Located on Smith Road in East Amherst, NY, Glen Oak Golf Course sits in the middle of a cluster of single family homes, townhouses, condos and patio homes. A Robert Trent Jones design, Glen Oak was opened in 1969. A common misconception is that the course was designed to be part of a ‘golfing community.’ The course, which was private until 1985, was always designed to be a standalone entity. The only concession to local residents was access to a bike path that meanders through the course. To this day, the path is still open to area residents.
The course has undergone very little changes over the years. According to head pro Mike Zuppa, a few bunkers have been reworked and tee box reconstruction has taken place recently. Otherwise, the course looks the same as the way it was designed.
Part of the course is dissected by Smith Road. Holes 1-10 and 14-18 sit on the right half of the road with the remaining holes on the other side of the road. With four tee boxes, Glen Oak offers a fair yet challenging experience for golfers of all levels. When played from the ‘tips’, it offers an extreme challenge for even the most experienced golfers. Played from the one of the up boxes, the course becomes much more playable yet still is demanding in its own right.
While not heavily bunkered, there are enough sand traps on the course to require most approach shots to be hit with proper distance and accuracy. Water comes into play on 10 of the holes, but, it is a major concern on holes 2, 5, 7, 8, 12 and 18.The fairways are spacious enough that slightly offline hits will not result in severe penalty situations. The greens are for the most part large with some undulations, but, the breaks in the greens are fairly straight forward.
While the course has a number of memorable holes, one of the best is #5, a long par 5 with potential trouble from start to finish. Too far left on the tee shot can result in an out of bounds (possibly landing on the deck of someone’s patio!). A tee shot too far right brings a large strand of trees into play and can result in a dicey 2nd shot. The layup shot requires both distance and direction since water can come into play on shots hit either too far right or left. The third, or approach, shot must be accurate as there is water on the immediate right side of the green and a sizeable sand trap on the left. Some may find this hole a bit daunting, but, if played correctly, this hole can provide a real sense of golfing accomplishment.
Probably the most vexing hole on the course is the par 3 15th. This hole plays around 175-190 from the middle tees to an elevated green and requires a well struck mid-iron or even some sort of hybrid club depending on the wind direction. Two huge bunkers front the right side of a green that slopes from right to left. Another bunker sits behind the green. Tee shots hit short and right usually find there way into one of the front bunkers. Shots that are either hit too long or hit without the proper loft will land in the back bunker. Shots that are short and left will run off of the green due to the severe front sloping. If your tee shot does not land on the green, your 2nd shot is difficult at best and making par becomes an iffy proposition.
While none of the holes was truly awful, I was the least impressed by the 14th hole. This short par 4 is both visually and strategically unappealing. While it is a hole that can help one’s scoring, I found that it lacked the dynamism that many of the other holes possess. The layout of the hole is fairly straight forward and requires no more than a mediocre tee shot to end up with a short iron to the green (which is directly in front of Smith Rd.). For some reason this hole almost seems like an afterthought in the grand scheme of things. But, the abundance of truly fine holes does mitigate this hole. Mo’ Golf, my erstwhile and opinionated colleague, notes that Robert Trent Jones, Senior, was never a fan of centerline hazards, preferring parallel bunkering to a diagonal series of sand pits. In Mo’s opinion, #14 would benefit from just such a diagonal hazard…carry the short right bunker for a longer approach in; risk the longer, lefter carry and have a shorter club in. Mo’ also suggested that RTJ, Sr. was perhaps planning a breather hole before the final, nearly-impregnable quadrilateral of holes 15-18.
Glen Oak has a men’s club and offers both men’s and women’s leagues Monday-Thursday. There is also a large clubhouse with a bar for casual drinks or snacks and a full service restaurant for dinners or banquets.
All in all, Glen Oak is a challenging yet fair golfing experience. For a public course it has the feel of private course.