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5 courses that I played to prepare for the U.S. Amateur

April 04, 2024

Eleven years and a thousand swing thoughts ago, I had myself a day and shot 68-68 to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. I’m not offended by anyone who called it a miracle.

As is known, U.S. Amateurs are often treated by the USGA as trial runs for future U.S. Opens, and playing The Country Club in 2013 at 7,310 yards as a par 70, with cabbage-thick rough and toasty greens, was indeed the sternest test I’d ever experienced. Of course, Matt Fitzpatrick handled it fine, going two-for-two to become the first golfer to win the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open (2022) at the same venue. Arguably the best-prepared golfer of his generation, Fitzy stayed with the same host family both times.

While the ideal preparation for most U.S. Amateurs would be playing as many U.S. Open venues as you can, invitations to these sorts of clubs don’t grow on trees. At that time in my life, I was living in Norwalk, Conn., and not a member anywhere.

The following courses, all within 30 minutes of my home, I credit with helping me prepare. While anyone could argue my 76-77 performance in the championship proper without much drama of making the cut for match play (144, +4) suggests I was unprepared, it surely could’ve been worse.

Great River Golf Club
Public
Great River Golf Club
Milford, CT
3.7
33 Panelists

Now owned by Sacred Heart University, there are several demanding tee shots bordered on both sides by hazards, like at Nos. 4 and 7. If you manage to place a solid drive, you’re still left with a middle-iron. In a region replete with quirky hybrid-wedge par 4s, Great River has the length to make you hit every club in your bag—just what you need for a USGA championship.

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Pound Ridge Golf Club
Public
Pound Ridge Golf Club
Pound Ridge, NY
3.7
31 Panelists

I used to call this place “Pound Me Ridge” for its tendency to beat a golfer into psychological submission. Simply, it’s hard. Nearly any wayward shot will find a bunker, marsh, trees, rough, or a ricochet off a rock. But it’s fair if you scrupulously commit to targets and hit decent shots … every single time. If you want to learn to play 18 holes without a lazy mental error, look no further.

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Yale Golf Course
Yale Golf Course
New Haven, CT

Although the yardage looks puny on the scorecard, this Golden Age gem plays brawny. With several blind tee shots cutting through a rolling forest with areas of red fescue, exposed rock ledges and raggedy deep bunkers, its look and feel is stylistically close to The Country Club. More importantly, it’s where I learned to always wear long socks, if not pants, in the height of summer to protect my ankles from poison ivy when searching for errant balls. Know thy allergies.

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The Stanwich Club
Private
The Stanwich Club
Greenwich, CT

Anyone who can score here has a complete game. Host of the 2002 U.S. Mid Amateur, Stanwich is an absolute beast if tipped out at 7,445 yards (I only played it at that yardage once). The Witch reinforces the lesson that straight is long. Intimidated though you may be, don’t reach back for more. Hitting solid drives that consistently find the fairway and tumble forward almost always proves preferable to being long and a little wild. (The wide-open “fun” courses that are de rigeur nowadays don’t host many USGA championships.) Props to my good friend and member Peter Sanders for hosting me here multiple times, and with whom I wrote articles about statistics when he was actively managing Shot By Shot, a precursor to GPS-informed golfer analytics.

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The Country Club of Darien
Private
The Country Club of Darien
Darien, CT
2.9
45 Panelists

You can’t hope to prepare for a USGA event without access to pure, fast greens, and Country Club of Darien’s reputation for conditioning is very strong in a well-resourced section. Thanks to my father-in-law and then member, Brian Clark, kindly head pro, Cory Muller, as well as my caddie, CCD looper Doug Atha, I got a lot of looks at CCD the summer of 2013.

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