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I did that! An interview with Driver vs. Driver winner Eric Sillies

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A $50 pair of shoes! That was the big extravagance for Eric Sillies after winning the $500,000 prize on Golf Channel’s television show Driver vs. Driver presented by Wilson. That might make him sound dull, but after talking to him recently, I’ve learned he’s anything but. I spent almost an hour chatting to him about life since Wilson chose his driver, Triton, to be the company’s flagship model for 2017.

It been more than a month since the Triton hit shelves at golf retailers, and aside from a non-conformity hiccup with the USGA (which has since been resolved) the initial reaction to the driver has been very positive. A lot of people followed the show and liked the concept, and many have been curious enough to find their way to a store to try a Triton.

Sillies isn’t privy to the current sales numbers, but he did say that Wilson seems to be very happy with the exposure so far. The feedback he’s received since launch has been mostly about how forgiving the driver is in the hands of ordinary golfers, which makes him very satisfied.

“Its always great to get direct feedback from real golfers,” Eric said. “To see trends and patterns of feedback that focus on key benefits, it translates theory into reality.”

Wilson_triton_pieces

Related: See more in-hand photos of the Triton driver

In terms of his relationship with the company moving forward, Sillies is on the Wilson Advisory Staff for the foreseeable future and will be at the upcoming PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando later this month. And in talking to him, he is a great ambassador for Wilson, mixing enthusiasm with professionalism. But for now he is back to his day job in Cincinnati with LPK, a global product design agency.

Since winning, Sillies has had a lot of press interviews and speaking engagements, far more than he ever envisaged. “Work has been great, giving me time to deal with all these commitments,” he said. “But I’m still focused on my day job.” The word grounded springs to mind when talking with Sillies.

Driver v DriverAs for the Driver vs. Driver show itself, Sillies said it was surprisingly authentic and pretty true to what appeared on people’s screens. A few of his early ideas got dropped, but Sillies is used to the iterative process involved in product design and understood that there are a lot of restrictions in play because of USGA rules.

Sillies had some concepts on a modified grip and his initial weighting idea was based on a sliding rail. He also had some ideas on innovative weighting fins to improve aerodynamics. They were built into an early prototype, but analysis by Wilson Labs showed that they had no impact on aerodynamics so again the idea was canned. And his original name for the driver, “Manta,” was switched to Triton along the way. He said both he and Wilson were very happy with the final product, which is arguably the most adjustable driver in the industry.

During the 12-month process of filming and airing the TV show, Sillies said he felt very much felt a part of the Wilson Golf team. He got to meet and work closely with a bunch of people from Wilson, including Wilson Golf’s General Manager Tim Clarke. Clarke called him first thing in the morning before the news broke about the non-conformity issue.

He also met PGA Tour player Kevin Streelman, who endorses and uses Wilson Golf equipment. “It was only when the cameras were off and I spent some time one on one with him that I found out how genuine [Streelman] was,” Eric said. “He gave me a bunch of advice and very useful feedback on my designs.”

Sillies also praised Michael Vrska, Wilson’s Global Director of Golf R&D, as a great guy and crucial to his success. “Mike and his team got the club through from the design prototyping stage to the finished product, with the rendering, design graphics, production, sales and marketing, Sillies said. “He is hugely knowledgeable and very experienced at what works and what doesn’t work.”

Sillies on Fairways of Life with Matt Adams.

Sillies on Fairways of Life with Matt Adams.

Talking about Vrska led Sillies to admit how much of a huge learning curve there was in the process, and how much stress there was in the relatively short time frame from concept to launch. Sillies said Vrska allowed him to be central in the process all the way through. “This is your club, you need to decide,” Vrska reminded him.

Sillies nearly didn’t enter the competition at all, but for a work colleague suggesting it to him. Not being much of a golfer, he relied on his product design skills honed at LPK. He had some golf pedigree, working as an intern at Dick’s Sporting Goods and designing the aesthetic direction for its 2012 Nickent golf club line. But in terms of a brand new club concept it was new ground, so he resorted to his mantra of making things better by making better things.

In the few weeks before the entry deadline approached, Sillies spent time during his lunch breaks and at night researching golf instruction videos. He had three main ideas. One was to put a white spot on the top of the club that was the width of the ball to show golfers where they should make contact.

“It’s so hard to hit a golf ball anyway that setting up well is a big part of it,” Sillies said. “I thought, why isn’t there a club that’s solving for that? So I decided to make one.”

He also added a removable piece that attached at the bottom of the club, which could adjust the weight of the club at several different points to fit a golfer’s swing. Both ideas ultimately made it to the final product.

Finally, he wanted the most aerodynamic club he could find. He said he was inspired to come up with an aerodynamic design by animals, specifically a manta ray. His driver wound up being the most aerodynamic of any on the show.

Wilson_Triton_address

Surprising, Sillies doesn’t yet have a final version of a Triton driver to call his own, but he was recently fitted and is expecting one soon. He called being fit for a driver he designed “a surreal experience.” Did he enjoy being on camera and being the center of attention?

“To my surprise, I found I loved it.” he said. “Everyone was so nice, so helpful and supportive. It couldn’t have been a better experience for me. I would encourage anyone to go through the same experience.”

So what did he think was the coolest thing in the whole process?

“To me it is being able to now go into a golf store with friends and see my driver on the shelves and knowing that people across the country are going to be playing it and thinking, ‘I did that!'” he said.

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Mark Donaghy is a writer and author from Northern Ireland, living in the picturesque seaside town of Portstewart. He is married to Christine and they have three boys. Mark is a "golf nut," and is lucky to be a member of a classic links, Portstewart Golf Club. At college he played for the Irish Universities golf team, and today he still deludes himself that he can play to that standard. He recently released Caddy Attitudes: 'Looping' for the Rich and Famous in New York. It recounts the life experiences of two young Irish lads working as caddies at the prestigious Shinnecock Hills course in the Hamptons. Mark has a unique writing style, with humorous observations of golfers and their caddies, navigating both the golf course and their respective attitudes. Toss in the personal experiences of a virtually broke couple of young men trying to make a few bucks and their adventures in a culture and society somewhat unknown to them... and you have Caddy Attitudes. From scintillating sex in a sand trap to the comparison of societal status with caddy shack status, the book will grab the attention of anyone who plays the game. Caddy Attitudes is available on Amazon/Kindle and to date it has had excellent reviews.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Joey

    Mar 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

    That would be so sweet to make tour own club.

  2. Chris C.

    Jan 24, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    The local GG now has the conforming Tritons. With one 6 gram and two 2 gram weights, the swingweight was C-6. If you go with a two 6 gram and one 2 gram configuration, you can get the club up to C-8. Does anyone recall a major OEM release with a lighter swingweight? Anything close? It is a shame that this club has been ruined.

  3. chip

    Jan 23, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Hey Mark, if you ever decide to write another article, use Spell Check and Grammar Check. That was a disaster.

  4. Ccshop

    Jan 21, 2017 at 6:31 pm

    Happy someone could fulfill there’s dreams and get a product on such a competitive market. That being said, hitting the driver in person, ugly look and ugly numbers. Don’t know how successful this driver will be at the price point

  5. Chris C.

    Jan 21, 2017 at 11:45 am

    Unfortunately, Wilson’s decision to eliminate the 12 gram weights makes use of the carbon sole plate impractical. That is, unless you like swing weights lower than D-0.

  6. Dat

    Jan 21, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Good for him! Shame the USGA caused this product to be a slight downer on launch, but otherwise a decent 1st attempt at crowd-sourcing design.

  7. Fah Q

    Jan 20, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    USGA deemed it non-conforming. Therefore Wilson had to remove them from store shelves and change the design. Does he feel like he should give his money back and give it to the other guy who lost who would have won legitimately?

  8. Jim

    Jan 20, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    The show was a little contrived but overall pretty fun to see how the design process works with golf clubs. I hope the club does well but Wilson really needs to step up their marketing and endorsements if they expect any big sales. I’m a little surprised that Wilson didn’t offer Sillies a job though, especially as he is already in product design. At least he got the money for the rights to his club design.

  9. Matt

    Jan 20, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    Most aerodynamic driver on the show? I know you have to put stuff like that in this article to make Wilson Golf happy, but you’re ruining your credibility. Re-watch the show and you’ll clearly see it wasn’t even close to the most aerodynamic. Did you know it also didn’t meet USGA regulations as well?

  10. Weston Maughan

    Jan 20, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Eric is a genuine guy! I enjoyed competing against him on the show. Glad to see Streelman play the Triton on the PGATour this week too!

  11. Tom Duckworth

    Jan 20, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    I’m really looking forward to how it tests out with the golfing press. I can’t think of a driver that you could do more with to change it around to fit you and change the sound as well. Not too many drivers you can get right inside of. I just hope it gets a fair test. I thought the show was a bit underwhelming but maybe a good driver in the end.

  12. Kevin

    Jan 20, 2017 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Mark, just curious if you were able to watch the show. There was a large portion of an episode on aerodynamics, and the Triton was not the most aerodynamic by quite a bit. Just want to make sure consumers are getting the right information. Thanks!

  13. Jeremy

    Jan 20, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    So how much of the final product was Eric’s and how much was Wilson’s?

  14. TexasSnowman

    Jan 20, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    great personal story, but I don’t think it will sell.

  15. S Hitter

    Jan 20, 2017 at 12:22 pm

    How does he feel about the design being judged to be non-conforming by the USGA, after all the trouble that the show’s producers went into hammering that point home to all the designers during the production phases in the show?

  16. Rat

    Jan 20, 2017 at 11:37 am

    Great interview, I think he still may have ideas that could work with the Wilson Team guiding him.
    I enjoyed the show and I am in process selecting may driver combination from Wilson’s Triton. So many shafts to choose from is great and most at no up charge. AWESOME…
    How about a fairway wood design for the future?

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Courses

The BEST hidden gem links courses in the UK & Ireland

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Another Open Championship has come and gone and links golf was once again in the spotlight at Royal Troon! For those who have never played a links course (like myself), it sparks a desire to fly across the pond to experience it for ourselves. While a golf trip to the UK or Ireland  is a bucket-list item, most people look to play the big-name courses (Old Course, Carnoustie, Lahinch, Royal Portrush,etc.), but don’t realize they can get a similar experience by traveling to some of the lesser known destinations where you will find some of the purest links courses in the world. With this in mind, here are our picks for the best hidden gem links courses you should play when you book a UK or Ireland trip:

IRELAND 

Ballyliffin 

We start our list off with a 36-hole club in the Northwest of Ireland, a remote area of the Emerald Isle that is known for its rugged terrain and spectacular scenery. Bordering the Wild Atlantic Way, Ballyliffin is relatively newer (est. 1947) but offers golfers one of the purest links golf experiences anywhere in the country. While not easy to get to, the two courses onsite (Old and Glashedy) are well worth the travel with large dunes shaping the fairways that overlook the North Atlantic Ocean and a myriad of pot bunkers everywhere you look. Even Rory McIlroy believes that “Ballyliffin’s two courses are a must play on any golf trip to Ireland.” and we tend to agree.

How to incorporate Ballyliffin in a golf trip:

Stay:Ballyliffin Lodge, Hotel & Spa 

Play: Old Links & Glashedy Links at Ballyliffin, and Old Tom Morris Links or Sandy Hills Course  at Rosapenna 

 

Enniscrone 

The next course on the list is in the Sligo area of the Northwest where we find Enniscrone, roughly 3 hours (by car) south of Ballyliffin. Like many links courses, Enniscrone was originally a 9-hole course when it was opened in 1918 before an additional 9 holes were added 12 years later. In 1970, Eddie Hackett was tasked with redesigning the course to help the two 9-hole courses flow effortlessly into one 18 hole layout. A big feature that can be seen throughout your round here are the towering dunes that shape the course and protect some holes from the ocean winds. Built right out of the landscape of the dunes bordering the sea, the course has a lot of undulation in the fairways and greens with some elevated tee boxes providing unreal views of the natural land.

How to incorporate Enniscrone in a golf trip:

Stay: The Glasshouse Hotel, Sligo 

Play: Enniscrone, County Sligo, and Donegal 

Additional Courses: Strandhill, Carne, and Narin & Portnoo 

 

St. Patrick’s Links 

Another fantastic gem on the Northwest coast of Ireland is the NEW (2020) St. Patricks Links at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Links. The land was purchased back in 2012 which was already a 36-hole facility and Tom Doak was brought in to reimagine the property to the layout it currently is today. Large sand dunes shape the front 9 holes before heading back through some more subtle dunes back towards the clubhouse. The course offers elevation changes with some tee boxes sitting atop the dunes offering spectacular views of Sheephaven Bay and beyond. With two other courses and a fantastic hotel on property, this destination is all you could ever ask for.

How to incorporate St. Patricks in a golf trip:

Stay: Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Links 

Play: St. Patrick’s Links, Sandy Hills Course , and Old Tom Morris Links  (all at Rosapenna)

 

Island Club 

For our last hidden gem in Ireland, we head 30 minutes north of the country’s capital, Dublin, to The Island Club. Built along rugged terrain and the highest sand dunes on the east coast of Ireland, the Island Club is situated on a small peninsula surrounded by water on three sides providing a difficult challenge, especially with the winds. Founded in 1890, the Island Club continues to be ranked in the Top 10 courses in Ireland and has held some Amateur Championships and Open Championship Regional Qualifiers. 

How to incorporate The Island Club in a golf trip:

Stay: The Grand Hotel, Malahide 

Play: Island Club, Portmarnock Old, County Louth 

Additional Courses: Royal Dublin 

 

SCOTLAND 

Dunbar 

Located along “Scotland’s Golf Coast” of East Lothian is where we find the classic links of Dunbar. Opened in 1856 with only 15 holes, this is one of the many courses in Scotland that Old Tom Morris had a hand in crafting. Laid out along rocky and rocky terrain, the course is only 6500 yards long and while not long by modern standards, the course requires shot making and proper club selection to play well. The course has held many national and international tournaments including a few rounds of The Open Final Qualifying.

How to incorporate Dunbar in a golf trip:

Stay: No. 12 Hotel & Bistro 

Play: Dunbar, Gullane (No.1), North Berwick 

Additional Courses: Craigielaw, Kilspindie, Gullane (No.2, No. 3)

 

Cruden Bay 

The next course on our list brings us to the Scottish Highlands, one of the lesser traveled destinations in Scotland, but still home to some amazing links courses including Cruden Bay! Located 25 miles north of Aberdeen on the east coast of the Highlands, Cruden Bay was opened in 1899, although history would indicate golf has been played at the property since 1791. Another Old Tom Morris design, the course is consistently ranked in the Top 25 of courses in Scotland and it is easy to see why. At only 6600 yards, it is relatively short, but the natural lay of the land provides elevation changes, punchbowl greens, and some large, 3-story high dunes that offer spectacular views for a classic links experience.

How to incorporate Cruden Bay in a golf trip:

Stay: Leonardo Hotel Aberdeen 

Play: Cruden Bay, Trump International Links, Royal Aberdeen

Additional Courses: Murcar 

 

Brora 

We head back to the Highlands just north of Dornoch to where we find Brora Golf Club. Similar to a lot of links courses, Brora opened as only 9 holes in 1891, but that only lasted for 9 years before an additional 9 was added in 1900 before a James Braid redesign in 1924. At just over 6200 yards, this is one of those courses that will make you appreciate links golf in Scotland with cattle and sheep roaming freely around the property. The course is a typical links routing with the front 9 going out and the back 9 coming back to the clubhouse. The defense of the course is the wind (naturally), but the greens are relatively small with pot bunkers standing guard to catch errant approach shots. 

 How to incorporate Brora in a golf trip:

Stay: Royal Golf Hotel, Dornoch 

Play: Brora, Royal DornochStruie & Championship 

Additional Courses: Golspie, Tain 

 

Nairn 

Staying in the Scottish Highlands, the last Scotland links gem on the list is just outside of Inverness at The Nairn Golf Club. The narrow fairways are fast and firm leading to decent sized, tricky greens that roll true, but are guarded by devious pot bunkers. The first seven holes play right along the water and with not a ton of elevation changes, spectacular views across the Moray Firth can be seen throughout the course. With fantastic course conditions throughout the season, this fantastic links is an absolute must-play when visiting the Highlands.

How to incorporate Nairn in a golf trip:

Stay: Kingsmills Hotel, Inverness  

Play: Nairn, Castle Stuart (Cabot Highlands), Fortrose & Rosemarkie

Additional Courses: Nairn Dunbar, Moray

Golfbreaks by PGA TOUR  highly recommends you start planning your trip across the pond AT LEAST 12-18 months in advance in order to secure tee times and hotel rooms over the dates you desire. With more and more people taking up the game of golf, these bucket list trips have already become extremely popular and will continue to gain interest so make sure to start planning early!

RELATED: Open Championship courses you can play (and when the best time to book is)

Editor’s note: This article is presented in partnership with Golfbreaks. When you make a purchase through links in this article, GolfWRX may earn an affiliate commission.

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Open Championship courses you can play (and when the best time to book is)

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The final major of 2024 is nearly here as the top golfers head to Scotland’s southwestern coast to battle for the claret jug at Royal Troon. Golf’s original major dates all the way back to 1860 and has been played at 14 different courses throughout the United Kingdom (yes, this includes Northern Ireland) providing countless memories including celebrations, heartbreak, and unique moments that will never be forgotten (looking at you Jordan Spieth).

With The Open teeing off less than a week from now, we wanted to highlight some of The Open Championship’s finest links courses that should play when you make the journey to golf’s homeland:

Old Course at St. Andrews 

Do we even need to say anything else? The “Home of Golf”, host of 30 Open Championships, the most coveted tee time in the WORLD, there are a million reasons to have St. Andrews on your links golf bucket list. From the double greens, to the tee shot over the Old Course Hotel, to the walk up 18th fairway with the town buildings framing a picturesque scene (especially at dusk), every golfer should make the voyage to St Andrews at least once in their life.

Carnoustie 

Carnoustie – Championship Course

Roughly 25 miles north of St. Andrews lies the devious links of Carnoustie, often recognized by the large white Carnoustie Golf Hotel as the backdrop of the 18th green. While the course has only hosted The Open 8 times, it is considered to be one of the hardest layouts in The Open rota (just ask Jean Van de Velde) although not that long, playing just under 7000 yards from the tips. 

Muirfield 

Located right next to this week’s host of Scottish Open (The Renaissance Club), this fantastic links layout has hosted the prestigious Championship 16 times since 1892. The narrow fairways and penal rough requires precise shots off the tee while avoiding the devious pot bunkers is a must. The course is set away from the coastline so you won’t get the sweeping ocean views, but a round at Muirfield is one the premier tee times in all of Scotland (so make sure you book early – 12-18 months at least).

Royal Portrush 

A view of the new 572 yards par 5, seventh hole designed by Martin Ebert on the Dunluce Course at Royal Portrush Golf Club the host club for the 2019 Open Championship in Portrush, Northern Ireland. © 2018 Rob Durston

Our next stop brings us across the Irish Sea to the northern coast of Northern Ireland and the popular Royal Portrush. Having hosted The Open only twice in its illustrious history, Royal Portrush is a golfer’s dream with 36 holes of pure links golf set against a gorgeous backdrop of the ocean and cliffs. The Open Championship will return to Portrush in 2025 and YOU CAN BE THERE to watch it all in person! 

Royal Troon 

TROON – JULY 26: General view of the ‘Postage Stamp’ par 3, 8th hole taken during a photoshoot held on July 26, 2003 at the Royal Troon Golf Club, venue for the 2004 Open Championships, in Troon, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

The host of this year’s Open Championship, Royal Troon is home to one of the best par-3 holes in all of golf, “The Postage Stamp.” A downhill 125-yard tee shot to a minuscule green surrounded by bunkers on all sides makes it one of the more challenging holes. Another hole that adds to the challenge is the 601-yard par 5 that used to be the longest golf hole in Open Championship history. This year will be the 10th Open Championship held at Royal Troon, the first since 2016 when Mickelson and Stenson had a battle for the ages in the final round.

Royal Birkdale 

For the next course on the list, we have to head down to the northwest coast of England just outside of Liverpool. Consistently ranked in the Top 10 courses in all the UK, this 10-time host of The Open has hosted many other prestigious events such as Ryder Cups, Women’s Opens, and more! The course is laid out with fairways running through flat-bottomed valleys surrounded by high dunes which provide many blind shots throughout the course. The Open returns to Royal Birkdale in 2026 so it won’t be long before it is back in the spotlight.

Royal St. George’s 

For the final course on our list, we are staying in England, but heading across to the southeastern side of the country to Kent. Royal St. George’s is 4th on the list of most Open Championships hosted with 15 (1 behind Muirfield) the most recent being Collin Morikawa’s victory in 2021. RSG is the only active course on The Open rota in this part of the UK, but two former hosts (Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports) are within 3 miles of the property. The expansive course is laid out with holes separated by dunes with heavy rough, undulating fairways, and deep pot bunkers to challenge your game. While it may not be mentioned in the discussions of St. Andrews, Carnoustie, and the like, Royal St. George’s is still a Championship layout that is worth the trip across the pond.


With these big-name courses in such high demand, it is important to note that if you want to play them, you need to start planning your trip early. Golfbreaks by PGA TOUR, the world’s #1 rated golf tour operator, suggests planning and booking your trip at least 12-18 months in advance in order to secure a tee time at the courses you want. The UK & Ireland specialists at Golfbreaks by PGA TOUR have the knowledge to help tailor the perfect golf trip for your group so you can play big-name courses and hidden gems you might not have heard of. If you’re ready to start planning your bucket list trip across the pond, make life easier and go with Golfbreaks by PGA TOUR.

Editor’s note: This article is presented in partnership with Golfbreaks. When you make a purchase through links in this article, GolfWRX may earn an affiliate commission.

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Ryder Cup 2025: Crossing to Bethpage – New York State Park golf, Part 1

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The 2025 Ryder Cup matches will be held over the sprawling, bruising, Long Island acreage known as Bethpage Black State Park Golf Course. The course has hosted multiple national championships, most recently the 2019 PGA Championship. In September 2025, Bethpage Black will welcome teams from the USA and Europe to contest the 45th Ryder Cup matches. Team Europe, the defending champions, will be led again by captain Luke Donald. The U.S. PGA has not yet announced the name of its leader, yet all sources and speculations point to a 15-time major champion and an eight-time participant in the biennial event.

Bethpage Black will join Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester (1995) as the second Empire State course to host the event. The Ryder Cup matches were played in the metropolitan New York area once before, in 1935 at the Ridgewood Club, in Paramus, New Jersey. It’s fair to say that metro NYC is due to host this world-stage, golf event. I can’t wait. The USA’s loss to Europe in 2023 adds to the considerable drama.

What makes Bethpage Black an outlier in the world of championship golf, is its mere existence. It’s a state park golf course, one of five on property, each with a colorful name. The Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow join big brother Black as outstanding tests of golf in Farmingdale. Of the five, only the Green was not originally built as a state course. The Lenox Hills Country Club, designed by Devereux Emmet, opened in 1923. By 1932, the club had closed and the land had become property of the state. Its birth date made the Green the oldest of the five courses. New York State began to build on a series of adjacent parcels, guided by the hands of Alber “A.W.” Tillinghast, Joseph Burbeck, and Alfred Tull. The Yellow course, built entirely by Tull, was the last of the five to open.

State park courses just don’t hold major championships. Private clubs and elite resorts are the typical sites that receive the nod from the world’s golf bodies. It’s a testament to the lovers of Bethpage, the New York state government, and the PGA of America (among others) that Bethpage is as good as it is, and that it continues to improve. It’s a fitting site for the 2025 Ryder Cup matches, but the 2025 Ryder Cup matches need a beginning to their story. I’ll do my best to provide it.

The quintet of courses near Bethpage, New York, is just the beginning of the New York state park golf course system. 19 parks in total offer golf from the tip of Long Island, to the shores of Lake Ontario, through the Catskill mountains, to my home town. I’m a Western New York guy. The Buffalo area has been my home for most of my 58 years on the golf ball known as Earth. I live two miles from the westernmost, state park golf course: Beaver Island. The Beav, as everyone calls it, was designed by William Harries. It opened the year I was born, which means that it is close to 60 years old! Unlike the Bethpage property, where topography is king, the Beav is a flat course, albeit full of enough interest to bring you back for more.

As I considered the magnitude of the state park system, I realized that golfers who frequent those 19 state parks can point to their home course and say, “You know, the Ryder Cup will be at a state park course next year.” I started to count on my fingers, the number of state park courses I had played: Beaver Island, Green Lakes (Syracuse), James Baird (Poughkeepsie), and the five at Bethpage, I realized that I had played eight of the 23 total courses, and had visited a mere four of the 19 parks.

Bethpage is the only, multi-course state park across the Empire State. Other venues range from pitch-and-putt, to nine-hole, to regulation 18-hole courses. The majority occupy nice tracts of land, and feature 18 holes of memorable, enjoyable golf. PGA Tour professionals Joey Sindelar and Mike Hulbert grew up on one of those courses, and Dottie Pepper spent a bit of time on another, near her hometown.

There will be many stories that trace the path to Bethpage and its 2025 Ryder Cup, and I look forward to reading and hearing them. This one is my own, and I’m proud (and a little frightened) to undertake it. I’ll visit each of the remaining parks over the next 16 months, and report in with images and words that tell the story of each park and its golf course.

The Ones I’ve Played

The Bethpage Five

As mentioned above, I’ve played eight of the 23 courses, but the majority of that number is owed to a 2011 pilgrimage to Long Island. The Black had just hosted its second US Open championship, and the ink for the 2019 PGA Championship was not yet printed. I spoke with a Bethpage caddy, in anticipation of the trek. I wrote a series of articles on the courses on my own site, BuffaloGolfer. Down the road of this, current series, I’ll discuss the most poignant piece that I connected with Bethpage. That’s a story for another time. After all, Bethpage is a five-course meal.

It’s safe to say the the Bethpage property is unlike any other, municipal, golfing space in the world (at least, those not named the Links Trust of St. Andrews!) The park encompasses nearly 1500 acres of wooded land and offers much beyond golf to its visitors. As pilgrimages go, Bethpage is it. For a New York state resident, on a weekend, it would cost a total of $257 dollars … to play all five courses. Even for those outside the state, the trip to Bethpage is worth consideration. Each course rambles over uneven, heaving land. Holes carry along falloffs and bend unexpectedly around corners. Greens are benched into hillsides and settled into valleys. All five courses remind you of the others, yet none of them says to you “You’ve played this course before.”

James Baird State Park 

One of the hats that I wear, is high school golf coach. Each spring, golfers from my team travel to Poughkeepsie to play the James Baird State Park golf course. Pronounced “Bard,” the course was opened in 1948, after a middle-aged, Robert Trent Jones, senior, put pen to paper to lay out the course. Jones was about to become a household name, as he would offer renovation advice to many of the country’s classic clubs. He was most famously associated with the Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit, the host site of the 1951 US Open. You know, the one where Ben Hogan purportedly gasped “I’m glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees.”

Trent didn’t leave a monster in Poughkeepsie. What he left was something that locals call Baby Bethpage. The James Baird course is blessed with topography similar to its five-course cousin, but it offered a challenge that Bethpage does not: a huge expanse of marsh across the belly of the property. There was not going over nor through it, so Jones simply went around it. He created something that he never, ever did: a short par three. Jones was a fan of the brutish, 200-yard plus, all-carry, par three hole. For the third hole at Baird, he had all of 120 yards, and it was downhill! Jones placed a green in the marsh, connected to the mainland by an earthen bridge. He then turned north for a time, then returned south, outside the marsh. Trent Jones had another stretch of tricky land to navigate, this time, on the inward half. He brought a trio of holes (pars 4-3-5) through a challenging corner of the property, before returning to the open meadow that hosts the majority of the layout.

James Baird is a tremendous golf course, one that prepares our high school competitors well for the next step: the state federation championship at, you guessed it, Bethpage Black. Six golfers move on to compete against other, high school divisions, at the big brother of them all.

Green Lakes

The Baird course came to life 13 years after Trent Jones opened his first, New York state parks course. Originally from Rochester, New York, Trent ventured 90 minutes east to Manlius, near Syracuse, in 1935, to lay out one of his first ten courses. RTJ was gifted the magnificent land that abuts the two glacial lakes in central New York. The lakes are meromictic, which we all know means that surface and bottom waters do not mix in the fall and spring, as happens with dimictic lakes.

Trent Jones placed his clubhouse and finishing greens (9 and 18) in an interesting portion of the property. The ninth hole is an uphill, par five that plays fifty yards longer than its measured distance. Once home to upper and lower greens, the lower has been expanded and enhanced, and the upper is now abandoned. On the other side of the clubhouse, the sneaky 18th moves out of a corridor of trees, into the open space beneath the clubhouse. It’s a bit reminiscent of the 18th at Bethpage’s Green course. It’s not a long hole, yet when you walk off with five or six on your card, you wonder where you went astray.

The front half of the course plays along a vast meadow, above Green Lake, the larger of the two, nautical bodies. The inward side forages among the tree above Round Lake, before finally emerging at the home hole. The apparent contrariety of the two nines is resolved through expansion of fairway corridors on the treed nine, and the constriction of playing paths with bunkers and doglegs, on the exposed side.

If you’re a walker, Green Lakes will make you a fit one. It will also demand all the clubs and shots that you can fit in your bag.

Beaver Island

“Tame” isn’t the proper term to describe Beaver Island, the state park course near my home. I believe that “calm” is a better term. It may seem ironic, given that the 1965 course occupies a tract of land at the southern tip of Grand Island, where the Niagara River splits east and west, before reuniting at the north end. When we think of the Niagara, we think of the mighty rapids and cascades near the brink and bottom of the falls. At the southern split of the river, however, you can throw a canoe in the water and have a paddle. Beaver Island knows that it is adjacent to the river, but you never get the sense that this golf course borders water. I’ve redesigned the park hundreds of times in my head, moving the golf course to the banks of the river, where the trails, beach, playground, and other amenities are currently found. In the end, not every great golf course can, nor should, be built.

William Harries trained under the famed competitor and architect, Walter Travis. Despite this exposure to the master, Harries went his own way with his golf courses. The most striking difference is in green construction. While Travis was extraordinarily creative and daring, Harries was the polar opposite. His greens are routinely flat and easy to navigate.

He designed a number in the western New York area, including Brookfield Country Club. Originally known as Meadow Brook, the club hosted the 1948 Western Open, won by the aforementioned, Ben Hogan. The majority of Harries’ work was in municipal courses, and he designed Sheridan Park for the town of Tonawanda. That course hosted the 1962 USGA Public Links championship.

On Grand Island, Harries traced his layout around three ponds. The massive, western one, comes into play on the second through fifth holes. The middle one plays games with the approach to the eighth green. The final one, on the inward side, forces golfers to carry their tee shot over water, to the 14th fairway. Beaver Island bears no resemblance to the topography of the other locales mentioned previously. There is no heaving, no tumbling, no turbulence, along its fairways. Beaver Island is more St. Andrews in its flattish presentation, which makes it an honest, what-you-see, sort of golf course. It’s an enjoyable walk in the park, a not-too-demanding one.

Part Two: south-central New York-Soaring Eagles, Chenango Valley, Indian Hills, and Bonavista

https://www.rydercup.com/ PGA of America Ryder Cup Trophy

Ryder Cup Trophy @ Bethpage – Photo courtesy of PGA of America

 

 

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