I can count on one hand the number of area courses I haven’t played. Of the private clubs, only Wanakah has escaped my attention. On the public side, places like Hillview in Fredonia, Chestnut Hill in Darien, Rolling Acres in Pike, and Eden Valley in Eden have slipped through my grasp. The reason I can make this “one-hand” statement is my quick nine at South Park today. Not that I’m a belt-notcher of any renown, but I did cross one more, local track off the list today.
South Park sits behind the Botanical Gardens in south Buffalo. It’s close to the Buffalo-Lackawanna line; if the ancient trees that guard the south side of the course were removed, it would lie in the shadows of the Our Lady of Victory basilica. From what I’ve read, it’s a golf course that shouldn’t really exist, either. The theme of botanical awareness of the nearby gardens was meant to extend across the entirety of South Park. The land where the golf course lies was intended to be a water-themed park and the lagoon was created to establish such an effect, in 1888. In 1892, the Botanical Gardens were added. Years later, after Olmsted’s death in 1903, the golf course came into existence (1915.)
The SP golf course is awkwardly shoehorned into the property. Regulars will acknowledge that, although the course measures just under 2900 yards for its nine holes, the walks between holes add that much more. The journeys between the first green and second tee, second green and third tee, and eighth green to ninth tee, are eye-openers. None of them compares, though, with the cross-country trek from five green to sixth tee. Remember that lagoon I mentioned? You circumnavigate it on your way to the sixth green. If you’ve got a great round going through five, you’ll have plenty of time to think about it on the way. Likewise, if you’ve not been at your best, this pause offers a chance to clear your head and get back in the game.
Before he became County Executive of Erie county, Mark Poloncarz was known as a lawyer and a denizen of South Park. He was club champion at the course and one of its champions across the area. Poloncarz developed an homage web site to the course, a bit of early html that still works today, and is worth a read if you haven’t played the course. I won’t go into nearly as much detail, so balance this review with his own.
The first three holes at South Park are dead straight, as are the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth. There are no par fives at South Park, an oddity that constrains the course’s length. I played the course with my irons, the longest of which is a 4-iron. The course was soaked from recent rains, so the roll-out on drives was minimal. I suspect that I had eight- and nine-iron approaches into the aforementioned seven par four holes, with the exception of number five, where I had a wedge into the 275-yard wee one. Few fairway bunkers protect through the green; old-growth trees of varying shapes and sizes serve as hazards. The greens at South Park are roundish in nature, typically domed a bit in the middle, and not always easy to hit. If you’re on in regulation, you’re probably left with less than thirty feet for birdie. No greenside bunkers make an appearance throughout the nine holes.
The two holes that break the monotony of the short par four template are four and six. The fourth comes out of nowhere, grabbing you with its inspired carry over a finger of the South Park lagoon. From the back tees, the hole can play as deep as 175 yards, all of which is carry. From the forward men’s tee, you’ll have 145 yards in. From the very forward tee, you come in at a different angle, still over water, from around 90 yards. the green is angled from back to front and has some width to it. The putting surfaces at South Park don’t play all that quickly, given the amount of traffic they absorb. However, there are some unique hole locations that force the greenkeeper’s hand when it comes to mowing patterns.
The sixth hole, the one that follows the lagoon-side hike, plays 435 yards along the ground. Only a fool would negotiate all 435 yards, however. You bite off as much as you dare on this cape-style tee shot. You cannot see the landing area, so you must trust your geometry. My four iron, well-struck as it was, was aimed just a bit too greedily to the left and I found myself short of the fairway, under trees. I would have had seven or six iron in had I known the proper line, With driver in hand, the hole probably plays about 35o yards on a direct line to the green (which you cannot see from the tee, which is hidden behind the lagoon.) This is the second hole (after the fourth) that feels like it could be on any top course in the area and not feel out of place…until you get to the green. I don’t know if the builder wished to emulate the dome at the nearby Botanical Gardens, but where you find a flat spot to cut a hole on this putting surface is beyond me.
The eighth hole at South Park is a nifty trickster. Yes, it’s straight, but it feels like a dogleg. Some 180 yards from the tee on the right is a tall specimen tree. Another forty yards up on the left is its mate. In between these two timbers is where you must fit your tee ball. If you don’t, you’ll manufacture some sort of low recovery shot to get at the green (which as I recall, is the size of a silver dollar.)
South Park is a nice gambit on a sunny afternoon. It has a decent amount of character, affords a load of birdie opportunities and provides an opportunity to sharpen your wedge game. If your usual course demands too many drivers too often, leave it in the bag at South Park and you’ll still have short-iron approaches.