yards but it's a nice way to warm up before taking on the main event. It demanded creativity and certainly sharpened the wedge play nicely.
So, to the course itself. There are some articles out there about Friar's Head which do it far better justice than I ever can. This one from Ran Morrissett over at Golf Club Atlas is probably the best and will give you a hole by hole account of the course. There was some discussion on that site as to Friar's Head should be a Doak 9 or 10 when the latest Confidential Guide came out. In the end he gave it a 9, personally I think he was being a bit stingy!
The course starts with a very playable par 4. I hit driver, but less would do to a wide fairway (actually, I found the sand on the right) and then it's a wedge on 9 iron up to the elevated green (it reminded me of the 1st at the Kings at Gleneagles for those familiar with the opener there).
It is a tremendously hard course to characterise. Holes are carved out of the dunes and the trees and the course transitions seemingly effortlessly between the two. Much is made if you look online at the fact that there are no yardages on the scorecard or tees and there are no yardages to greens on the course. There is a yardage book now available in the pro shop now, but our caddies were fantastic and gave us everything we needed. They gave yardages on the tee, the course measured an almost perfect 6,460 yards. Anything over 6,500 yards and I find that the par 3s can be a little long and the approaches to the par 4s a little testing. This was just right!
There is not a weak hole on the golf course. The 3rd was playing a little shorter to us due to the wind on both occasions but is a 420 yard sweeping uphill hole, often playing the longest par 4 in the course. In contrast the 5th is a delightful short par 4 of only 300 yards. The first time I played I took a driver and then, thinking I was in North Berwick still, took a putter from 50 yards out just to get the wrong slide of a slope and take another 4 to get down. I was in almost the same spot 12 months later and shanked a wedge this time. Ah, the joys! Number 9 plays back through the dunes from the clubhouse to the most fiendish green. This is pure quality all the way.
The 10th is a quirky 200 yard par 3 with a truly huge, mostly blind, green. It not be the longest par 3 you'll every play but if your tee shot goes anywhere apart from the right quadrant of the green you are looking at bogey or worse.
14 is a simply magnificent par 5 with steps behind leading up to spectacular 15th tee. Looking back, I should have taken a rescue club off the tee the first time but the caddie did well to find it for me in the wasteland to the right. I managed a par second time around and had some vengeance. The walk from 15 to 16, along the side of the ocean is pretty special and the closing holes continue in the vein of the rest of the course. Breathtaking, fair, and an experience not to be forgotten.
As you can see, I loved this place. The set-up was understated, friendly but incredibly high quality; the caddies were great and the course a dream. Our caddie was telling us that he had caddied earlier in the week for Coore and Crenshaw who are regular visitors - looking at how they can continue to tweak the course. That attention really pays off.
It's definitely the kind of course you just want to go straight back out and play again. It's the best modern course I have played and I would rate it right up there in my top half dozen yet. If you ever get the chance, drop everything and go
BOOKING THE COURSE
Being an American private course a tee time here is tricky. However, there is a charity day every year which will get you access here - http://www.annliguori.com/charitygolfevent.php. As always with these things it's expensive (very in this case at $1,700 for the day!!) but at least you know that some of the money is being put to a good cause. Charitybuzz also has auctions a couple of times a year which are worth keeping an eye out for. Often they are for three balls where you will then join a member to make up a fourball.
If you check out the Shinnecock review you will see tips for a golf trip to this area and some good places to go if you have the chance to visit.
3000 Sound Ave,
Phone: +1 631 722-6010