I’ll confess that I (Mo’ Golf) have yet to play Chestnut Hill. I toured the course in June of 2012 and shot over 400 images of the course, so I can claim to know it visually, if not intimately. What I saw impressed me beyond words. Chestnut Hill occupies a splendid piece of land in eastern Erie County and moves intricately across, up and down a central hill. In contrast to Rico’s interpretation of many holes as banal, I found an incredible genius in their subtlety. Add in the moderate price and the 2-for-1 lunch sandwiches, you get the best deal in golf in Buffalo-Niagara.
Holes 1-3: 502, 193 & 398
If there must be an uninteresting hole on the golf course, it’s best to get it out of the way early. Chestnut Hill does this wisely, offering up a mid-range par five that bends left along flat land as its opener. The hole moves from tee to a flat landing area, then downhill past a left-side pond, rising at the end to a slightly-elevated green. Hole number two continues a theme that finds some prevalence at Chestnut Hill: the run-up option. This par three plays downhill to an unguarded green, with an open front that allows low and high approach shots.
The third hole plays up to a mesa, then severely downhill to another open-front green. If the drive exceeds 250 yards, it should catch a slope that will add another 80-100 yards to its length. In other words, if you don’t have a run at birdie on this hole, you’ll feel that you missed out.
Holes 4-6: 408, 389 & 170
After the transcendent third, the fourth hole might feel a bit flat, but there’s enough lateral trouble to keep your attention focused. A pond right and a babbling brook outside the cart path on the left demand a straight drive. The approach traverses a rippled fairway, arriving at a green bunkered on the left side. With a swale before the putting surface, a precise aerial approach or runner is required to reach the green. Number five wraps inside number four and sets up with similar hazards.
Again, the babbling brook awaits the pulled drive and another irrigation pond threatens right-side tee balls. A fair amount of corner may be cut on the left, turning the 389 yards into 320 as the crow flies. The putting surface is accessible, offering respite to any decently-struck approach. The sixth hole is something of a blind (depending on how high the reeds grow) tee ball to an elevated green. This hole has an intimidation factor for sure, as I saw more loose shots played here than on any other. It appears to be a straightforward, 170-yard pitch uphill, but there must be more than meets the eye!
Holes 7-9: 572, 440 & 360
The front nine closes with a massive, downhill roller-coaster of a par five, a hefty two-shotter and a . If you can manage to hit a nice drive down the left side of number seven, it just might roll until gravity has had enough. The hole continues downhill through the second shot space, to a green that offers little resistance to a good pitch and a well-struck putt.
Par should come as not surprise, if you play your shots crisply. Eight, on the other hand, is a beast. It’s a dogleg right, so a running draw is not the ball to play from the tee. To make matters worse, a copse of tall trees guards the right corner, so there will be no cutting the short on this hole. Once you get to the corner, it’s another smash to the green, whose right side is protected by a bunker. A rule of thumb regarding blind shots on a course is, one or two give character, while a relentless onslaught offers an insurance risk and frustration. The 9th at Chestnut plays its drive from a gully up to an elevated fairway, hence it is blind. The second shot is played ever so slightly uphill to a green guarded right by sand. Again, keep your wits and play within yourself, and you’ll have a short iron approach, followed by a reasonable birdie putt, to close the front nine.
Holes 10-12: 495, 189 & 344
The back nine begins in much more dramatic fashion than the front. A par five tumbles down from the terrace to a razor-thin fairway. There is plenty of room left, but the grass is long and the lies, uncertain. The second shot must be laid up shy of the pond, about 140 yards from the green or played heroically over the agua to the fairway shy of the green. The putting surface is sufficiently large to accommodate long and short approaches, but sloped enough to test the finest putter.
Number eleven plays back toward the clubhouse, albeit eighty feet below, and is the epitome of a minimalist golf hole. No sand, no water, just you, the ground and the green.The best play is short of the green, as pitching up is easier than recovering from behind. The twelfth plays opposite eleven, a short par four that can be attacked and birdied. A pond lurks to the right, requiring a 230 yard carry to clear the wetness. A stand of trees and oob guard the left side of the fairway. When all else fails, play a hybrid at the 150-yard stake and take your chances with a mid-iron.
Holes 13-15: 372, 365 & 440
Number thirteen claims the best natural green site on the course. Sighted atop a hill just shy of the railroad tracks that form the southern boundary of the course, the green is elevated some 45 feet above the fairway. The hole is essentially straight, but the misdirection caused by tee alignment gives it the feel of a dogleg left. A good rip with the driver leaves a short iron to the elevated putting surface.
Number fourteen plays along the southern border, parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s a slightly downhill hole to a fairway-level green protected by a unique water hazard. It’s a horseshoe, but it doesn’t bring much luck. The green is quite deep, so even an extra club will still find the putting surface. Fourteen is a majestic, sweeping par four of extreme length. The safe play, out to the right, turns it into a par 4.5. A tee ball that hugs the left side challenges a hidden pond but leaves a shorter approach to the green. The approach rises to a table-top putting surface, protected low and left by a bunker. A four here is a well-earned par.
Holes 16-18: 385, 156 & 475
The sixteenth at Chestnut Hill is one of those great and subtle, natural holes that great architects know to simply leave alone. The tee ball is played over a distant rise, then the fairway runs ever-so-slightly downhill to an unprotected, fairway-level green. No distractions, no diversions, but it just might lull you into a docile state and whammo! bogey. Seventeen is a stunning par three hole. It plays a mere 156 yards over a wetlands reserve, but what an interesting shot. Parallel tees present a different tale. The left tee shows less obstruction and a sidehill, left to right cant.
The right tee comes straight over the wetland fauna and plays directly up the fall line. Unlike the last hole, where nothing appeared to be “going on,” this one has a lot going on and provides a splendid counterpoint to its predecessor. The final hole at Chestnut Hill offers an opportunity for atonement; at 475 yards, it provides short and long hitters alike an opportunity to get on or near the green in two. The hole doglegs left around a small irrigation pond, rising as it moves toward port. The green is protected by a sand bunker front and left. After the last two challengers, this one is a nice welcome-back for every golfer.