Bill Shotzbarger is a 1L at Syracuse University and a frequent contributor to Golf Club Atlas, an online community of golf course architecture aficionados. His trip to Timber Banks represents his first case, errr, review of an upstate NY golf course.
Timber Banks Golf Club is nestled beside the Seneca River in Baldwinsville, NY. Designed by the Nicklaus Group and opened for play in 2010, the club features 18 holes, ample practice facilities, a humble clubhouse and a marina. With many forced carries, large hazards, and undulated putting surfaces, TB is not designed for the casual golfer. Measuring a robust 7300+ from the tips, it is a true championship test designed by a championship golfer.
Although situated next to the river, it does not come into play on any holes. After getting a glimpse of it from the driveway one cannot even see the river until the 15th hole. What makes Timber Banks interesting is that the holes closest to the river are carved out of the wilderness, while the rest are situated on former farmland adjacent to cornfields.
The semi-private course is kept in magnificent shape. It’s difficult to find a ball mark that has not been repaired or a sand trap that has not been raked. The greens are very true and it’s obvious that the maintenance crew cares a lot about the course. The Pro Shop Assistant spoke of some drainage issues when they first opened for play, but all in all the course was in great shape the day after a rainstorm.
The 1st hole (par 4, 379) features a wide fairway with trees on the right and a hazard on the left. Although there aren’t any fairway bunkers, there is hardly any room for error. The only bunker lies to the left of the green that is angled from left to right. The hole sets up nicely for a draw off the tee and a fade into the green – easy, right? With one of the more uninteresting greens on the course, the hole is actually one of the easier – well, less difficult that the player will find.
The 2nd hole (par 5, 536) is heavily bunkered on the left side of the fairway with room to bail out on the right. If one misses the fairway off the tee, they are forced to lay up to the marsh that crosses the fairway ~100 yards from the green. There’s really not much to gain by hitting your second shot over the marsh, since there’s a deep bunker in the middle of the landing zone up near the elevated green. A v-shaped green is protected by a bunker left, right, and behind.
The 3rd hole (par 4, 356) is my favorite at TB. After 2 holes that are fairly open, the 3rd is carved out of the woods. The fairway doglegs to the right and a tee shot that finds the left side of the fairway ~230 yds from the tee is ideal. The hole’s lone sand trap lies in front of the green and its large face serves to catch errant approach shots and also bisects the putting surface. The green is large but a ridge in the middle – partially formed by the bunker aforementioned – makes it seem as though there are two separate greens. If the approach shot called for a mid or long iron this green would probably be unfair.
The 4th (par 3, 192) is a long par 3. There is a marsh to carry in front of the tee and a pond to the left of the green. There is room to bailout on the right, but the green is so built up and elevated that no chip is easy. The green is almost Biarritz-like with front, middle, and back sections, but everything breaks sharply from left-to-right, away from the pond.
The 5th (par 4, 412) is the #1 handicap hole. The hole calls for a draw off the tee since there are trees on the right side and the left side is ideal. A gigantic bunker lies to the right side of the green. It’s probably 30 yds deep and one of the biggest bunkers on the course. The green slopes from right to left and any miss to the right is dead.
The 6th (par 4, 376) is somewhat of a breather after the tough stretch just encountered. A tee shot that favors the left side sets up the best approach. A short iron is played to a heavily sloped green fronted by a single bunker. The green is similar to the 3rd in the way it is sloped. Try to get a birdie here since you’ll definitely need it later!
The 7th (par 5, 542) is another tough 3-shotter. The tee shot is played to a fairway bisected by a centerline bunker that is ~220 yards to carry. The left side is ideal (I thought Jack played a fade?) because the hole eventually bends to the right. The second shot is played over a hazard that is at least ~200 yds from the green. With trees on the right, and OOB left, the second shot is extremely difficult. There is a large pond to the right of the elevated green. On the second and third shots, there’s nowhere to miss on this hole: left is OOB, right is wet. Bogey would probably win this hole in a match.
The 8th (par 3, 192) demands a long iron to a large and heavily undulated green. There’s a large amoeba-shaped bunker of the right of the green complex. A shelf on the left side of the green can present some interesting pitch shots from the left side to a pin on the right. The green is sloped left to right and back to front.
The 9th (par 4, 439) is a long two-shotter. The drive is a forced carry over a marsh with a large fairway bunker on the left side. The fairway bunker is so big and so deep that a player cannot see the green from the left side of the fairway behind the bunker. The green is one of the craziest I have EVER encountered on a golf course. It is huge and very undulated. There is a valley of sin in front that must be avoided at all costs. Although there is a greenside bunker on the left, the valley of sin is actually the toughest part of the green. I treated it like as a hazard as I pitched from the left side of the fairway to a pin on the left side of the green. The tricky green makes this hole play like a par 4.5.
Luckily TB offers a nice snack bar between the 9th green and the 10th tee because if the front 9 didn’t eat your lunch then the back 9 certainly will! The 10th (par 4, 336) is a dogleg right with OOB and a fairway bunker left and a bigger fairway bunker on the right. A water hazard runs along the right side but doesn’t really come into play. The green features a high left side and a high right side with a big swale in the middle. The pin on the right is most difficult due to a big greenside bunker on that side.
The 11th (par 5, 545) is another tough three-shotter. The par 5’s at TB demand strategy and this hole is no exception. Fairway bunkers on the left side of the landing zones for the drive and the second shot make the right side very appealing. There’s a gigantic greenside bunker to the right of the green which happens to be the low side. A greenside bunker on the left makes going for pins on the 3rd shot an aggressive play.
The 12th (par 4, 400) features what has to be one of the more demanding tee shots in central New York State. Over a marsh, with trees left and right that will eat up any wayward shot, any ball less than 220 yards will not make the fairway. Although the fairway is wide, the chute is not. The approach shot is played uphill to an elevated green with a deep bunker in front and a large collection area in the rear that wraps along the right side. Not unlike the tee ball, there is not much room for error.
The 13th (par 3, 175) necessitates a forced carry over a marsh to a large green with a solitary greenside bunker on the left. The green is two-tiered and presents some interesting birdie putts, to say the least. My partner was on the right side of the bottom tier and had to putt through mostly fringe to lag it near the top right pin.
The 14th hole (par 5, 538) is tougher than Chinese algebra! Another three-shotter – if you’re keeping count, none of the par 5s are reachable for any player without prodigious length – the wide fairway makes the drive the easiest shot one will encounter. A large water hazard runs along the entire left side of the hole and makes the second shot tough since the fairway narrows considerably. The third is played to an elevated green surrounded by large greenside bunkers on both sides and a collection area behind both traps.
The 15th (par 4, 348) features another generous fairway, but a marsh short of the small green means the short-iron approach is mostly blind. The green is defended by a bunker behind it – which in hindsight is somewhat of a clue, since the green was the firmest on the course. A pitching wedge approach could easily bounce over the green and into the bunker.
The 16th (par 3, 185) allows for wonderful views of the Seneca River, although it does not come into play. There is a pond to the right of the fairway but that doesn’t come into play either. A big bunker on the right forces the player to play for the left side of the green, which could lead to a birdie putt since it slopes heavily from left to right. There is a kicker slope on the left that can feed a ball to any pin in the middle or right side.
The 17th (par 4, 375) plays much longer since it is dead uphill and bends slightly to the right. A series of fairway bunkers bisect the fairway and force the player to lay up with a hybrid or go for glory with the driver. It’s easiest to carry the bunker on the right, approximately~210 yards, but the bunker on the left is a good 250 yds to carry. The approach is played to an elevated green with falloffs on both sides. There is a pond on the left but it is not in play – noticing a theme? Another undulated green makes par a good score although the scorecard seemingly invites a birdie.
The 18th (par 4, 443) is a dogleg left, which is quite refreshing since a considerable majority of the dogleg holes bend to the right. The drive is played to a wide fairway defended by a water hazard on the left and deep fairway bunkers on the right. The approach must flirt with the pond on the left which is actually in play this time! The green features a swale in the front left section which makes putts from front to back or back to front most interesting. Any pin on the right side is a tough one.
As mentioned throughout, Timber Banks is a long, difficult golf course that puts a premium on length and strategic thinking. The undulated and heavily sloped greens make putting important as well. It is not for the timid golfer. It makes the single handicap play as defensively as a bogey golfer. I would imagine it makes the bogey golfer happy to break 100. However, the course conditions and interesting design features make Timber Banks a strong option for adventurous golfers in Central New York State.