Transit Valley was built in 1921, in the midst of what many call the Golden Age of golf course architecture. At the time, building a course in East Amherst was truly considered to be in the country. The layout is shoehorned into an undersized plot of land, bordered by Transit and Paradise roads on the east and west, and Muegel and Halston on the north-south axis. The course has many enviable features, including subtle but apparent bunkering, a certain pitch and roll to many of the fairways, and undulating greens whose every putt demands a second and third read.
Holes 1-3: 390, 352 & 517
The course begins with two par fours and a par five. The opening hole is a unique one, demanding a drive to the crest of a ridge, followed by a downhill approach to a green that
sits in a valley, yet is elevated above the entry fairway. Hole number two is a shorter par four, yet presents more challenge off the tee. Driver is never the club, as a pond calls on the left and trees beckon on the right. The safe play is a 225-yard shot from the deck, leaving a short iron in to another elevated (and well-bunkered) green. The second green is smaller than the first, so more first putts have a chance of finding their mark. The third hole is a medium-length par five. Descending from an elevated tee through the best topography on the course, the hole ultimately rises to another elevated and well-bunkered green. With today’s technology, the hole is regularly reached in two by the better player, yet presents a world of trouble for those who miss left or right, into the trees.
Holes 4-6: 159, 319 & 500
The fourth hole is the first one-shotter on the course. By this juncture, it seems that the run-up approach is not favored at Transit Valley. A complete ring of sand surrounds the elevated green, making the mid-iron tee shot a challenging affair. The target is wide enough that a slight push or pull from the center will still find the putting surface. Once aboard, the tilt of the green provides enough slope that many putts slide an extra foot or two before expiring. The fifth hole is the first true short par four on the course. With a Bunyan-esque wallop, the green is reachable with the drive. There is a bit of an opening in the front for a runner, although it is not the more appropriate play. The defense of the green is its depth; many shots that seem to approach just fine, catch a bit of spin and suck back, leaving a longish first putt. The sixth hole is the second long hole and the first one that plays uphill entirely from tee to green. On this flattish piece of land, that is no small feat. After a drive to an open meadow, the bunkering comes into view in the landing zones for the second and third shots. The green is set on a shelf at upper left, so the ideal approach comes in from lower right. The green is the most wicked to date, with putts that mercilessly curve like the blade of a scimitar. Despite its categorization as a par five, five is always a good score here.
Holes 7-9: 408, 404 & 221
The closing stretch on the outward nine presents three disparate holes. The par-four seventh heads back to the west and can play quite long if the way-back tee is used. From there, the tee ball must negotiate too many trees for my taste, especially since some fairway sand awaits. The double hazard is always too much for me. The approach shot in to the green is the most memorable of the nine, especially noteworthy on a flat hole. Enough green-fronting fairway was rumpled to not only obscure the green front, but also to deflect balls this way and that. Yet another green with a bisecting ridge makes seven a devil to
putt. The penultimate front-side hole is an uphill par four blessed with a wide fairway, topped off by a punchbowl green at the end. The green sits in a natural amphitheater and shots that miss their mark long or left have a chance to rebound onto the putting surface. The ninth hole is a healthy, half-shot hole, playing easily to a 3.5 average. Unique mounding traps mishit shots that land in the 160-185 yard range. Sand awaits if your tee ball reaches the putting surface. The green is mild, in comparison with predecessors, as the green of a 225-yard par three should be!
Holes 10-12: 563, 408 & 211
Transit Valley presents two of its most demanding holes consecutively. Out and away to begin the back nine is a large par five. Despite the downhill tee ball, the hole reclaims its yardage with an uphill approach. The key to the hole (presuming an adequate drive) is the second shot. The pond from hole #2 awaits on the right, while trees obscure the left side. Less is more here, as the less yardage in for the third shot, the more/greater the opportunity to properly locate your approach on this enormous and tilted putting surface. Much like number six, just getting there isn’t enough. Big curves are abundant on the 10th green and two putts from outside 30 feet is worth some bragadaccio. The 11th features the
tightest drive on the course, which wouldn’t be so bad if the hole was a short par four. Since it isn’t, you need at least three-metal off the tee to have mid-iron or less in for your second. The green is hidden behind front bunkers, making the carry of utmost importance. Twelve might be the most unique hole on the course. It’s a healthy par three, again over 200 yards, demanding an accurate hybrid or long iron to a green with multiple levels. Approach putts tend to tailspin away, leaving 3-5 more feet for the comebacker. This presumes that you avoid the sand and rough that blanket the green with your tee ball.
Holes 13-15: 386, 422 & 300
Come to think of it, this is a pretty stout, five-hole run from 9-14. The thirteenth hole appears to be taylor-made for a right-handed draw, until you realize that the draw must be started in the final 20% of the tee ball. Any bit before and the trees on the left come into play, or the curvature loses its emphasis. Once the fairway is found, a straightforward second is presented. Typically hit with a six or seven iron, the approach should have as little lateral movement as possible, as thirteen presents a fairly narrow green target. Fourteen is the one hole with which I take issue. An enormous bathtub sits in the middle of the fairway at about 230 yards, effectively taking driver out of one’s hands. If one can carry the ball 270 off the tee, the bathtub may be traversed with the drive; if not, expect to hit 3-4 more clubs into the green. Shorter hitters have enough challenge versus longer hitters, without an unbreachable obstacle in the way. The 14th green is well protected again, yet allows for a runner, something of a consolation for those with long irons in their hands for the approach. Hole number fifteen begins a three-hole stretch where strokes
may be recovered, as long as a cool head prevails. Barely 300 yards, the green sits on a plateau, above a massive front bunker. Trees line the fairway on both sides, making accuracy important. The front bunker is not nearly as menacing as it is large, so a drive that reaches it, has a decent chance at an up-and-down for birdie. The green is a punchbowl design, allowing balls played too high to bound back down to the putting surface.
Holes 16-18: 312, 176 & 413
The closing stretch begins with another short and driveable par four. Unlike its predecessor, whose protective bunker is a semi-penal cross bunker, 16 reveals a semi-cross bunker on the left, giving the illusion that deep and right is the place to be (it’s
not.) A greenside bunker protects that half of the putting surface, so the ultimate play is a 200 yard shot out to the right, leaving a full wedge into the green. The putting surface is fairly large for a short hole, so proper approach club selection is imperative. Seventeen is a mid-length par three with an unforgiving trap to the right side. Heed this warning: stay left. Play to the center-left portion of the green and take what the hole gives you from there. The green is not benign, but is certainly not nearly as much of a riddle as many that came before. The closing hole is the epitome of a parkland hole. Bang a drive, hit an approach and you are home. In contrast to the previous 17 holes, 18 seems wider than even the practice range! Ironically, the claustrophobic nature of preceding holes makes 18 seem other-worldly. The green is quite large and deep, so don’t be short or long with your approach, or a fairly-certain three-putt awaits.