For the first time in recorded history, the ranking of golf courses across western New York has been crowd-sourced. The process began two weeks ago, with stage one of the mechanism. After public and private divisions were reduced to 15 courses each, a ballot was produced and golf aficionados ranked from first to 15th, the finalists in each bracket. Two courses that received attention, but did not ascend to the final segment, were Niagara Frontier (Youngstown) and Brierwood (Hamburg.) Over the course of the next four days, we shall reveal the results of that ranking means. Today it is our pleasure to present the private course ranking, places 6 to 10, in reverse order.
Ten: East Aurora
Well known to junior golfers everywhere, as host course of the annual International Junior Masters, East Aurora produces straight drivers. They have to be, as most drive zones are narrowed by trees, natural boundaries, or topography. Ironically, the toughest and longest drive is the first hole. From there until the home green, it’s a game of cat and mouse, where strategy and patience win the day. It’s hard to imagine how Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek fit 18 holes into the allotted acreage, but they did. The course knits well, but if ever you choose a day to be cautious, a round at EACC is it. East Aurora received 397 points from the ballot. Its highest rank was a second-place vote.
Nine: River Oaks
Desmond Muirhead stood the golf world on its ear in the 1960s and 70s. A scholarly architect with a decidedly neo-classical sense, his physical expressions of intellectual premises were not always well-received. River Oaks is tame by comparison, but elements of the genius are found from time to time. The Irish-flavored sixth hole is one example, and the near-Redan 8th, another. On the inward half, the reverse-cambre drive at 13, followed by the St. Andrews-inspired 14th balance the sheet. Muirhead gifted the Grand Island course with the largest set of greens in the area. On any given day, the hole might be cut in upward of seven distinct zones on each putting surface. River Oaks received 416 points from the ballot. Its highest rank was a first-place vote.
More than any other area course, Springville is poised to make a leap one day into the top five of the area’s private courses. There are no weak holes at the southernmost course in Erie county. On most, the longer you attempt to drive, the more trouble you bring into play. Springville has found a way to equalize distances, in an era of advancing technology. As for the short game, a golfer who learns to pitch and putt around Springville’s 19 greens (yes, it even has a bye hole) will pitch and putt well anywhere. Among the current, top five, Springville just might unseat … oh, you thought we were going to give one away? Not today, lad. Springville received 440 points from the ballot. Its highest rank was a first-place vote.
Seven: Niagara Falls
The other, well-known tournament course in western New York, Niagara Falls now hosts three Porter Cup Invitationals (women, men, senior men) each year. The original course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast, but has had its share of facelifts since it opened. Some of it was self-inflicted (the hirings of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Geoffrey Cornish, on separate occasions, to alter a classic course) and other bits were out of the club’s control (the Robert Moses Parkway.) The closing seven or eight holes at the escarpment course are as dramatic as any private course in the area, and even feature a par three where Tiger Woods made one. The Porter Cup is rarely decided before the final green. Niagara Falls received 459 points from the ballot. Its highest rank was a first-place vote.
Six: Cherry Hill Club
While it may lay in Ontario’s province, Cherry Hill has a storied history with Buffalo. Its membership is dominated by the USA, and it has hosted many Buffalo District Golf Association championships over the years. Designed by Walter Travis (see Stafford and Orchard Park in yesterday’s article) the greens at Cherry Hill are beguiling. Not a course to rest on laurels, Cherry Hill undertook a bunker restoration after mother nature conducted a sizable tree removal of her own. The majority of the course sits in the lowland, below the clubhouse ridge, but movement is everywhere. Cherry Hill received 562 points from the ballot. Its highest rank was a first-place vote.