Review: Durand Eastman Golf Course

Course Name: Durand Eastman Golf Course

Designer: Unknown (1917, 9 holes)(1931, Additional 9 holes), Robert Trent Jones Sr. (1934, Redesign)

Location: Rochester, New York

History: Located on Lake Ontario’s southern shoreline, Durand Eastman Park opened in 1907 as a gift of Henry S. Durand and famous photographer George Eastman. The first 9- hole golf course was built in 1917, supposedly by Donald Ross but I am unable to confirm this. By 1931, a second 9 holes had been built and the resultant course was “very tight”. In 1934, a young, relatively unknown Cornell graduate named Robert Trent Jones completely redesigned the course as part of a WPA project during the Great Depression.

Jones’ course was not without its critics, however. On a tour of upstate New York, A.W. Tillinghast stopped by Durand Eastman and remarked, “Several of the greens are so grotesque in their conception that already the authorities recognize the necessity for complete reconstruction, notably the 5th and 6th greens, and I gave them considerable advice concerning new plans and construction methods. My investigation of this course was particularly thorough, for their problems are many.”

Like many munis from its era, father time was not kind to Durand Eastman, as the course went through many unsavory changes over the years. Most notably, all bunkers were removed by 1960, the routing was altered, and trees overgrew. Despite these alterations, the course is still considered the crown jewel of Monroe County public golf that includes sister courses Genesee Valley and Churchville.

Conditions: 6/10, Durand Eastman is in fairly good shape for how much play it receives. The teeboxes are generally well-maintained and the greens roll true, even if they’re a bit slower than I’d like.

Value: 10/10, As a municipal course in one of the cheapest parts of the country, Durand Eastman offers astonishingly good value. I paid $13 to walk 18, which is more than worth it.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                        70           6033               70.0               122

White                      70           5795               69.1               121

Gold                         70           5300              67.0               116

Red                          72           5198               71.5               128

Hole Descriptions: Whenever I spend time in a new area, I try my best to check out the local golf scene. Rochester, New York is an underrated golf region with some great private courses (Oak Hill, Monroe, C.C. of Rochester), some upscale publics (Ravenwood, Bristol Harbour), and a lively municipal scene. I visit family in the area frequently and have been fortunate to see many of these courses over the years. Durand Eastman is the best of the municipal courses and is certainly a darling in the architecture community.

Durand Eastman is notably one of Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s first designs and features a lovely layout over a hilly terrain bisected by rivers. As mentioned above, the course has changed quite a bit over the last century and many of these changes have hurt the design. Most interestingly, there are no bunkers at Durand Eastman. Pictures from the 1930’s show beautiful bunkers surrounding greens, but for some reason they were taken out and it’s a real shame. Several holes have undergone major changes as well. Originally, Jones’ layout was divided by Kings Highway with 10 holes east of the road and 8 west. The road still exists today, but the town wanted to split it evenly with 9 on either side in the 1970s. To accomplish this, the original 4th and 5th holes (par 3 and 4) were combined to make an interesting par 5 and a par 3 was added as a new 16th hole. Locals who played the course before the change lamented the loss of an incredible 4th hole and the move has always been controversial. Bunker removal, overgrown trees, and several hole changes have taken a lot of Jones’ genius away, but the course is still very worth a play. I love the variety and memorability of many of these holes, and think this could be one of the better public courses in New York with a proper restoration.

Once a par 5, the 1st teebox was moved up about 100 yards in the 1990s to create a 393 yard par 4. One of the flattest, most uneventful holes on the course, this medium length hole plays straightaway and is most notable for a tiny front right-to-back left sloping green defended by mounds and a steep drop-off short left. Locals complain that such a green is better suited for a par 5 instead of a hole players hit mid-iron into, and I don’t disagree.

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The par 4 opener

Although not the hardest layout at a touch over 6000 yards, Durand Eastman contains several really challenging par fours with the 2nd being the most noteworthy. At 440 yards, this deserving number 1 handicap is a truly memorable hole beginning with a straight downhill teeshot to a dogleg left fairway. A creek and trees line the entire left side and the dogleg doesn’t occur until about 290 yards. For those who find the fairway, you’re likely facing a narrow chute between trees to a slightly elevated green. Apparently the area left of the creek used to be another slab of fairway and I really wish they brought this feature back because the right angle can be somewhat unfair. As it stands now, this is still a great hole, but has the chance to be one of the best par fours in New York with bunkers and a dual fairway.

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The excellent par 4 2nd
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Tree overgrowth on the right often blocks the green after a good drive

Durand Eastman follows up the longest par 4 with the short 277 yard 3rd. A true reachable par 4, this excellent little hole plays as a sharp dogleg left up the hill to an elevated green. With a shallow back-to-front sloped green, the chance of holding a big draw is slim, but many birdies will be had here.

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The dogleg par 4 3rd
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The approach at 3 after a lay-up

A combination of a former par 3 and 4, the 4th hole is now a 469 yard par 5. From an elevated teebox, this snaking hole features a narrow S-shaped fairway. While the teeshot is fun and rather straightforward, trees on both sides really compress the fairway for the final 160 yards and make for a very challenging lay-up. This green sits covered in shadows at all times by gigantic trees surrounding it.

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The par 5 4th
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After a good drive, the golfer deserves a better look than this…
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The 4th green hidden in the trees

At 131 yards, the 5th hole is the shortest of the one-shotters playing over a creek to two-tiered, severely back-to-front sloped green. At one time, this hole had two greens – one the original Jones 6th hole and a newer one, but over time the Jones green was slowly phased out.

5th green - shallow with two back-to-front tiers
Walking up to the 5th green

The 6th hole is another strong par 4 playing 351 yards. As a slight dogleg right, this tree-lined fairway exhibits excellent land movement with very few level lies on a downhill approach. This green is one of the largest on the property and features numerous swales and plateaus leading to difficult putts.

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The par 4 6th

Another fascinating hole, the par 4 7th is officially 381 yards but plays much longer as a dogleg left. This hole features two fairways divided by a creek bisecting the middle. Due to overgrown trees to the left of the teebox, it’s not really possible to access the second fairway with the drive unless you play a wicked hook. Because the first fairway ends around 240 yards, most will have to lay-up with less than driver. This approach plays uphill at an awkward angle to a very challenging, three-tiered, back-to-front sloped green guarded by a large false front. This is surely one of the toughest holes at Durand Eastman.

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The par 4 7th
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The tough approach at 7

At 201 yards, the 8th hole is the longest par 3 on the course but plays a bit shorter downhill. Playing back over the creek, this tough hole features a shallow green guarded by a false front.

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The par 3 8th

The creek plays another pivotal role in the difficult 414 yard par 4 9th. This teeshot plays diagonally over the creek at about 190 yards with a severe dogleg right. The creek runs down the entire righthand side afterwards until it reaches a large left-to-right sloping green.

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The par 4 9th
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The approach at 9

The town went to great lengths to divide the front and back 9 and the two do feel quite different. After walking across the parking lot and Kings Highway, you reach the 10th hole, another doozy of a par 4 at 436 yards. This teebox is elevated, resulting in an exhilarating teeshot to a dogleg left lined by forest left and a creek long. This approach plays over the creek to a round, relatively flat green.

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The par 4 10th

Creeks are prominently integrated into many holes at Durand Eastman, but perhaps none moreso than the 388 yard par 4 11th. This slender dogleg right plays level with a creek lining the right side of the entire fairway until it crosses just short of the green. This green is small and surrounded by mounds of rough.

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The narrow par 4 11th
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The approach at 11

The 12th hole is one of the more difficult 178 yard par threes I’ve encountered playing uphill with thick forest just left of a very narrow green. A high, well-struck mid- to long iron is needed here as this green slopes viciously back-to-front.

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The 12th isn’t the most inviting par 3…

At 439 yards, the par 4 13th is the last of a very difficult stretch of holes at Durand Eastman. A downhill dogleg left, this hole features a narrow fairway lined by mounds of thick rough right and dense forest left. With a long iron in hand, this green is quite difficult to hit in two given it’s the most narrow on the course at just 13 paces wide!

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The dogleg par 4 13th
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The approach at 13

The 14th hole begins a stretch of more benign holes as a 346 yard par 4. Another slight dogleg left, this hole features a wider fairway lined by marshes right and thick forest left. This approach plays uphill to a left-to-right sloped green.

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The par 4 14th
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There’s no lack of wildlife at Durand Eastman Park

After a tough walk through the forest, another lovely short par 4 awaits in the 343 yard 15th. This hole plays shorter downhill as a dogleg right around trees. This small green features a short false front and slopes primarily left-to-right.

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The par 4 15th
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The approach at 15

The 16th is a really pretty hole and one with an interesting backstory. This hole was added during the front 9 and back 9 rearrangement but initially was a par 3. Critics were not kind to the hole and it made little sense to have back-to-back par threes with the 17th. In 1993, a local 15 year-old brought a sketch to a town meeting proposing to move the teebox 100 yards back and to the right and move the green back on top of a hill. Many loved the idea, but due to environmental concerns, they made a compromise and only moved the teebox back 40 yards and green back 40 yards to create a 263 yard par 4. I really like the look of this dogleg right from an elevated teebox, but unfortunately not enough trees were removed so the green is partially blocked and not worth the risk. After a proper lay-up, the golfer is left an uphill approach to a back-to-front sloped green.

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An open angle to the green would make this an excellent drivable par 4
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More onlookers on the approach at 16

At 149 yards, the 17th hole is the final par 3 and a very nice one at that. From the back teebox, this downhill green is partially blind and features several severe undulations. Of note, this hole is literally on Lake Ontario but trees overgrown behind the hole block the view. What a shame!

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The par 3 17th

At just 434 yards, the closing par 5 is shorter than three (!) par fours at Durand Eastman, but is a demanding and highly unique hole nonetheless. With imposing hills and thick forest lining both sides of a very tight fairway, this dogleg left snakes around trees and demands accuracy with every shot. The opening becomes even narrower on the second shot, often demanding a lay-up for even those in range of the green. Despite its short length, this hole is difficult to reach in two as the green sits on top of a steep ledge and is extremely shallow and sloping back-to-front. I typically don’t enjoy tight or target golf holes, but this one is so unique and interesting that I quite enjoy it.

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The intimidating teeshot at 18
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Accuracy is everything at the finisher

General Comments: After so many hole rearrangements, there’s no room for a driving range and the only practice area is a small green near the 1st tee. As is the case with most munis, pace of play was horrible for the front 9. With limited daylight left, I sprinted through the back 9 however, and had a much better experience.

Verdict: Although many things have changed for the worse since it opened in 1934, Durand Eastman still contains plenty of attractive architecture and is one of the best restoration candidates in America (@GilHanse). With great variety, an insanely cheap price, and many memorable holes, I highly recommend this muni.


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