It’s rare when two courses from the same architectural firm open in a metropolitan area…within two years of each other. Despite the fact that Hurdzan-Fry utilized different principle designers for Diamond Hawk and Harvest Hill, the courses could not escape similar methodologies. That’s where it ended, owing to the differences in space available and topography of property.
%%wppa%% %%slideonly=4%% %%align=left%%Harvest Hill, located in Orchard Park, NY, is a spacious golf course with “Big” written all over it. Fairways are wide, but so are the bunkers and the fescue areas that line those wide fairways and large bunkers. Greens are enormous, often separated into tiers or quadrants. And yet, there are enough holes (two and six on the front, ten and eleven on the back) that appear wide but play narrow to discombobulate an inattentive player.
Holes 1-3: 435, 550 & 430
These holes play extra-long from the back tees, yet are certainly more manageable from the shorter decks. The first hole runs downhill, parallel to the formidable ninth, yet is no pushover itself. Large sand areas to the right await the unfinished swing and the weak slice. The approach is made to an elevated green (usually with a short iron) but the green is so large that a longish approach putt is not unexpected. Par at one is noteworthy. In contrast, the second hole typically plays much shorter than advertised, unless the wind is against. The drive played up the left side benefits from a better angle in to the green and a bit of a kick off a slope. Drives to the right force an approach over the creek and tree or a bail out to the left.
The putting surface is located in an ingenious corner, daring the gambler to take a foolish crack at a deep right hole location. Smart players leave here with par or birdie; greedy ones exit with double bogey. The third hole is a flat hole, somewhat disenchanting after the excitement of number two. A well-placed tee ball will leave an at-grade approach with a short iron to a protected green. Three is a breather hole.
Holes 4-6: 405, 175 & 510
The fourth hole returns, parallel to its predecessor, in a marked left to right fashion. The left side is guarded by firm fairway, a bit of soft rough, then trees; a pulled tee shot will invariably necessitate a punch-out, if the ball is found at all. The right margin is defined by enormous bunkers and higher fescue. Despite the wide appearance of the fairway, the fourth is a candidate for less than driver from the tee. True, you might have 5 or 6 iron in, but you’ll have a shot and a chance a t a score. The forward-right portion of the green is lined by two sand bunkers, while the res of the putting surface (with the exception of the middle front) has fall-offs for grass pitching. The green itself has much size and little movement. Distance judging is the key to this putting surface. The fifth hole is the first of the one shotter, all of which (save #17) fit the middle-iron specification. This is a shame, as a good, short par three (around 130 to 100 from all tees) to a properly-outfitted short-hole green, would break up the length-monotony that sometimes creeps in at Harvest Hill. On we go…the 5th plays nicely, downhill to a green sloped back toward the tee. Front-left sand and front/side right chipping fall-offs punish the weak approach.
The sixth hole is the second in the series of memorable, near-glorious par five holes. A drive up the left side of the fairway will careen toward the lateral hazard; this is learned through experience only (yours or your generous partner’s) while the shot up the right side has a chance at reaching a sizable sand bunker. This matters because the hole can be had in two. The second traverses a wee burn that crosses diagonally from low right to high left. There is lay-up room between the hazard and the green, but it is tricky! It’s nearly the same distance, say, from a good drive to the lay-up as it is to the green (the lay-up is parallel-even with the putting surface.) So, what often happens to the neophyte is, he hits to the la-up area, pures his shot and watches it sail into the briar and bracken beyond. When in doubt, aim at this green. When certain, aim at this green. The 6th is one of the largest and one of the most fun to put. The movement is not subtle at all; big sweeping breaks and protection on the right back with sand.
Holes 7-9: 200, 360 & 431
The front nine draws to a close with three completely diverse holes. The seventh hole has a divided opinion on its worth and difficulty. A berm topped by a thicket protects the right side of the green from wind, so the gusts that come through the hole are typically swirling. The green, like the others on the course, is enormous and contains equal amounts of subtle and dramatic movement. The front of the green is obscured from the tee, so the opportunity to play a traditional running shot is lost. Sand on the right and a semi-steep fall off to the left make recovery from either side a challenge. Eight is the type of hole that every course needs, a short par four that offers a wedge opportunity for birdie. There will be no challenging the green from the tee, as a creek crosses the fairway 40 yards from the green, 320 yards off the tee. Thick rough left and a long sand bunker right demand accuracy from the lay-up club. The green is pitched steeply toward the approach, suggesting that a leave below the hole is the best recourse. No subtle contours here; big swinging breaks and speed putts are the norm. The ninth hole is the showcase element of the front side. It is, by all measure, a brute of a hole. The fairway slopes left to right as the hole moves right to left, a contrapuntal movement of the finest kind. From the drive zone on, the fairway climbs to a gigantic green perched in a bowl near the top of the rise.
The green is easily twice the size of many area putting surfaces and is separated into four distinct quadrants. The left side of the green is uneven rough, while the front right is protected by a deep bunker and a tall tree. The double hazard forces the golfer’s hand left, where the going isn’t easy, either. The front side closes hard-easy-hard, precisely the off-balance desire of the golf course.
Holes 10-12: 540, 410 & 160
The opening salvo of the back nine calls for a smart play on a negotiable hole. The tee ball on ten plays downhill and appears to scream “smash me!” Trust us, it doesn’t. Left is out of bounds, way right is fescue and the creek from the 8th hole reappears to snare well-struck, long drives. The tee shot on ten is all about placement, as is the second shot. A cross bunker on the left, about 60 yards shy of the green, snares poor shots up that side. If you must kill a 3-metal, hit it up the right side; you’ll have a horizontal pitch across a wide green to confront. The green has some movement to it, of the sweeping variety. Two smart shots will leave a chance at birdie; any arrogance will bring a chance at 6 or worse.
The 11th is a snazzy par four around the pond it shares with number four. The fairway pitches hard right, so any shot up the cheater line will find sand or water. The smart and safe play is up the left-center, leaving a mid-iron to a slightly-elevated green. A large sand area shapes left the front and side of the long and slightly-elevated putting surface. The right side of the green is fall-off toward the water. Number 12 is the third par three on the course and is reminiscent of the 5th hole, albeit without the downhill play. 12 goes from the open spaces into a cluster of trees. It traverses a large front-left bunker and avoids a smaller, right-side pot bunker. The architects had in mind a certain type of putting surface for Harvest Hill and the 12th is no exception. A ridge separates front and back, on a diagonal. Edges gently trundle off toward the fringe.
Holes 13-15: 575, 380 & 210
On a course with five remarkable and memorable par five holes, 13 is the only one that does not use a creek as crossing hazard. Guess what? It doesn’t need it. The thirteenth can be a Titan’s hole, one of four along the closing stretch. A strong drive up the center-right (not left-bunker; not too far right-fescue and trees) leaves you with a view of the Elyssian fields of Harvest Hill, a gently-descending fairway with a trio of guardian bunkers (more for containment than punishment) up the right. Your play on shot two is up the left. The green sits in a grade-level amphitheater, with fall-offs (but no sand!) on all sides.
The architects speak to you, reminding you that brawn may have been necessary to traverse the near-600 yards of the hole, but brains, creativity and touch will be required to get you home. Another enormous green can leave you a distant first putt if you’re not careful, so be careful on your approach. The fourteenth, in my estimation, should never play longer than 330 yards. Why not? It should always be a short, driveable par four. The course needs one. As it is now, it plays just long enough to leave a flip wedge at best into the putting surface. The hazards are somewhat misplaced, two bunkers that should never come into play, situated far off the playing field. As it is, 14 is a nice filler hole, with the potential to be something much greater. The fifteenth is another forgettable par three; it’s solid, but unmemorable. The green area gets lost in the tree backdrop and the putting surface sits slightly below the level of the tee, so you have no real idea of what you need to do, beyond scorecard yardage. There’s a big bunker left of the big green, but I’m not sure what its purpose is. As they are, 14 & 15 are the only weak stretch on the course.
Holes 16-18: 450, 230 & 555
There may not be a more challenging closing stretch, public or private, in the Buffalo-Niagara region than the triumvirate that closes the inward nine at Harvest Hill. Each of the holes, from the proper set of tees, may be considered a half-par-uphole. Each hole, if you make a slight error in judgement or execution, will demand a quite proper recovery pitch at some point, to preserve a chance at par. Sixteen appears to be a brute of a par four, but it doesn’t have to be. A drive center-left avoids the extended grass bunker that sits five to ten feet below fairway level. Too long a drive (there is such a thing!) brings another hollow into play. The approach must cross an are of native grass, flowers and creek, to an infinity green sighted on a rise. Two bunkers guard the green, pinching the trajectory of the approach. You’ll be coming in with mid-iron or more, so don’t be timid. The 17th is a controversial hole, albeit one whose threat lessens each time you play it. It’s impossible to ignore the moat that stands between tee and green. Each successive tee moves around the perimeter of the pond, lessening the carry distance and intimidation factor. The green and front remain hidden from eye from the the first two tee decks. What you face is a carry over the water, but not so far that you miss back or right; there’s no margin for error. A good tee ball will hold the enormous green, but it can’t carry too deep or it will bound over. A safe play is to aim front-right (two clubs less) and rely on a pitch to the green to save par. Once played, the hole is no longer blind. The 18th hole is heroic. It demands your best on each shot and rewards you with a fair result.
If you carry the wild area, you’ll have a nice lie in the fairway (as long as you avoid the obvious bunker right.) If you carry the fairway rise on your second shot, you’ll face a fair pitch to a partially-blind and elevated green. If you hit a proper pitch, you’ll have a decent run at birdie. Simple, huh? If I had one hole to play again and again for the rest of my life at Harvest Hill, it would be this one. If you remember the 4th at Bethpage Black, the par five that goes out, then up and up and up, this hole is quite reminiscent.