Byrncliff is the absolute favorite course of Kevin Lynch, AKA The Scrambler. It is a unique track situated in the Allegheny foothills, just west of Varysburg, NY. Accessing Byrncliff is easy, just take 20-A eastward from the I-400 and you’ll run into its entrance. Once there, you might not want to leave. Fortunately, on-site accommodations make it easy to stay.
Holes 1-3: 371, 483 & 423
The opening trio at Byrncliff is a stout yet fair test. A glance at the scorecard reveals a shortish par four, a short par five and a medium par four that plays downhill all the way to the green. Come to the 4th tee at even par and you’ll be quite content. Number 1 plays over the creek that defines the first hole. An decent drive gets you to short-iron range, but the green is deeper than wide, with a pronounced ridge separating lower front from upper back. The creek appears again at the putting surface, collecting most balls that come up short of the green, as well as many that veer to the right. The green itself is no docile surface, demanding a good read on putts of any length. Hole number two might be a bit early for a classic risk-reward par five, or not.
The safe play is left side of the fairway, even into the third fairway, to avoid out of bounds right. A nutted drive up the middle provides an opportunity for a bounce over the hill, down the slope, within iron distance of the green. If you’re not in position A off the tee, get there with a second-shot layup into the middle of the fairway. It’s no fun to come in from the left, where trees lurk. The green is also two-tiered, although the front of this one is decidedly lower than on the previous hole. A back extension some years ago gave this green needed pinnable areas. Hole #3 plays off a skyward-sloped tee down the same hill that hole #2 climbed. There is a fair amount of wiggle room here, so let fly with the energy that you restrained on the previous tee shot. Most approach shots will have some downhill-lie quality to them, so be prepared to angle the shoulders a bit. The green sits across a minor dell that rarely kicks a ball forward, onto the green. However, you don’t wish to be above the hole, either, so playing just beyond the dell is ideal.
Holes 4-6: 176, 392 & 351
The 4th at Byrncliff is the first one-shot affair and occupies an enviable piece of property. This hole, by anyone’s guess, is as natural as they come. Initially played over a much more daunting escarpment to a completely hidden green, a portion of the escarpment (and the cart path) collapsed a decade ago. Thankfully, the hole remains intact and lacks only an interesting green to be one of the top three par 3s in western New York. The tee ball is played uphill, past a fairway bunker, to a green sighted in a natural hollow. Balls played to either side might receive a fortuitous kick onto the putting surface. The green is slightly tilted, with little internal contour. If you reach the green in one, your putt for birdie will have a decided opportunity to fall. If a most improved hole prize were to be awarded, the 5th at Byrncliff would easily claim the We did it ourselvescategory.
Formerly a banal, mild dogleg left to a green located at the base of a hill, the staff did some clearing and created a doozy, a hole that plays up to a ridge, then runs the ridge up, down, up to a perched putting surface. A devilishly-hungry fairway bunker, located on the left inside corner of the bend, defines the tee shot. The approach from the short grass is played up the fairway fall line, to a mean, slippery green. Hole number 6 at Byrncliff is a shortish par four with two options. The big and high hitter can go shortcut right over the trees and creek, aiming for Lynch’s First Notch (more on number two later) and leaving a half-wedge to a vulnerable green. The alternative is to play a hybrid or fairway metal along the fairway, leaving short iron or wedge in, avoiding the aforementioned timber and H2O. The approach and green are visually pleasing yet fairly docile, leaving another good run at birdie for the strategist.
Holes 7-9: 526, 183 & 359
Number seven is a memorable hole, offering the second, steep downhill tee shot of the nine. Two fairway bunkers replaced a fallen, massive tree located fairway left, suggesting that the play is to the right. It is not, as the hole moves to the left and deep rough and awkward sidehills await a tee ball missed right. The second shot demands a decision, as the creek returns, bisecting the fairway 115 yards from the green.
This might not be so bad, were it not for the tall trees left, the tall trees right and the continuation of the creek parallel to the fairway right. The safe play is short/mid iron lay up, short iron into green. The heroic play is hybrid or metal over everything, to green, for a shot at eagle of birdie. This putting surface features a unique element, a knobby flat shelf at the top, allowing for a true sucker pin position. Eight is the second we found it like this par three on the front:
shelf-valley-shelf~yup, that’s a par three. Not much complexity to this one, other than the wind and the need to use a club more than necessary. The green has enough run-off all around to compel apparent greenies to transform into chippies and putties. A nice hole. Number nine returns us to the clubhouse area in the guise of a gentle dogleg right. Some trees stand guard on either side of the fairway, yet the tee shot is a fairly simple effort. Get the ball up to the fairway shelf, then punch a short iron onto the slightly-lowered green. There is much internal contour here, perhaps the influence of the nearby slope, so read and reread before putting.
Holes 10-12: 388, 375 & 211
When you golf Byrncliff with The Scrambler, he stops for a moment on the tenth tee, removes his cap and stares mournfully to the north, at a tree that no longer reaches its branches toward the heavens. The tree defined the hole, forcing tee balls away from the left trunk of the fairway, to the right, toward trouble. Any good tee ball will get past the fall-off and trundle down to the flat; the tree’s enormous reach prohibited leftward approach shots from reaching their normal trajectory.
Now, it’s a bomb and a gouge, over the creek, to a twin green of number seven (complete with back shelf.) It’s still a challenging, enjoyable hole, just different. Numbers eleven and twelve might be considered breather holes, before the compelling six-hole run to the clubhouse. Both occupy flat pieces of the property, near Route 20-A. Eleven runs westward, slightly uphill, past a left fairway bunker, then more left to a green settled down a bit from the fairway. It’s a big putting surface, so do your best to get the ball close to the hole on the approach. Nothing like a three-putt bogey to follow a solid par on the difficult 10th. Number twelve once tipped at 250 yards, a mighty par three. The tee is still there, but is no longer mowed. The green is sighted below the tee, but the crosswinds from the hills and the farmlands often play games with your ball in flight. Shots that initially target the center of the green are instead destined for sand left, vale short or chipping hollow right. The green is deep and wide, asking once again for putting accuracy.
Holes 13-15: 350, 576 & 480
The best three-hole stretch that Byrncliff offers, number thirteen offers two routes of play, as did number six. The safe play on this sharp dogleg left is between the corner fairway bunker left and the fairway tree right. Most tee balls end up no farther than 150 yards distant from the elevated green. The second option is to aim your scope at Lynch’s Second Notch and fire a mortar round up and over, leaving a blind, half wedge to a green on a shelf. Why would you do this? Because you can. This green is the most difficult to hit, hold and putt on the course. This triumvirate of challenge fills number thirteen with more venom than its unlucky designation suggests. If you make your par, don’t act all cock-of-the-walk on the uphill to 14 tee. The fourteenth at Byrncliff is the first of successive, parallel par fives, each with a completely different character. Fourteen occupies the higher ground and swings right to left, after a tee ball over an attractive canyon. A firm day allows the ball to run, run, run, getting within an echo of the green in two. The remainder of the hole continues downward, over a rumpled fairway, to a green tucked in a hollow. The fairway is devoid of sand from start to finish, with some trees to provide visual interest. Its primary defense is the sidehill and dowhill lies that you’ll doubtless encounter on your second and third shots. Number fifteen is the finest half-par hole on the course. Be warned: the lake on the right will grab any ball whose first bounce is center fairway or right. You must aim up the left side, preferably at the cart path. If you find the fairway, it’s Go Time.
Lynch would say about #14 “Hollow? No, that’s a pocket. Number 15, now THAT’S a hollow!” and he’d be right. You don’t see the green with your second or third shot from on high, as it sits twenty yards below the fairway, over a rise. Send one member of your foursome ahead to scout balls as they traverse the cliff into nothingness; they simply need cross the hidden fairway bunker to reach the green. Wide putting surface it is, but certainly decipherable for a one putt.
Holes 16-18: 223, 464 & 392
And we arrive at the closing stretch. Another healthy yet downhill par three, the sixteenth is actually pretty cool when played from the 13th green fringe, which sits directly above the tee decks (don’t tell management I wrote that.)
The green is protected by sand left and fall-off right. The putting surface is the most massive on the course, yet preserves a circular structure. Thus it appears less intimidating than reality makes it. The 17th hole is also a half-par hole (like 15) albeit in the opposite direction. This par five that thinks its a four has existed in a number of iterations. My personal favorite employs the elevated tee that sits halfway down and to the right of the 16th fairway. It’s no longer mowed, but it presented the hole as a straighter affair, with the dogleg coming at the end. No matter how you play it, #17 is one tough beast. The road left and the early and late ponds right provide much in the way of hand wringing. Negotiating the fairway leaves an uphill approach to a skyline green, protected by a front-left, seeing-eye bunker. 17 green is deep, so don’t be short if the pin is back, and vice-versa. Take a safe bogey five if you must; better than tossing away strokes on the penultimate hole. The 18th is the stuff of heroes. There is a pond to the right, on a direct line to the flag. The fairway runs left of it, although it’s only a neck of short grass. The majority of the safe zone lies beyond the pond, so give it a crack and hope for far and away. Once in the fairway, the approach is straightforward, to a green set in a meadow, no sand, no trees, just the right distance. The final hole plays as a final hole often should, a bit kind, offering a shot at par or birdie before the walk up to the clubhouse. I’ve played the hole with driver to 60 yards, putt to 3 feet, second putt down for birdie. I don’t recommend it, but I won’t dissuade you from having fun at Byrncliff; it’s impossible not to.