RBC Heritage

Harbour Town Golf Links



Personal Faves

My 5 favorite public golf courses around New York City (and some advice for playing them)

March 30, 2024
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Courtesy of the club/LC Lambrecht

You would think that living in the middle of Westchester County would make it easy to get to great public golf courses, but, sadly, that’s not the case. While I’m within a 20-minute drive from a few of the most famous private clubs in the country, the number of nearby munis is limited. And the number of great nearby publicly accessible options can be counted on one hand.

That last point can be argued based on your definition of “great,” but there’s no arguing that getting a tee time in these parts is tough—something that’s only gotten tougher since the Covid golf boom. I’m glad to see the game is growing. I just wish our public playing options would grow along with it.

Before you feel too sorry for me, I do get invited from time to time to the private clubs of coworkers. But the overwhelming majority of my rounds since I started playing about a quarter century ago are at pay-per-play spots, and I figured I’d share some of what I know about the public golf scene in this area and give a personal list of favorites.

First, a few notes. There are six public golf courses run by Westchester County that residents can buy a three-year pass for that gets them better rates. Hudson Hills (built in 2004) is the newest and priciest option, but it’s where I go most. Because the green fee is higher than the other five county courses, it tends to attract more serious golfers and has the best pace of play of the bunch. If you tee off early on the weekend, you should finish in four-and-a-half hours or less. It’s also the best-conditioned, however there are two par 5s that are kind of ruined by environmental areas. And there are a few funky spots where even well-hit shots are at the mercy of the golf gods. Good luck making it through the gauntlet of No. 7 and No. 8 without losing a ball. Anyway, it’s still worth buying the county pass because it saves you about $30 per time so you’ll make back the $90 for the pass if you play here three times. Don’t act like you’re not impressed by my math.

Unless I’m playing super early, I usually avoid the other five (Maple Moor, Saxon Woods, Mohansic, Sprain Lake and Dunwoodie). All have their moments, but pace of play can be a problem, and the conditioning and layouts aren’t as good. Especially at Dunwoodie, which I haven’t played in probably 15 years, and which I don’t plan on playing ever again. Sorry, Dunwoodie. Great hot dogs at the turn, though, if I remember.

To my north, Richter Park and Centennial are solid, but good luck getting a tee time at the former and the latter is pricey for what you get. There are also a couple other options just south of Westchester County in the Bronx. First, you’ve got Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course, the oldest public course in the U.S., which the only time I played we teed off at 5:40 in the morning and nearly got into a fight on the first tee. It was good we teed off that early because when we returned near the first tee I’ve never seen so many golf carts or golfers in my life. Also, there is a TON of walking between holes so beware.

Then there’s Split Rock and Pelham Bay, two 18-hole courses connected by the same cool clubhouse, which was built under FDR’s New Deal. The more you know. Split Rock is the much better of the two, although in the summer, the mosquitos can be a dealbreaker. Pelham Bay is an easier layout and will always hold a special place in my heart as being the site of big bonfire parties in high school and my memorable first round back during the pandemic. Still, none of these make the cut for me if I’m picking five favorites.

OK, let’s get to my list, which is extra personal because the main rule for these courses is that they have to be within an hour drive from my house. And that drive time has to be reliable no matter the time of day. As a father of two young kids, any round has me away for a good five hours already so tacking on another hour driving usually isn’t in the cards. This eliminates the most famous—and best—public course in New York, Bethpage Black, as well as sister course Bethpage Red, which is more playable and provides several views of the famed Black. If I drove out to Long Island in the middle of the night I could get there in under an hour, but driving back could take longer than a PGA Tour round using threesomes.

Also missing the cut due to travel is Ballyowen in Hamburg, N.J. (Actually, I have no courses from the Garden State on here because of that.) Ballyowen is spectacular, but saved for special sojourns. For instance, on my 40th birthday, I played there in the afternoon after playing nearby Bowling Green in the morning—and then hit up Dairy Queen for a large blizzard for the drive home. That was a great day.

One final note: I have not played Bally’s Golf Links at Ferry Point—previously Trump Ferry Point—since before the 2016 Presidential election. I could be talked into it, but my main golf buddies didn’t want to go there. Now under new ownership, perhaps that could change because it’s a nice but pricey option. Although traffic to the Bronx could present a problem at certain times and I am NOT one who deals with wind well. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get there this year to reevaluate. OK, let’s get to the five spots I like going to the best.

1.) The Links at Union Vale (Lagrangeville, NY)

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Courtesy of the club/LC Lambrecht

My favorite public in the Tri-state area, including all the Bethpage tracks. The Stephen Kay design was built for a group of Irish investors frustrated with how difficult it was to get a tee time in these parts. Sounds familiar! It’s off-the-beaten path—it takes me a 50-minute drive to get to the Dutchess County track—but it’s a real golf haven. There’s so much more room there than most of the area courses, LUV has a great layout, a driving range, a great restaurant if you have a little extra time for lunch, and they even let you rent those fun golfboards.

Plus, look at that silo!

One of my buddies sliced one off that once. Good times. Anyway, I love this place and I would go there every weekend if it was 20 minutes closer to me.

The Links At Union Vale
Public
The Links At Union Vale
Lagrangeville, NY
About 70 miles north of New York City along the Taconic Parkway, architect Stephen Kay created The Links at Union Vale for a group of Irish investors who were frustrated with how difficult it was to find a tee time in the NYC area. Kay, a Queens native, built the course on 200 acres of former cattle and farmland with a meager $600,000 budget. The 18-hole layout is yet another fun public option in the New York area from Kay, who might not get as much credit as some of his contemporaries, but is undoubtedly deserving of accolades for creating courses that are fun yet interesting to navigate for every level of golfer. —Stephen Hennessey, dep. managing editor
Explore our full review

2.) Pound Ridge (N.Y.) Golf Club

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Pound Ridge Golf Course

Hailed as the only Pete Dye design in New York, this place is a real lightning rod among golfers, but it gives you that “big-time golf course” feel that most publics don’t. With danger lurking at almost every turn, you better bring a lot of golf balls. And you can expect to wind up in some really tricky spots.

DYEabolical, am I right? So much, that one coworker who shall go unnamed walked off after nine holes and never returned. Another couple colleagues refused to play there even though Golf Digest had a corporate membership for a few years. Worked out for me! For those less fortunate, the price tag—$250 for prime times during peak season!—is a bit much. But you’re paying for superb course conditions and a fairly open tee sheet. Seriously, this is the only place you can get a foursome—heck, sometimes a single—for a Friday two days in advance.

Also, be careful of speed traps driving on the back roads there. They’ll get you. Sadly, I know from experience.

Pound Ridge Golf Club
Public
Pound Ridge Golf Club
Pound Ridge, NY
3.7
31 Panelists
This is Pete Dye at his prettiest—and toughest. Pound Ridge, which sits 40 miles northeast of Manhattan, mixes perfectly manicured fairways and greens with a long, demanding, undulated layout. It's a visually intimidating course with a number of blind tee shots, huge bunker complexes and some long carries, and Instagrammable beauty at every turn. In typical fashion, Dye wedged a lot of trouble into this 175-acre site with woods, wetlands, water hazards, rocks and boulders coming into play. (His advice? Bring extra balls.) There is little to no room for error on most tee and approach shots, but that's what makes it a must-play (and with five sets of tees ranging from 5,151 to 7,165 yards, you have options). The property features some of the highest points in the area, offering expansive views of the surrounding Westchester countryside—an area known for its private courses.
Explore our full review

3.) Great River Golf Club (Milford, CT)

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Another course where Golf Digest used to have a corporate membership (the good-old days!) and another extremely difficult track with a rating of 75.2 and a slope of 146 from the championship tees (7,100 yards). The front nine—which played as the back nine when we used to go on a regular basis—is probably the toughest nine holes I’ve ever played. And I’ve played Bethpage Black and Kiawah’s Ocean Course.

Great River—set along the Housatonic River—also has an architect whose name you’ll recognize. At least, the last name. The course was designed by Tommy Fazio, Tom Fazio’s nephew, and was acquired by Sacred Heart University in 2016. Unfortunately, like Links at Union Vale, this one is just barely within my hour limit. So, sadly, it’s been a few years for me, and, hence, why I give Pound Ridge a slight edge. But if you do make a tee time, definitely plan on getting there early to take advantage of one of the best practice facilities around.

4.) The Golf Club at Mansion Ridge (Monroe, N.Y.)

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Dave Sansom

More golf courses should put the word “Ridge” in their name. Even if they’re not located on a ridge. But this Jack Nicklaus design in Orange County certainly features plenty of elevation changes, and has plenty of stunning holes, particularly on the back nine. Somehow I didn’t get out there until this past summer when coworker and New Jersey resident Greg Snedeker and I needed to find a neutral site for our semifinal match in the Golf Digest Match Play Championship. We had a classic match going when we were hit—and stuck—in one of the worst thunderstorms I’ve ever seen:

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Unfortunately for us, that was the end of our day. And unfortunately for me, our return trip a few days later spelled the end of my tournament run. But putting that loss aside, I would love to get back here a couple times this summer. And depending on where you live in New Jersey or in Rockland County, this place is a no-brainer to try.

The Golf Club At Mansion Ridge
Public
The Golf Club At Mansion Ridge
Monroe, NY
This Jack Nicklaus Signature design is built on a 220-acre estate about an hour outside New York City. Historic rock outcroppings line a few holes and solid conditioning and a varied layout with some nice undulation make this a public option worth traveling to.
Explore our full review

5.) Griffith E. Harris (Greenwich, CT)

OK, I’m kind of cheating here because I almost never actually play here. But this is my go-to driving range. In fact, it’s one of the only options around because there are even fewer ranges than public courses in this area. And now, I’m immediately regretting telling you about it because there are plenty of times when it's hopping.

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Also, in this day in age with people juggling so much, I think we have to adjust our definition of “playing golf” from requiring an 18-hole or even a 9-hole round. If I treat the opportunity to hit a small bucket of balls, chip a little and roll a few putts—a nice little loop I make at The GRIFF—as playing golf, well, then I play a lot of golf. But the Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout is pretty fun also. Again, though, good luck getting a tee time. I’ve heard it helps to be a Greenwich resident, but it always seems busy. If you’re about to tee off on No. 1 and you see me over on the range, say hi!

Anyway, I hope this guide is helpful—even if it won’t help you get a tee time at one of these spots.