Yale Golf Course

Just a short description of the Yale Golf Course, one of the handful of courses designed by the great C.B. MacDonald. The others include National GC, Chicago GC and St. Louis CC. YGC is one of the great classic designs. It is hilly, large multi tiered greens that are protected by severe bunkers, with fairways that have have very few flat lies, protected by punishing rough and heavy woods. Several of the holes leave one with blind shots to the greens. The course is extraordinarily strong from the very tips which are often reserved for tournament play. The normal blues make for a satisfying challenge, but the whites should be avoided largely because they dramatically alter the character of the holes. They are an afterthought and play accordingly. The greatness of the course is largely a function of two things: the variety of holes and their relationship to one another. This is a course in which each hole makes sense in relationship to the previous one and the succeeding one. The course was designed in the 1920s and plays accordingly. Among the best holes on the course are the first – a 420yd par 4 that was originally set up as a mild dogleg right which puts the trap on the left side of the fairway right in the line of aim; the third – one of the few that plays more interestingly from the whites which are twenty yds to the right of the blues – which features water on the right and a blind second shot which requires that those on the fairway wait until the bell is rung by those leaving the third green heading towards the fourth tee before hitting to the green; the fourth, which Tommy Armour once described as the best par 4 in the US ( 440yds, dogleg right, water on the right, elevated green well bunkered. The key is that there is no roll on drives at all since the fairway drains poorly. The fairway is also the home of Canadian Geese during migration; the 8th which is a rare dogleg right to a green with a somewhat blind shot in to a green that is protected by a gaping trap to the left. If you end up in the trap your foursome may complete the round before you find your way to the green. The 9th is the most controversial hole on the front nine: a par 3 that can play anywhere from 170 to 230 from the same tee box!!! The green is the thing. The shot is over water the entire way. The green is two tiered with a valley in the middle – a substantial valley. The flag up front makes it a six iron or so; the tee on the back into the wind sometimes can call for a three wood. the green is surrounded by a forest left and right. in an exhibition, Sam Snead landed on the front tier when the pin was on the back tier. he took out a wedge and when told that it was unreasonable to hit a wedge from one tier to the next responded that ‘if they are foolish enough to make a hole like this then I am perfectly in my rights to be foolish enough to hit a wedge on it.’
The 10th is a stunning hole up and down and up again to an elevated green; wonderful hole and just gorgeous. Two tiered green and no way of knowing from the fairwary floor where the pin is. I quite like the 12 which again has an elevated green and a blind shot in – once again the bell is necessary. The 13 is a 212yd par 3 that has a place in my heart as it is the site of my only hole-in-one. The next set of holes are good but not memorable by comparison until 17 which is a 430 yd par 4 to a narrow green that in the old days required a long iron in as the tee shot is uphill all the way. It is also one of the very few holes on the course where a drive well struck down the right side of the fairway will get some signficant roll. The 18th is the most controversial hole on the course. No one has ever hit the green in two from the back back tees at 620 yds. Too many hills to climb to reach the green in two. The hole is never played from the back tees anymore and that makes the drive stupid since a truly long hitter will simply end up with an unbearable uphill lie. This would not be possible from the back tees. So the sensible play is a three wood which is crazy on a hole that plays 560 or so, and not because that is all you need to reach the green in two. Rather it is because I driver will put you in a place you were never meant to be.

The course is the site of many college tournaments. I played in many there myself. It is a great course to walk – an extraordinary exercise!! It is a course one cannot get bored of. maintenance is good but not great. it is a hard course to maintain well given the steep bunkers. The substructure of the greens requires work, but it is an extraordinary layout and anyone who knows golf course architecture and admires the great old courses would enjoy a round at Yale.

If any of Lag’s students would like to play the course, let me know and I will help arrange it. I am a professor at Yale, play the course regularly and can bring guests (paying guests are always welcome at Yale.) Play is often moderately slow given the layout and interest in playing it.


I always enjoyed playing all those great courses in the Northeast. They really got it right… lots of history and fantastic designs. Next time you’re out there… do take some snap shots… it would be great to see the holes you described so eloquently.

Yale GC is now on my list of “places to play”