Review: Shinnecock Hills Golf Club


  • Southampton, New York
  • Private
  • William Flynn & Howard Toomey (1931)
  • 4th in the US (Golf Digest)

There’s not many courses as acclaimed, sought after or documented as Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. Originally built in the late 1800’s by Willie Davis, with Willy Dunn updating the course a couple years after it opened, C.B. Macdonald with Seth Raynor updating the layout in 1916, and finally, William Flynn, his partner Howard Toomey, and foreman Dick Wilson coming in 1931 to construct basically a new layout.

The design credit is given to William Flynn. The Macdonald golf course is gone, although the land where the current 3rd, 6th and 7th are remain fairly close to Macdonald’s Shinnecock Hills. Aside from the background, most people are aware of the championship pedigree of ‘Shinne’ and how notoriously difficult it is. It’s also well-known Shinnecock is one of the best in the world.

Shinnecock is one of the most difficult courses in the world, but it opens on a fairly gentle note. “Westwood Ho” is a 391 yard par 4 playing downhill into the bottom of the property.

Driver or three wood are fine off the tee for most. It’s not overly long and a nice introduction into the golf course.

However, the “gentle handshake” opener is really only on the opening tee shot. The green complexes here are so nasty and aggressive that there’s not a moment on this golf course you can walk through an approach shot. Ask Tiger Woods–he hit it over the green here in the 2018 US Open one round and made 7!

With a false front and a fall off over the back, it’s a difficult iron shot. For those who have played Pinehurst No. 2, the first green complex is similar at No. 2 as it is here, except Shinnecock’s is maybe three times as extreme.

The second hole is a long par 3 at 221 yards. “Plateau” is aptly named, with a green pushed up. A false front kicks balls to the right, while bunkering flanks the left side. Once again, the back edge falls off. The US Open tee here is 250 or so yards–insanity!

The third is another difficult hole at 470 yards, par 4. “Peconic,” named after the Peconic Bay that Shinnecock sits near (and National Golf Links of America sits on), is one of the more appealing tee shots on the golf course.

I don’t remember the exact carry on the bunkers left, but if you’re a bigger hitter, it’s best to fly those. Leaving it out to the right leaves quite a long shot into this green, and that’s something you don’t want.

One of the more benign greens at Shinne, if such a thing. It’s only partly raised up. Thankfully, it accepts low, running shots fairly easily (something most will have here).

After the long, dogleg left, a middle length par 4 swinging to the right awaits at the 4th. “Pump House” plays 409 yards with bunkering on the inside corner of the dogleg.

Flynn’s biggest strength, in my opinion, is taking basic architecture principals and flipping them on their head, and there’s potentially no better example than here. On the 4th, bunkering guards the inside corner. Basic architecture knowledge and strategy understanding would suggest keeping it closer to the inside corner, but the opposite is true. Flynn’s green contouring often dictate play, and here, the best play is to hit it to the outside corner for the best angle in.

The 5th is the first par 5 on the golf course. It’s probably a good idea to play this hole well–there’s only two 5’s!

“Montauk” is a brilliant 535 yard golf hole split in the middle by a sandy hollow covered in heather. Keeping it to the right lets the shorter hitters easier, while the left side is a bigger carry. Either side, you gotta make sure you pick your line properly!

As you can see, the front nine at Shinnecock, for the most part, is pretty flat. The land doesn’t seem too inspiring. However, upon further inspection, you see micro-undulations and little bumps that can make it incredibly difficult to hit the shots you need to. The 5th is a great example.

As you can see from the photo below, I picked the right fairway. It was a cold October morning!

The green on the 5th is insanity, with fall offs everywhere. We had a back right pin, and to our surprise, anything long or right is the wrong miss!

You can see that over the 5th green is not the best spot to me.

The 6th is a pretty difficult hole in general, but picking your line here is a difficult task with the sea of heather and sand in front of you. 456 yards, “pond” is not easy.

The namesake comes along on the approach. Unless you missed the fairway, the pond will almost never come into play. It’s some 50 yards short of the green–well out of play.

This is another great, dare I say all-world green complex. I won’t say too much, but hopefully my photo below allows you to see the genius of the shaping here!

The 7th is likely the most famous hole here. In the 2004 US Open, the USGA lost control of the golf course, and the 7th, “Redan”, was the main issue. They were watering the green in between groups because balls wouldn’t stay on the green! That’s how severe this slope is.

But anyways, as we stepped up, our caddy told us “Redan” is french for double bogey, or something. At 189 yards, you wouldn’t expect double bogeys to come as easy as they do here! But I wouldn’t know, I made 2 (yes, this is a brag–please DM Thegolfingcanuck on Instagram about it).

In terms of the “redan” template, I don’t know if this is the best rendition. Actually, I think many people turn to next door at National Golf Links of America as a good example. The biggest issue with calling this “redan” is the ground game isn’t really encouraged like all the best redans. Typically, the best redans allow the bail out short right to let the natural movement of the land guide the ball in. However, here, that’s not happening as anything short collects at the bottom.

So that leaves you flying the shot onto the green, which is impossible. There’s only about a 7 x 7 square of area on the front portion of the green you can land it on that it will stay on the green. I wish I would’ve hit mine better to see, but the tilt on this is pure madness. Take a look below.

What’s even crazier is this might be the easiest par 3 here!

This is the best advice I will ever give. If you have a birdie in you, consider making it on the 8th hole. At 394 yards, it’s one of the shorter par 4’s at Shinne.

It still requires quite a good short iron in, but it’s the flattest hole here (wonderfully named “lowlands”). A massive false front and after that it runs hard to the back is all you need to negotiate with.

I say made a birdie on 8 because you’re now into a difficult three hole stretch. Upon writing this, the 9th, “Ben Nevis”, starts the best three hole stretch I’ve seen.

A 438 yard par 4, this hole moves to the left working back up to the base of the clubhouse. You start getting into much more undulating topography as well, giving a ton of wonky lies in the fairway.

With a long or mid iron in (you will have more club in that you’d think for a 440 par 4), it is as intimidating as anything. Playing up to the top, you have to hoist a club up to have any chance.

Thankfully, the green bowls in from the right. If you need to miss one, miss it right or long, but not too right as it’ll be in the mens locker room.

But don’t miss short.

To get a sense of the scale here, below is the view of the 9th green from the 18th.

The 9th is a great hole, but my vote for the best hole at Shinnecock is the 415 yard par 4, 10th “Eastward Ho.” Playing over the topography, it’s a blind tee shot.

The land is incredibly severe over the ridge that you will almost definitely have a messed up stance. Compounding that with the shot that awaits, it becomes an incredible approach shot. This is in my upper tier of favorite holes ever.

With the green site cut on the other side of the depression, anything short runs back about 60 yards. Below is a view from where each ball would collect (thankfully, I didn’t hit it here).

Anything long isn’t much better either, but at least you’re chipping back into the upslope (oh yeah, this green runs away from you at about 3% or 4%).

Looking back, you can see the roller coaster topography that lies in the fairway. It’s a rare hole where you can’t overpower it. With driver, you likely will have an awkward flip wedge in because the ball would run down forever. With restraint off the tee, you have a full club in (a good thing).

To finish off the all-world three hole stretch, we arrive at what has been dubbed the “shortest par 5 in golf.” In reality, “Hill Head,” the 159 yard par 3, 11th, is just an incredibly difficult par 3 up the hill.

It’s like hitting onto a tabletop. There’s very little square footage here.

Anything long and left is absolutely dead chipping back downhill. This is where I hit it, but I made a “birdie” 4 on this par 5 (doesn’t count? Really?). I was happy with a 4 here after missing it in the one spot you have to avoid.

The 12th is another excellent hole. In reality, there’s not a weak hole here (obviously). The back, however, continues to deliver all-world after all-world holes. 469 yards, “Tuckahoe” plays over Tuckahoe Road.

Shinnecock isn’t exactly the most difficult driving course in the world. As you can see, there’s a fair amount of width out here. The green complexes hold up extremely well, and the 12th is again difficult. In similar fashion to the 3rd, it rises ever-so-slightly and then falls back away from the player, but there’s ample room to hit a long iron in here.

The 13th is the shortest par 4 on the course at 374 yards. The hole moves pretty hard to the right around bunkering, but again, keeping it out to the outside corner on the left allows you to be hitting shots directly into the slope to control where the ball ends up as much as possible.

For those who remember, this is the hole where Phil Mickelson decided to hit a moving ball before it rolled down the mega false front.

The 14th, “Thoms Elbow,” is another great–no, all world–hole. 463 yards, it plays through some wonderful rolling land.

The approach shot plays uphill to a green that moves to the middle. It’s one of the rare holes here–with 9–that collects shots instead of repelling them.

A closer look at the green complex. It’s almost a saddle style green, with the two outside pin positions are higher than the middle portion.

The 15th is another wonderful mid length par 4. Playing down into the valley the front nine mainly occupied, it’s a good tee shot to let one go.

No doubt, it’s a well guarded green complex. Another one that runs away from you, it’s a rare forced golf shot that needs to be played high in the air. The beauty of Shinnecock is yes, the greens run away from you, but you’re often thinking of finding the false front to bump it into. You’re really not thinking about the aerial game outside of 7, 9, 10, 11, and 15. Everything else I found myself flighting shots in.

The 16th makes the trek back towards the clubhouse. The second par 5 on the golf course, “Shinnecock” is a 540 yard three shotter.

After you get the ball in play off the tee, the layup can be quite difficult. There’s quite a few bunkers on this hole alone, so navigating them is a challenge.

The green complex is pitched hard off the left, naturally falling to the low point of the property (3 fairway) and away from the high portion (11 green/12 tee). It is a splendid par 5.

The 17th is the final par 3 on the course at 180 yards. Interestingly titled “Eden,” this plays nothing like an eden template.

Ironically, it almost plays as a redan, with the green moving down and to the left. I don’t think it is, but it’s much closer to a redan than an eden! You can get a grasp of the green complex below.

The 18th is another outstanding, difficult par 4. Doglegging to the left, like 9, it avoids the cliche uphill par 4 finisher at the base of the clubhouse.

For the big hitters, the line is just to left of the caddies over the bunker. For the shorter hitters, playing out right is the play. With some undulating topography yet again complicating things, it’s a tough finisher at 426 yards. A bunker left, two short, and one right await players. The green complex has some of the wackiest, wild, and unpredictable movement anywhere. It makes for a ton of fun. If that pin is back-left, you’d have to hit it out right. If it’s on the right side, cutting the corner is the play. A wonderful hole to end.

Hard to say anything new about Shinnecock, but it blew my expectations away still. The beauty of Flynn’s architecture here is it’s a model you could adapt. Fallaway greens are rare in modern architecture, yet they shouldn’t be. They remain entirely playable, while being difficult enough to challenge the worlds best. Shinnecock Hills is a wonderful case study on how difficult short grass and angles can be.

Is it the worlds best? Hard to say so early. The only course I’ve played that would be close to Shinne in quality is Merion Golf Club’s East course. If someone told me the best course in the world was Shinnecock Hills, I would be able to see it fairly easily. An absolute bucket list course that I’ll be dreaming about throughout social distancing! (this last sentence will age well).

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