Course Name: Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course
Designer: T. McClure Peters (1895, 9 holes), Tom Bendelow (1899, 18 hole Redesign), William F. Mitchell (1940s, 4 new holes, Rearrangement), Stephen Kay (2014, Renovation)
Location: Bronx, New York
History: Van Cortlandt Park holds a special place in golf history as the oldest public course in America. “Vanny’s” rich history began in 1895, when local T. McClure Peters laid out a rudimentary 9-hole course on the property spanning most of today’s current front nine. In its early years, the course was jam-packed and quite disorganized so the City brought in Tom Bendelow in 1899 to expand the course to 18 holes. In 1905, Van Cortlandt held the first Open tournament on a public course and Isaac Mackie narrowly defeated Willie Anderson. In the 1940s and 1950s, the course had to be rearranged with several holes lost due to the building of the Mosholu Parkway and Major Deegan Expressway. William F. Mitchell was in charge of this reconstruction and additional holes. Finally, Stephen Kay renovated Van Cortlandt beginning in 2007 with a new clubhouse, additional teeboxes, and several new greens.
Conditions: 6/10, Van Cortlandt Park is in decent condition with fairly well maintained teeboxes and fairways, and slow but true greens. The rough and areas well-off the fairway are a bit scruffy.
Value: 8/10, For the oldest public course in America in a city like New York, Van Cortlandt offers surprisingly strong value at $34 to walk weekdays and $54 to walk prime weekend mornings. Additional discounts are available for twilight, seniors, and juniors. It’s worth noting that the course charges a mild fee for parking, which is just a wild concept for a golf course.
Tee Par Yardage Rating Slope
Black 70 6002 68.5 120
Blue 70 5558 66.7 118
Red 70 4799 66.8 113
Hole Descriptions: Many people know Van Cortlandt as the oldest public course in America, but how does the layout itself stack up? For starters, it’s a very short course at just over 6000 yards from the Black Tees. It’s also quite rudimentary, with few hazards besides bunkers on several holes. The hilly topography is engaging, however, and there’s solid variety present on this classic design. Is it the best NYC muni from a pure design standpoint? No, but it’s far from the worst and certainly worth a play for the historical importance alone. It’s also one of the easiest to access via the Subway and is an excellent option for Manhattanites. Now, onto the holes…
The opening hole is a straightaway 354 yard par 4 that runs slightly uphill culminating in a raised green. OB lines the right side the entire way and is the only real danger besides a bunker left of the green.
When Van Cortlandt first opened in 1895, it featured one of the longest holes in America with a 700+ yard par 5. While this hole is no longer, the course still features a lengthy and notable par 5 in the 559 yard 2nd hole. The number 1 handicap, this behemoth utilizes the hilly terrain to its advantage with a tight teeshot to a right-to-left sloping fairway lined by OB right. The fairway gently bends left and flattens as it progresses before dropping into a valley on the approach. This green is flat and large and defended by two bunkers left.
The 3rd hole is the first par 3 at Van Cortlandt and a nice hole at 156 yards. Playing slightly downhill to a back-to-front sloped green, the only real danger here is a large bunker short right.
At 350 yards, the par 4 4th is another nice hole that uses the hilly terrain. Playing straightaway with trees lining both sides, this hole features a sloping fairway that plateaus at about 200 yards before sloping downhill into rough at 250 yards. If you don’t carry this plateau on the teeshot, you’ll be left a blind approach to an elevated green defended by a false front and bunker right.
The 5th hole is another short, tight par 4 playing 325 yards. Another straightaway hole, this teeshot is blind over a plateau with OB left and trees down the right. This approach plays to a shallow, back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker short.
At 279 yards, the 6th hole is another short par 4. This is perhaps the prettiest hole at Van Cortland playing slightly uphill and straightaway with an immediate 130 yard forced carry over water. This fairway progressively narrows with well-placed bunkers on either side around 200 yards and again just short of the green. While reachable, this green is elevated and undulating, predominantly sloping left-to-right.
The 7th hole is the longest par 3 on the course at 204 yards and arguably the hardest hole relative to par. This lengthy one-shotter plays downhill to a wide, yet shallow two-tiered, left-to-right sloping green defended by a bunker right. If the pin is on the top left tier (as pictured), overgrown trees come into play and block out that part of the green.
The 8th-11th holes occupy a separate piece of property that was added later and are a decent walk from the rest of the course. These hole are more mundane and aren’t nearly as memorable as the rest of the course. The 8th hole is yet another short par 4 at 304 yards as a slight dogleg left. While reachable in theory, a bunker on the right at 200 yards is a good aiming point. This approach plays to a severely back-to-front sloped green defended by bunkers on either side.
The front 9 closes with a 375 yard slight dogleg right par 4. Playing fairly tight with tall trees on either side, two accurate shots are required on this otherwise rather nondescript hole. This circular green is guarded by a bunker left.
The 10th hole is perhaps the weakest on the course as a dead straight and flat par 5 at 452 yards. Easily reachable in two, this throwaway hole is tightly treelined but features no bunkers or other hazards. Hit two or three good shots and par is easily achieved.
At 153 yards, the 11th hole is the shortest par 3 on the course and another rather simple hole playing flat guarded by a bunker right of the green.
After another decent walk through the woods, the par 5 12th is really the only long hole on the back 9 at a strong 550 yards. This marathon three-shotter features a generous left-to-right sloping fairway defended by OB far right the entire way and a marshy area down the right at 320 yards. At about 150 yards short of the green, the initial fairway ends with rough for about 40 yards before a second slab of fairway begins. This large green is guarded by a bunker left.
The 13th hole is an interesting 156 yard par 3 playing over water the entire way. When I played, this hole was practically blind due to overgrown reeds but this is probably unintentional. This green is very difficult, featuring the heaviest back-to-front slope at Van Cortlandt.
The last hole on the original property, the 353 yard par 4 14th is not a long hole on the scorecard but plays quite difficult as a tight dogleg right. The fairway is initially wide for the first 200 yards but narrows severely after that point with marshland jutting out down the right and the left tree-line tightening. Golfers can either lay-up short of the marsh here, leaving a difficult approach, or try a risky carry over the marsh. This green is slightly elevated and runs back-to-front.
If you thought the walk from 7 to 8 was intense, it pales in comparison to the uphill walk along the Parkway to reach the 15th. The final 4 holes feel like their own little course far away from the other holes and on very hilly and constricted property. The 15th hole is the shortest par 4 at Van Cortlandt at a measly 254 yards. While certainly reachable for the longest hitters, this slight dogleg right plays downhill on the teeshot and severely uphill on the approach with a green on top of a hill. Somewhat reminiscent to Myopia Hunt’s terrifying 13th, most golfers will lay-up with iron here, leaving a difficult approach. Remember to take at least one club extra here.
Despite playing longer, the 282 yard par 4 16th is actually easier to reach than the 15th playing dead downhill. A large bunker down the right at 180 yards and a progressively narrowing fairway stand between you and this green which slopes severely left-to-right and back-to-front.
The 17th hole is the final par 3 on the course and among the most difficult. Officially 172 yards, this hole plays at least one club extra uphill to a large green that plays as almost a turtleback, repelling any shot near the edge. Bogey is not a bad score here.
Fittingly, Van Cortlandt closes with another short par 4 at 280 yards. This is perhaps the most memorable hole on the course playing severely downhill as a semi-blind, slight dogleg left. The first fairway ends just 120 yards from the teebox after which the hole drops steeply downhill to a generous second fairway. This green slopes left-to-right defended by a bunker right.
General Comments: Van Cortlandt Park features a neat clubhouse but basically no practice facilities on a small property. For such a short course, the walk is not the easiest given the hills and some awkwardly long distances between holes. The walk along the side of the highway connecting the final four holes is especially cumbersome. As you can imagine, pace of play at Vanny can be pretty rough.
Verdict: Well-known as America’s oldest muni, Van Cortlandt Park is often short and simplistic, but offers strong variety and a lot of history at a great value. I recommend this course to all visitors to New York who consider themselves golf architecture enthusiasts.