The Elkdale Country Club is a living catch-22; it deserves a wider reputation than it has, yet it might suffer for it. A tremendous course on Route 353 in Salamanca, less than twenty minutes from Ellicottville, Elkdale is a public club with the fastest, most difficult greens in western New York. We have played East Aurora, we have played Niagara Falls, and we have played Byrncliff. Only the putting surfaces at Cherry Hill are a match for Elkdale, and for an entirely different (grain) reason. Elkdale has the unique characteristic of being a mountain course in a foothill setting. Elkdale does not brag of the enormous tee boxes of a Glen Oak-style course; in fact, it is necessary to invent a “Tips” teeing area, as only a white and red set of tees are marked. From the back, 10 of 12 par four holes measure fewer than 400 yards, and three of four par three holes can be paced in fewer than 170 steps. Only the back-to-back fifteenth and sixteenth holes (555 and 220) can be described as back-breaking. Elkdale’s sense of the Tips, therefore, is not measured by an odometer. It is the constant vertical ebb and flow of the fairways, and the intellectual demand it places on club selection, that translates Elkdale’s Tips experience into comprehensible terms.
The lesson begins on the very first hole, where an uphill approach calls for one to two more clubs than yardage figures suggest. The lay of the green, too, is a harbinger of subsequent targets. Laying flat to the golfer’s eye, there is no visual surface at which to aim, only the zenith of the flagstick. Rarely does the golfer find himself shooting flatly at the target; in most cases, he is either far above or far below the mark.
The Elkdale experience is the antithesis of Glen Oak in two of three categories. Moving backward, it is the greens that present the greatest challenge at this southern tier course. Imagine the typical Glen Oak-style putting surface, then compress it 25 percent, so that its flat surfaces suddenly become humpy, curvy, and slopey. Finally, just for kicks, stretch them out 5 percent, so that the apparent breaks are not so evident, to the point where they sometimes go down instead of up, left instead of right, out instead of in, driving the putter to the brink of madness. Did I mention that they are quick? How quick? When we played in a rain on Masters Saturday, we consistently hit putts past the hole, even when we lagged them. Imagine putting them on a hot summer’s day.
Elkdale would not be described as tree-lined, even though arboreal splendor is a characteristic of the course. The rough is higher than that found at Glen Oak, so full recovery shots to the green must be played with greater strength in order to be successful. The cant of the fairways, though, often spanks mis-hit shots into the nether regions of the course, lengthening and challenging the subsequent play.
Elkdale is an experience to be enjoyed in a series of courses. Take the following plan: get up early, drive to Ellicottville, eat breakfast in the diner on the corner (the only place in Ellicottville that I can afford!); continue on to the course, play eighteen holes; repair to the clubhouse (a cross between a hunting lodge and a fraternity house, where everybody knows your name or welcomes you as if they did) for a libation and a big bite to eat; consider moving to an area with less commotion.