The starter at Pound Ridge Golf Club looked at us cockeyed when we decided to forgo the cart and hoof it. It was early and we'd just had a cup of coffee. We were feeling strong.
"You sure you want to do that?" he asked. "Most times we end up bringing a cart out somewhere around the 8th hole. Your choice."
In retrospect, that question was one of several clues that this modern masterpiece set in the ancient, elegant hills of Westchester County, about an hour north of New York City, was no common course. The perfectly arrayed pyramids of balls on the lush range, the groomed practice sand trap, the complicated contours of the chipping area and putting green – it all spelled trouble. Pound Ridge, like many courses on the PGA Tour, was designed to treat great players well and punish missed shots viciously. Leaving the cart behind would have been a bad idea.
The view from the first tee is a good indicator of the puzzling topography of Pound Ridge. Mounds and sand traps break the horizon like humps on the Loch Ness monster, presenting drivers with a perfectly manicured riddle. The second tee is no easier: The ribbon fairway is cut about as wide as your average lawnmower with landing zones protected by foreboding hillocks of grass – not that you can see all of this from the box anyway. If you miss to the right, a pond that might as well be the size of the Pacific makes going for the green a loser's bet. Miss to the left and you wind up behind in a lovely wood.
Renowned course architect (and sadist) Pete Dye designed this course with his son, Perry. Dye made his name drawing the Stadium course at TPC Sawgrass and Broken Arrow in Illinois. He is a proponent of "target golf," which requires players to land shots at least close to where they're aiming or suffer mounting consequences until they find themselves amid craggy hills littered with Pro V1's. Is it frustrating? Absolutely, but Pound Ridge holds its own against New York's best course.
The course is shot through with a golfing equivalent of clever quips that sometimes feel like cruel jokes. Take, for example, the 13th hole, called The Woodland. The green, reachable with a second shot wood, has a false front and a greenside pot bunker as deep and narrow as a buried garbage can. And that cart path is actually a 100-foot-long trap that hugs the elevated green like a sandy snake. On the par three 15th, which crosses a marsh, players end up banking their balls off a slab of granite as big as a semi whenever the pin is placed forward.
Pound Ridge is not a cheap course. It is, however, a course that could host a U.S. Open without much tweaking, outstripping nearby Bethpage Black. Finishing a round feels like an accomplishment. It's a brutal treat by any measure, but a treat nonetheless – especially for golfers looking to try something a bit different. Still, you'll want to take the cart.
More information: A round on Pound Ridge, which is a public course, costs $195 during peak times. To get there from New York City, drive north toward Connecticut on Rt. 15 and turn left on Rt. 137.