I gave myself an assignment: Create a golf club made from the best 18 holes of the private golf clubs in WNY. My criteria was as follows: the holes had to be from current private clubs in the Buffalo/Niagara region, hole number had to match its current hole number, and the course must not exceed par 72. This was not easy. The hardest part was matching and spacing the par 3’s. I expect your feedback and objections, but I think I’ve come up with a pretty great course.
Hole 1—East Aurora CC This par 4 measures 426 from the back tees and is aptly named Benders Alley. The description from the EACC website is perfect:
A demanding start, requiring a drive over a valley to a fairway guarded on both sides by trees. The approach plays slightly uphill to a green protected by bunkers. Many rounds end before they start on this deceiving par four.
I’ll add that the uphill tee shot sets the stage for the entire day on the tee box for a round at EACC. PGA Professional David Jones is a true gentleman and Superintendent Drew Thompson always has the course in top shop.
Honorable mention:—1st hole at Fox Valley Club par 4
Hole 2 –Crag Burn Golf Club. The par 5 second has been honored by golf publications as one of best golf holes in America. It plays 563 from the blue tees and over 600 from the tips. The tee shot requires length and accuracy to get past the tree line to the open look over the pond to the green. The wise play is to lay up down the left side of the fairway, leaving a short wedge into the green that is protected by a large pond. The green is long and narrow, providing the possibility for numerous pin placements. It’s simply a great hole in design.
Honorable mention: 2nd Hole Brierwood CC par 4
Hole 3—Lockport Town and CC. Lockport is one of the most underrated tracks in WNY and has many holes that deserved consideration for this list. However, I think the third hole is one of the best par 4’s in all of WNY. The tee shot calls for a fade on this slight dog leg right. The mature trees frame the hole perfectly and add great character. The second shot requires precision with a mid/long iron to a putting surface that is protected by bunkers front and right along with a burm surrounding the back and right. A false left side will send balls off the green into the thick rough.
Honorable mention: Lancaster CC par 4 third hole
Hole 4 —Wanakah CC. The first of the par 3’s at the Code Club looks rather easy from the tee box, but that’s far from the case. The hole plays anywhere from 155-180 from the blue tees. The green is larger than it appears from the tee, diagonal front left to back right with plenty of movement, and a back edge that quickly drops off to a collection area. Add the long, deep bunker fronting the right side of the green, lake breezes usually off the golfers left, and you have a challenging tee shot.
Honorable mention: East Aurora CC par 3 4th hole (I hit 3 wood to get there!)
Hole 5— Lancaster CC. This par 4 is a beast! The hole plays 474 yards, two yards shorter than the par 5 7th at LCC. The elevated tee box takes you over the creek and requires distance in order to reach the green in 2 shots. The fairway is much roomier than it appears from the tee box, and it’s fairly flat. The second shot is usually 200 yards or more over a slight incline to a green that is protected on each side by well maintained bunkers. The hole does provide fairway in front of the green allowing for players to run shots up on the green, a good design element given the distance. It’s a great hole where making par feels like a birdie.
Honorable mention: Par 4 fifth hole at Niagara Falls CC
Hole 6 —Country Club of Buffalo. The Pulpit. This is the best par 3 in WNY. The green is a massive island in a see of grass. The elevated tee box and cleared land around the green give you the feel as if you’re about to play a special hole. The putting surface is longer than wide, with three different levels. Missing the green is awkward because any wedge shot is met with an uneven stance or full swing wedge for a steep climb to the green that seems 20-30 above the ground below. Thinks 17th at TPC Sawgrass, except with a longer green and the lagoon drained.
Honorable menton: Par 3 6th at Fox Valley Club
Hole 7 —Brookfield CC. Some members at Brookfield may wonder why I chose this par 5. The 4th or 13th hole at Brookfield are considered the better par 5’s by most, but not me. This hole used to be a long par 4, but a smart switch and a new tee box created this par 5 that is fun and challenging to play. The tee shot sets you up towards the right side of this fairway that is a slight dogleg right when you reach the crest of the hill. A fairway bunker on the right side is placed perfectly, as are the fairway bunkers 50 yards short of the green. A good drive provide the opportunity to reach the green in 2, but bunkers await on both sides, as well as trouble long. Trees aligning both sides add to the degree of difficulty, but nothing too obnoxious to recover from. This is a fun hole to play that has plenty of elements protecting par, but also providing birdie opportunities (they all can’t be round wreckers!)
Honorable mention: Par 4 7th at Tan Tara Golf Club
Hole 8—Orchard Park CC. This par 4 is the number one handicap hole on the course and it’s deceiving. The tee shot doesn’t look hard, but when you factor in OB left and a pond to the right, there’s some accuracy and distance involved off the tee. The second shot is downhill to one of the most challenging putting surfaces you’ll ever encounter. It’s massive, sloping front to back with everything feeding towards the left. Members know to play the approach beyond the flagstick in order to have an uphill putt, or to play a low flighted ball to the front right quadrant of the green.
Honorable mention: par 4 8th at Brookfield CC (also a very tough green)
Hole 9—Lancaster CC. This par 4 is one of the true great outward nine finishing holes. The tee shot can be played with driver, 3 metal, or 5 iron. The ball needs to clear the creek, avoiding trees on the right and out of bounds on the left. There is actually plenty of room once the balls carries around 180 yards in distance. The approach is a steep climb to a generous green on top of the hill. However, the green is usually fast, sloping back to front, and right to left.
Honorable mention: Par 4 9th at East Aurora CC.
Hole 10—Crag Burn. I may get a lot of questions about this hole because it looks pretty basic from the tee box, but I think this par 4 is one of the more challenging on the course. The hole looks very open, but it tightens up with the fairway bunker on the left cutting off some real estate. Longer players will carry that bunker or ride the edge down a slight decline to gain more yardage. That leaves a slight uphill approach shot to a green that is tilted from left to right. The hole plays longer than it looks and the green is very difficult to read correctly. Again, it’s not the prettiest hole at Crag Burn, but I think It’s extremely challenging and fair.
Honorable mention: Par 4 10th at Brookfield CC
Hole 11—Fox Valley. I have played this hole enough to know what not to do, but I still I do it! The tee shot is tight with trees on both sides, but the left being a penalty area (it was changed from OB last summer). Players use everything from 5 iron to driver, but I usually play a hybrid for a leave of 145 yards. The second shot is all carry over a pond and bunker in front of the elevated green that has three subtle levels. There is not a flat putt on the green and missing the surface is usually and automatic bogey, especially above the hole.
Honorable mention: Par 4 11th at CCB
Hole 12—Niagara Falls CC. This is the par 3 that Tiger Woods aced in 1994 during his only appearance at The Porter Cup. The green isn’t very deep, requiring a steep attack with a wedge or 9 iron from the member tees. The small creek comes into play on left hole locations, with the bunkers on middle to right. Short, but excellent hole.
Honorable mention: Par 3 12th at Crag Burn
Hole 13—Springville CC. This par 4 is a beauty in design and surroundings The elevated tee box provides a great view of the valley and gorge that is adjacent to the course. You must place the ball towards the right side of the fairway to avoid the pond on the left and have a good angle for the approach shot. The generous green provides many pin placement options with right to left tilt.
Honorable mention: par 4 13th at Fox Valley Club
Hole 14—Wanakah CC. This par 5 is all about the second and third shots. The tee shot is straightaway with trees on both sides, but that’s not where the danger lies. A pond on the left comes into play on the second shot, as do fairway bunkers on the right. A smart layup shot keeps the bunkers out of play by staying short and leaving 150 yards over the valley to the elevated green. However, a good drive creates the opportunity to go for it, or at least reach the apron of the green in 2. A penalty area lurks short and left of the green and any ball in there is an automatic drop. Shots to the green should favor the right side. The green is very complex, particularly back left pin placements. Despite all of that, the hole is fair and provides opportunity for birdie.
Honorable mention: Par 4 14th at Orchard Park CC/ par 5 Crag Burn
Hole 15—Wanakah CC. What? Back to back holes and Wanakah making it’s third appearance on the list? I think that highly of Wanakah CC after it’s renovations a few years ago. I’ve also had the opportunity to play in the Ganson Depew Invitational the last two years and it’s given me greater appreciation for the course, if not bias. Anyway, the 15th is a par 3 with an elevated tee box that calls for all carry to a deep narrow green. The hole usually plays into the breeze off the lake and a quality tee shot finds the left side of the green no matter the day’s hole location. If it’s windy, some guesswork is involved on proper club selection or you pay the price with a ball in the hazard or the strong possibility of 3 putting. It also provides a great view of Lake Erie.
Honorable mention: par 5 15th Gowanda CC
Hole 16—Crag Burn CC. It’s no surprise to see Crag Burn make an appearance on the list again. This par 5 is demanding right from the tee shot. The fairway bends right to left around the fescue and fairway bunkers. Longer hitters can take on the dogleg, but need the distance to carry the bunkers on the left. The smart choice is to play the fairway to the right. The second shot requires the decision to layup short of the stream or try and carry it onto the fairway leading to the slightly elevated green. The green has two tiers with subtle breaks as a last defense of par. The fescue frames a hole that looks wide open, but is far from it.
Honorable mention: par 4 at Transit Valley CC (drivable hole)
Hole 17—Niagara Frontier Golf Club. This short par 4 is shaped by trees and doesn’t require the big stick. The approach carries over a creek to a green that slopes back to front. Long is wrong with two bunkers behind the green. Head PGA Professional Dan Antonucci provides a good narration to this video of the hole.
Honorable mention: par 4 17th at Park CC
Hole 18—Park CC. Park almost had back to back holes to finish the round, but having 18 should suffice. The tee shot isn’t too difficult, it just needs to make it down the hill. The approach is usually a mid-iron to a green that has a false front, and plenty of ripples in it. The setting makes the hole a winner as it routes into the stunning castle of a clubhouse that sits on the hill above the 18th green. A great venue for members on the patio watching the finish, and the opportunity to entertain from below.
Honorable mention: par 4 Fox Valley/ Par 4 CCB
There you have it, The Code Club of WNY. I look forward to your comments, and playing it someday!