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Hidden Gem of the Day: Ironwood Golf Course in Cowlesville, New York



These aren’t the traditional “top-100” golf courses in America, or the ultra-private golf clubs you can’t get onto. These are the hidden gems; they’re accessible to the public, they cost less than $50, but they’re unique, beautiful and fun to play in their own right. We’re treating this as a bucket list of golf courses to play across the country, and the world. If you have a personal favorite hidden gem, submit it here!

Giving my brother Gianni Magliocco a breather for a few days. From the wintry north, here’s the fourth installment of a 5-part Hidden Gem of the Day series from the Buffalo-Niagara region of western New York state. Our first installment, Byrncliff Resort, sits 35 minutes southeast of Buffalo proper. Ironwood golf course is at least five minutes closer to downtown, just off the road that takes you to Byrncliff. Ironwood sits across the street from the farm owned by the Ripstein family. Dairy farmers by trade, they know a thing or two about the rolling hills south of the Queen city. They hired Scott Witter to design a playable course for their friends and locals, and Witter outdid himself. Ironwood is rollicking fun from the get go, filled with half-par holes that favor low scores, and a low-key atmosphere that makes you wish you lived along Folsomdale Road.

Where to begin? We love the par-4 7th, a hole that offers a mid-iron pitch to safety left, or a brazen attempt at driving the green over a taunting pond. Next. consider the par-5 16th, where you can get within an 8-iron of the green with your drive, if and only if you know where the speed slot lies. If that’s not enough, close your round with another attempt at driving a par-4 green at the home hole. Thing is, if you don’t reach the green, you might make six! Don’t worry; the Ripsteins will take care of you, no matter the result.

Green fees at Ironwood don’t exceed $45.50, and that’s on weekends and holidays. Don’t believe us? That’s okay. Check their web site.


Check out the full forum thread here, and submit your Hidden Gem.

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Ronald Montesano writes for from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.



  1. Greg V

    Feb 8, 2019 at 10:45 am

    I think that Ironwood is the most fun of all the golf courses in the Buffalo-Niagara region. Public or private.

  2. Michael Shilkitus

    Feb 7, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    Ronald, Love your “Hidden Jem” pieces. Check out Patty Jewett Golf Course in Colorado Springs. Founded in 1897, city owned and operated. Its downtown, just a few blocks off the campus of Colorado College. Three nine hole tracks and many of the holes have an unobstructed view of Pikes Peak. The quarter mile or so entry from a wrought iron gate to the clubhouse is lined with 100+ year old oaks. See for yourself: and

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Brough Creek National: The backyard course you wish you’d built



Raise your hand if you’ve ever wanted a golf course in your backyard.

Of course you have.

Now leave your hand raised if you actually rolled up your sleeves and made it happen.

Among the very few people left with their hands in the air are Ben Hotaling, Zach Brough, Evan Bissell, and Mark Robinson, the driving force behind Brough Creek National. That’s right. These guys are building a golf course in their backyard. From scratch.

The true beginnings of golf aren’t well-documented, but one thing’s for sure: people were playing golf at least 400 years before the first working internal combustion engine. Long before golf course architecture was a multi-million dollar investment before the first dime of revenue trickled in, courses were laid down largely by hand using the natural movement of the land. In that same spirit, Ben happened to notice that there was one particular shot in their backyard that reminded him of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, as it plays over their barn and to a green situated right in front of the road to the property.

Ben ultimately convinced his roommate Zach, whose family has owned the land for some time, that they should clear some trees and put in a makeshift green for their Road Hole. That was in 2015 and, while that’s technically the genesis of Brough Creek National, it was in 2018 when they started sharing their ideas in No Laying Up’s online forum section that things escalated rather quickly. Bouncing ideas off their fellow compatriots revealed great natural setups for a Biarritz/punch bowl combination, a Redan, and more. Before they knew it, they had a 630-yard, 7-hole golf course criss-crossing through the three-acre property in Kansas City, KS.

Road Hole green at Brough Creek National

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Brough Creek National is that it has operated solely off of donations, which started with a weed eater here and a can of herbicide there and has since grown to a recent GoFundMe campaign of $15,000. These donations have allowed them to purchase grass seed and other vital equipment to see the project through. The community aspect of Brough Creek National is so important to what they’re trying to achieve that anyone who provides their name and address on the website is sent a free new membership packet (I happen to be member #209). Included are some stickers, a ballmark, and a welcome letter that states (among other things),

“We are proud to have you as a lifetime national member at our exclusive, member-owned (and maintained) club…The vision of Brough Creek National is to have a place for community golf modeled around fun for members and guests from all golfing backgrounds…Your dues will be assessed at the rate of $0.00 annually.”

Ben further emphasizes the importance of the community aspect by saying:

“I think Brough Creek stands for community. It’s like-minded individuals coming together and supporting something they’re proud of. It’s a smart, intriguing golf course, but it’s ultimately about making friends and that’s what matters. The quality of the golf course is almost inconsequential because the real purpose is to assemble this brotherhood of people who are passionate about the game of golf. We think it’s done in a way that sheds the elitist stigma that golf has often struggled with and we’re almost mocking that in a playful way.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone they have to experience the game a certain way, but we try to go above and beyond to be approachable and welcoming because we think that’s more important than status. Golf’s not a money-making business. It’s just not. So, why don’t we just take that out of it, come together as a community, and create something we can all be proud of?”

If we’re all having an honest moment, not even Ben and Zach know exactly how this project is going to evolve, but one thing’s for sure: an emphasis on maximizing fun for the highest number of the golfing community is never a bad place to start. Those who believe par and total yardage are irrelevant in determining the amount of fun available to them should be in for a treat. To watch the project unfold, check out and follow @someguysbackyrd on Twitter and @someguysbackyard on Instagram.

Below is an overview of the course, narrated by Ben Hotaling

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Ari’s Course Reviews: Bethpage Black



Bethpage’s Black course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened for play in 1936. It was immediately considered one of the best tests of golf in the world, and it has tested golfers coming from all over the world in its 83-year history. Bethpage State Park itself has five courses. The Green was the first course built and was originally called Lennox Hills Country Club. In the early 1930s, the Bethpage Park Authority purchased Lennox Hills CC and other adjacent property and turned the whole thing into what is now known as Bethpage State Park. Course architect A.W. Tillinghast was hired to remodel what would become the Green course as well as build the Blue, Red, and finally the Black. The Yellow Course was designed by Alfred Tull and opened in 1958.

Bethpage first hosted a major championship in 2002 when it hosted the U.S, Open. What is somewhat forgotten 17 years later as it hosts its third major, is how much the course had fallen into disrepair by the mid-1990s. Luckily, the USGA could see through all of that and helped fund a complete restoration that was overseen personally by Dave Catalano, the larger than life (in both stature and personality) head of Bethpage State Park. Dave had been working at Bethpage since he was a kid in 1967, picking up papers in the picnic area. It was his baby, and with Rees Jones by his side, they painstakingly restored the Black to its former greatness and into a true championship test of golf. After the PGA Championship, the Black will be back in the spotlight 2024 as host of the Ryder Cup, joining a very short list of courses to host a U.S. Open, a PGA Championship, and a Ryder Cup.

Playing the Black is one of the most unique experiences in the game because of what it takes to get a tee time. There are a very limited number of tee times. They are easier to get if you are a NY resident, but for most of us, it’s first come, first serve. Which in practical terms means they have a parking lot with numbered spaces and people start showing up the day before to sleep in their cars to play. In fact, I can proudly say that the last three times I slept in my car it was just to play at Bethpage. One of those times I didn’t even get out on the Black and had to settle for playing the Red! Should have eaten dinner in the car I guess….

Every time I have slept in the car I have had a great time. It’s a party in the lot with a bunch of golfers hanging out all excited to play the next day. There’s usually a few beers around and one of the times, someone called a cab and went and got 50 cheeseburgers from McDonald’s at 1 a.m. to show us all some top-notch NY hospitality! That’s definitely not an experience you will have going to play any other top courses!

Once you finally do get to sleep, the staff wakes you up around 4 a.m. to go get in line and get your tee time and course assignment. Then you can go back to sleep or go eat breakfast or hit balls or whatever you want until it’s your turn to tee off. On your way to the tee, you see the famous WARNING sign telling you that the Black Course is an extremely difficult course which they recommend only for highly skilled golfers. Hopefully, you didn’t lose your tee ticket because you will need that to get onto the tee and trust me, they aren’t messing around with the rules!

The golf course itself sits on a huge, sprawling, fantastic piece of land with abundant elevation change and lots of random contours. The bunkering is big and bold and not to be messed with. There is abundant long fescue and numerous trees off to the sides of the holes which combined with the beautiful bunkering makes for a very beautiful setting.

The first hole is a downhill, almost 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is pretty flat and so is the well-bunkered green. The key for the player is to put their drive into the right place in the fairway to get a good angle to the hole location. From here you cross Round Swamp Rd and head to the second, which is a short, uphill par 4 of 389 yards. The fairway slants a little right to left and the green is elevated and can be a challenge to hold. The third is a par 3 that plays about 160 yards normally but has been brought back to 230 the PGA. This is one of the more interesting greens on the course; it’s wide on the right and falls away as it gets to the back and tapers to a smaller, more narrow section on the left. Bunkers flank the short left and right side of the green.

The fourth hole is vintage Bethpage Black and probably the most photographed on the course. A huge bunker flanks the left side of the fairway off the tee of the 517-yard par-5. Another, even more huge bunker looms at the end of the fairway cut into the from right to left. The tee shot is downhill but the rest of the hole is uphill. There is a second fairway to layup over the big bunker where you will have a partial view of the small, flattish green that falls away slightly and is protected by two more deep bunkers to the front and left. The fifth is a monster par 4 of almost 480 yards. A massive fairway bunker guards the right side of the fairway which is also the best angle to come into the small, elevated green guarded by two deep bunkers short and one over the green.

FARMINGDALE, NEW YORK – MAY 15: A general view of the fifth green is seen during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 15, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

No. 6 gets back into the more open and less tree-lined part of the property. The tee shot is semi-blind and over a hill. The landing area is pinched by bunkers on both sides. The long hitter who can carry the hill should have a very short shot into the flattish, oval shaped green that’s open in front and protected by bunkers on both sides. No. 7 is a converted par 5 that plays as a par 4 for the PGA. At 524 yards, it’s very long and the tee shot requires a long poke over another large fairway bunker. The green is again pretty flat and protected by deep bunkers in front.

The eighth hole is unique for the Black as it’s the only hole with water in play. A 210-yard drop shot to a green with some slope from right to left and front to back and a ridge running on a diagonal angle through the middle of the green. The shot must carry the pond short of the green and there is a deep bunker left and a hillside right. Nine is a 460-yard hard dogleg left that drops down off the tee and back up to the green. Another very deep bunker guards the left side and can be carried by the longer hitter. The right side of the fairway is the safe play off the tee but leaves an awkward shot out of a gully up to the green. The green is heavily guarded in front again by deep bunkers.

As the players make the turn, they are confronted with another long, tight par 4 of just over 500 yards. Hitting the fairway is key here as the fairway is heavily guarded by bunkers and fescue. The green sits on the other side of a little gully and is guarded once again by a set of deep bunkers. The 11th hole is 435 yards and has probably the most interesting green on the course. It has a little false front and two distinct tiers with some nice internal movement. A really good green on any course it stands out on the Black amongst what is mostly a flatter set of greens. 12 forces the players to carry it 285 over a massive cross bunker on the 515-yard par 4. The green is back to the more typical flattish oval, and characteristically is guarded in the front on both sides by deep bunkers. 13 is a par 5 of over 600 yards. One of the least bunkered holes on the course, there are a few bunkers on the left and a great little cross bunker about 60 yards short of the green that obscures the view of the green and will make the players think twice about going for the green in two. 14 is the best chance for birdie on the course. A par 3 that plays only 160 yards over a valley to a narrow, long green.

After walking off the 14th green the players cross back over Round Swamp Road to the home stretch of the course. 15 is always the hardest hole on the course for me when I play the Black. The hole plays 460 yards. The tee shot is flat to a fairway that bends slightly right to left and has no bunkers. The second shot is massively uphill. Over a hillside set with bunkers and a small section of fairway to a green set into the top of the hill and guarded by the deepest bunkers on the course. A very hard hole to make par if you miss the fairway or miss the green. The 16th has a downhill tee shot that will test the player’s judgement of the wind if there is any present. The green is well guarded especially to the right and is small with a little slant to it. The 17th is an uphill brute of a 210-yard par 3. The green is 45 yards wide and is huge. However, it does not look big from the tee as it is set amongst a veritable minefield of bunkers waiting to swallow up any wayward shots. The players walk up a hill to the 18th tee and stare down at a fairway that gets severely pinched in the middle by the huge bunkers on both sides. The green is then back uphill, it’s medium sized with a slight kidney shape and two deep, artistically shaped bunkers set into the hillside short.

All of this adds up to a great test of championship golf.  The course is pretty straightforward. There is not a ton of strategy other than hit it long and straight and make as many putts as you can. The greens are mostly pretty flat so there should be a lot of chances for birdie for those that can reach the greens in regulation. That said, the course has a ton of character when it comes to the land movement and elevation changes as well as the massive, artistic bunkers. New Yorkers are VERY proud of the Black and for a very good reason. It’s a fantastic golf course. Golf needs more top courses like the Black that are accessible to everyone and challenging to even the best players in the world.


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A visit to Trinity Forest and the SMU Golf training facility



Trinity Forest Golf Club, home of the AT&T Byron Nelson PGA Tour event in Dallas, Texas, is also home to one of college golf’s fastest rising programs, Southern Methodist University.

SMU already has a solid program history, producing tour talents like Payne Stewart, Bryson DeChambeau, Kelly Kraft and Colt Knost. But now, with the advantage of a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed, championship caliber course and practice facility as their every day stomping grounds, the Mustangs might be a team that competes for National titles sooner rather than later.

Trinity Forest Club President Jonas Woods, an SMU Alum and an instrumental founding member of the club, knew all along that he wanted to build a place that would help his school compete with the best teams in the country. It appears they are well on their way with the Payne Stewart SMU Golf Training Facility.

“We knew we wanted a world-class practice facility,” Woods said. “Very early on we knew SMU was a critical component to the project and a key stakeholder. We knew there would be something but we didn’t know what it would be. It started with building a new facility for the AT&T Byron Nelson Tournament. Then we thought wouldn’t it make sense for SMU to be involved as well. Build a home facility for them. And then the whole project evolved. The city got on board, SMU got on board, the PGA got on board and AT&T got on board.”

And the result truly is a world-class facility, as evidenced by the fact that a famed teaching pro, Cameron McCormick, also calls the place his home. The Altus Teaching Academy shares a building with SMU Golf on the north end of the Trinity Forest driving range, complete with hitting bays, indoor putting greens with state of the art fitting cameras, a short game area with greens with several different types of grass, and a 9-hole short course. It is truly phenomenal.

The facility itself is 6,700 square feet and features team locker rooms, coaches’ offices, a conference room, a workout center and kitchen. The building includes the newest equipment in golf training, including the Swing Catalyst, which tracks weight shift throughout the swing as well as four video motion-capture cameras and monitors to show swings. Of course, a TrackMan system is also on sight, using dual radar technology to track both club movement and the ball at the moment of impact.

If a golfer can’t improve at the Payne Stewart SMU Golf facility, he probably won’t ever improve.

“Our aspiration for this place is that it will help the SMU golf teams become national champions and contenders every year,” Woods said. “That is what we want for the SMU men’s and women’s golf team. And it seems like that is playing out. We are ecstatic about it.”

And it’s no coincidence that the opening of Trinity Forest has run parallel with arguably the best recruiting class in SMU Men’s Golf history.

“We built a great recruiting class for 2018,” said SMU Assistant Coach Chris Para. “Noah Goodwin and Ben Wong were the the #1 and the #2 recruits in the country.” And Ollie Osborne, a freshman this year, is also a young player college golf fans need to keep an eye on.”













Noah Goodwin has already played on the PGA tour, having Earned the AT&T Byron Nelson Exemption in 2018.

“Former golfers and current SMU golfers are occasionally getting exemptions into the Nelson because it is here now,” Para said.  “And that is invaluable. If a kid thinks he can come here and have a great year, he could maybe get an invite to the Nelson. Every kid’s dream is to play on the tour.”

And being able to play at Trinity Forest whenever the players once is a tremendous tool for game improvement.

“Good golf shots are rewarded here and poor golf shots are not,” said SMU Women’s Golf head coach Jeanne Sutherland. “I am a little less prone to say it helps to travel around. I think playing here every day and you’ll be a heck of a player.”

The course itself is links style, which is somewhat unusual for North Texas. Completely void of almost all trees on the course’s interior, wind plays a factor on almost every shot. And if you have ever played any Coore Crenshaw designs before, you know that strategy is a non-stop mindset from tee to green.

“The architecture here makes players stay one step ahead,” said Sutherland. “It makes you play position. It looks super wide off the tee but if you are in the wrong place with your drive for certain pins, even though you are in the fairway, you are dead. We had a team that wasn’t used to looking at the pin sheet on the tee and now they are much better at doing that. The architects created a golf course here that makes you have a game plan for every hole and that plan could be completely different day to day depending on the pins.”

And with every passing season, every passing Byron Nelson event, and every passing graduating class, Trinity Forest is continuing to improve.

They quickly learned that the facility needed a putting green close to the facility itself. They got it, in championship bermuda. Three short game practice greens were installed to allow anything from short chips to 135-yard shots. As stated earlier, each green is a different surface to allow the players to practice for upcoming tournament conditions. The same goes for the bunkers, each having different types of sand to suit most American courses.

The driving range even has a North, South, and West tee deck, to allow for practice with wind in your face, at your back, or crossing. And perhaps the best part of the practice area is the 9-hole short course that runs alongside and behind the range. Nicknamed the “horse course,” the tee boxes are not numbered so the holes can be played to any green from any box. Pick a hole and play it. Winner picks the next hole. Just like a game of horse.

There is a reason Jordan Spieth and a dozen other tour pros call Trinity Forest home. It is simply the best place to improve your game in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. If not the entire nation.

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19th Hole