Wanakah country club has origins as a club with a sporty golf course. Originally developed as a summer club for those Buffalo magnates with getaways along the Lake Erie shore, the club has taken steps to return a bit of the club to the playing characteristics of the era in which it was developed, in addition to strengthening holes that might have been considered weak or featureless. What turned out is the type of course that William Watson envisioned when he laid Wanakah out in the 1920s.
Wanakah, like most northeastern courses, fell victim to a tree-planting fever during its first 60 years of play. Amateur arborists either sought to replicate the canopies and corridors of well-treed forest courses, or hoped to intensify the challenge of an open layout. Since 2014, Wanakah has opened its corridors with copious tree removal, to the point where long-lost views from one end of the course to the other, have been recaptured. Thanks to Christoper Wilcczynski, golf course architect, holes were strengthened and a comprehensive bunker project was undertaken. Sand wastes with little strategic use were abandoned, while new ones were inserted. Wilczynski’s work should stand the test of time, as Wanakah will reclaim a spot among the finest, challenging courses in Buffalo-Niagara.
Of recent work, the 11th hole has undergone the greatest facelift. One of two holes on which work is being completed this fall, 11 was wedged between the driving range and the western perimeter of the course. The dogleg-right par five had little in the way of interest as golfers traversed the ground between the exciting tenth and the breathtaking twelfth. If ever a hole deserved the moniker “connector hole,” eleven was it.
The work undertaken includes an opening of the right side and a widening of the fairway, the addition of fairway bunkers in the drive zone, and a “Great Hazard” some 60 yards short of the green. Known as a favorite of A.W. Tillinghast, a contemporary of Watson, the great hazard marked the point at which the amateur and the expert parted ways. The savvy amateur knew to lay up short of the divider, ensuring a manageable approach to the green. The expert accepts the challenge of the hazard, some days falling prey, other days, surmounting. (Note: word is that the club is considering growing rough in the entirety of the space between the bunkers and the green. Our take? Please don’t!!)
The 13th hole runs parallel to the 11th, ending before the aforementioned practice range. Nearly the length of the 11th, the 13th plays downhill from tee to fairway, allowing it to classify as a par four, despite its length. Bunkers in the landing zone have been expanded, yet no noticeable tightening of the fairway has taken place. This is important when driver is the play for every golfer on the tee! The run-up to the green has been improved, thanks to the reconfiguration of bunkers adjacent to the putting surface.
Despite the massive vertical drops from the 1st and 10th tees, Wanakah offers many holes that play along flat ground. Wanakah offers a clinic on how to make flat holes interesting with a dip here, an intricate green there, and a dug-out bunker to top it all off. Play the 4th hole and let us know what you think!
Here’s a clip of some bunker-edge smoothing on the 13th hole.