The weather in the Northeast this winter has been unusually warm, creating unexpected golf opportunities. My home club stayed open until New Year’s Day, a record, and a few courses in our area haven’t closed at all, or have reopened. The other day, my friend Hacker (real name) and I played a round at the Links at Union Vale, in Dutchess County, New York.
The Links was founded in the late 1990s by a group of Irish golfers from the New York metropolitan area. They were fed up with the summer crowds on the city’s public courses (of which there are a dozen) and decided to build a place of their own within weekend commuting distance. Roughly eighty of them bought shares, at ten thousand dollars apiece. They found two hundred acres of cattle-grazing farmland seventy-five miles north of Manhattan, and they hired Stephen Kay and Doug Smith to design a course for them. The investors knew of Kay because he had done some work on the bunkers at Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx—the first public golf course in the United States, founded in 1895—and because he had designed an Irish-style course, called the Links of North Dakota, that they liked very much.
For the Union Vale investors, Kay and Smith built a very passable imitation of an Irish links course, and they did it for just $2.5 million—a pittance nowadays. Bull’s Bridge Golf Club, a private course that Hacker and I passed on the way to and from Union Vale, was founded at about the same time. It cost more than $20 million; has been threatened with bankruptcy on a couple of occasions; had a $1.4-million lien placed on it by its architect, Tom Fazio; is still making do with a temporary clubhouse; and costs more than a hundred thousand dollars to join. The original investors in the Links, who represent various Irish golf associations in and around New York City, allow themselves preferential tee times and charge themselves reduced fees, but their club is open to everyone and their clubhouse is well stocked with Guinness. That’s Hacker in the photo above, stuck behind an old grain silo on the fifteenth hole.