Winged Foot (West)
The West Course at Winged Foot is a glaring exception to the rule that a great piece of land is a prerequisite for having a great course. A great architect given an acceptable piece of land may well produce a superior course to an architect who fails to take advantage of a great site. Winged Foot is laid over rather ordinary (though superbly maintained) terrain. Only a few holes on the inward half have any natural features. A.W. Tillinghast worked on a number of better properties including Bethpage (Black), Somerset Hills in New Jersey, nearby Quaker Ridge and San Francisco GC. Yet, the West Course at Winged Foot is viewed as his masterpiece. Why?
The golfer does not notice the blandness of the land itself until he has played the course many, many times or even more likely, until someone points it out to him. The golfer is forever locked in his struggle against this supremely difficult course. The constant need for long, accurate tee shots through the trees and controlled approach shots with long irons to dramatically bunkered, sloping putting greens more than holds the player’s attention. Indeed, the greens are surprisingly small, given the long clubs most players will be hitting into them, the deep bunkers, and the severe pitch and/or contours of most greens.
Winged Foot is among a dozen or so courses in the world where, at the end of the round, the player could not even begin to suggest architectural improvements or to complain about an indifferent hole. As Dave Marr, who worked under Claude Harmon there for many years, was fond of saying, ‘Winged Foot has the eighteen best finishing holes in golf.’
However, Winged Foot West is not just long and difficult. The course has much more variety that one would expect – a short par four on each side (the sixth and eleventh), a well-balanced set of short holes and two par fives where some entertain the thought of getting home in two. It also has a pleasing number of dog-leg holes where a player wants to shape his tee shot a certain way to gain an advantage – fades on the eighth and seventeenth and draws on the first, sixteenth and eighteenth holes.