Hudson National Hole 10

Hudson National Golf Club

Last week I headed out for my second big golf trip of the year, where I was to get 5 rounds in:

  • Bethpage Black (#42, #8 public)
  • Atunyote (#55 public)
  • Kaluhyat (#71 public)
  • The Course at Yale (#76 Golf Magazine)
  • Hudson National (#90)

It was that last one that I was most excited about. Having not played any of the big New York privates, I thought it was nothing short of a minor miracle that I found a way to get on the course.

All week we’d had some rain off and on, but as we made the drive from Turning Stone down to Croton-on-Hudson, the weather could not have been more spectacular. 75 degrees and clear blue skies – all signs were pointing to a good day out at Hudson National.

Nothing could have prepared me for the day we ended up having.

We rolled up at about 1:15 for our 2pm tee time, and the parking lot felt like more like a high end auto show than a golf course. Ferraris, Aston Martins, Bentleys abound – it was clear I wasn’t at one of my local Portland courses anymore.

Note: Our caddie later said about the cars “if you like this, you should see it on a weekend.”

We checked in with the starter, and he hooked us up with a cart so that we could get to the range, and said “make sure you head to the top range, you’ll see why when you get there.”

After a quick 3 minute drive up the hill, we were treated to what has to be the best view on a driving range I’ve ever seen. You feel like you’re hitting balls down a mountain with the Hudson River framed in the background.

I knew it was supposed to be a pretty course, but nothing quite prepared me for that view.

While I expected the praise for the views to be because of the Hudson River, what I found was the river was just icing on the cake. The property Hudson National sits on is a unique blend of forest, undulations, and scenery unlike any other course I’ve been on.

The top practice green. Top range is directly left.

The top practice green. Top range is directly left.

After making sure we thoroughly soaked in the views from the range, we headed back to the clubhouse, where we met our caddie Derrick and then headed to the first tee.

After the round I was surprised I wasn’t more tired considering all of the constant ups and downs, that’s when  I remembered I wasn’t the one carrying my bag. The caddies out there must be in incredible shape, because Derrick carried both of our bags, and handled it like a champ. Truly first class service.

If you’ve read my reviews you know that my number one criteria for a course is fun. I don’t care how highly rated it is, if it isn’t fun, then it isn’t for me.

I’ll say it now, Hudson National is one of the most fun courses in the world.  In a land of classic layouts, Fazio did something different with Hudson and it ended up reminding me of an East Coast Black Rock.  On every hole I was excited to see what would come next. Even when the tee shot seemed relatively benign, you’d know you had something fun waiting for you on your approach.

Lately I haven’t been doing hole by hole recaps as much, but this course is so good, you deserve to see them all.

Just the Facts

  • Designer: Tom Fazio
  • Built in: 1996
  • Rank: #90 (Golf Digest)
  • Location: Croton-on-Hudson, NY
  • Fees: Private
  • Website: http://www.hudsonnational.org
  • Slope: 145, Rating: 74.8

The Course

As we were preparing to head down to the first hole, we were grabbing scorecards and realized there were a lot of options for tees. With 5 tee boxes, and multiple combinations – there’s something for you regardless of your mood and skill level.

We opted for the 6,433 yard white tees, as we really wanted to enjoy the round and hopefully score halfway decently. All distances are from these tees.

Hole 1 (435 yards, Par 4)

When you step up to the first tee, you’re greeted to a long par 4, and a great opening hole.  I asked one of the starters if there was anything I should know about the course beforehand and he just smiled and said “keep it in the fairway!”.

Dan and I both pured our drives to the middle of the fairway, which left us beaming as we walked down the fairway. To start out with fantastic drives and  bright sunshine on one of the most beautiful (and exclusive) courses in the world – really makes you appreciate just how special of an opportunity this was.

Hudson National Hole 1

Hole 2 (173 yards, Par 3)

There are a variety of tee options at Hudson, and one of the combos the members came up with was basically the blue tees for every par 4 and 5, and then the whites for each of the 5 par 3s.

You see the par 3s at Hudson National, are, well, long.

Like, pull your driver out of your bag long.

The second hole was a good warm up to this.

You can see a giant rock face on the right, from where they blasted the hole out.  They blasted a ton of rock in order to make the land feasible for a golf course, and when they got a bid to remove all the rock that was blasted – it was astronomical.

In order to cut down on costs, someone had the idea to build rock walls all throughout the property – which could be done for a third of the cost. It was an excellent decision, as it really helps tie in the historic remnants of old buildings into the new development.

There’s more room on the right than it looks, but if you’re in the rough you’re going to have a tough fast chip back down to the hole.

Hudson National Hole 2

Hole 3 (410 yards, Par 4)

A straight forward drive, but this approach shot was one of the scarier you’ll face on the course. You have bunkers surrounding the whole green, and if you end up short and left you’re really screwed.

Derrick told us this was the only bad view on the course (due to the power lines). When the course was built, they looked at burying the lines, but it would have been astronomically expensive considering this one line powers 1/3 of NYC.

Up until last year there was also 10 trees back behind the green blocking the lines, but when a big storm rolled through they cut them down to ensure there would be no power interruptions.

If this was the worst view on the course, I think they’re doing just fine 🙂

Hudson National Hole 3 Tee Hudson National Hole 3 Approach

Hole 4 (356 yards, Par 4)

The par 4 4th, headed back up the hill, and featured a relatively open, yet steep drop off on the right. I sliced it and was far enough down in the rough that I had a blind shot to the tee.

The only thing I had to go on was the top of a giant chimney that was left over from the old Hessian Hills Clubhouse that burned down in a fire during the depression. I was also told that the old building was owned by  Al Capone during prohibition, and he used it to make bootlegged liquor. The spot was so so high that they could see police coming for miles, and could disappear before they ever showed up on the site.

Not sure if that was true or not, but either way, it only added to the cool history of the property.

Hudson National Hole 4 Approach

Aim right of the chimney!

Hudson National Hole 4 Tee

Hole 5 (395 yards, Par 4)

One of the most fun holes on the course. This downhill par 4 gives you two options of the tee: Take a wood or long iron and lay up on the plateau about 200 yards down, or bomb it with the driver to try and clear the plateau and get the ball to roll down to within 100 yards.

Smart play was probably to layup, but hey, I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get to come back here, so might as well go for the fun shot (this would be a theme throughout the day.)

This time, I ended up in long fescue and had to punch out back to the fairway.

Hudson National Hole 5 Tee

Hole 6 (530 yards, Par 5)

Probably one of the most beautiful golf holes I’ve played. This mid length par 5 is the #1 handicap hole on the course.  You have water on the right, and bunkers on both sides of the fairway – which narrows the farther up the hill you get.

The approach shot is another fun one with bunkers flanking both sides of the green, the Hudson in the background, and the halfway house directly behind the green as well.

I can see why some members hop in a cart and just come hang out at this spot even when not on the course, the view and ambiance are unbelievable.

Hudson National Hole 6 Hudson National Hole 6 Green

Hole 7 (366 yards, Par 4)

At 366 yards from the whites it isn’t an extremely short par 4, but it played like it. A well struck drive will reward you with a lot of extra roll, and a really well struck drive will get you down right below the green (I got pretty lucky on this one).

It’s well guarded, so try and keep to the left side of the fairway for the best approach angle.

Hudson National Hole 7 Approach

Hole 8 (161 yards, Par 3)

Remember those long par 3s we talked about? We got our first real taste of that here, or at least we would have were we playing back a tee box or two. At 256 yards from the blacks, this might be the longest par 3 I’ve ever seen.

The whites were a much more manageable 161, but we were playing up even farther than that, so an easy 9 iron was all that was necessary.

There’s a huge false front on this green though, so anything short will roll back into the marsh. I got scared and clubbed up leaving my approach on the very back of the green, and giving me a very long birdie putt.

Hudson National Hole 8

Hole 9 (520 yards, Par 5)

Another mid-length par 5 to close out the front. You need to carry the ravine, and ideally the bunker on the left.  If you’re worried about distance or not going driver, aim just to the right of the left bunker for a great tee shot.

The approach here was a great example of how Fazio plays with perception to make your shot look different than it really is. Either with bunkers that aren’t as close to the green as they appear, or with fairways that appear to get really narrow running up to the green.

Not only does it add visual interest, but it adds a great strategic element as well.

Hudson National Hole 9 Tee Hudson National Hole 9 Approach

Hole 10 (370 yards, Par 4)

The 10th hole is straight forward, and beautiful. The view from the 10th tee box, is easily one of my favorites on the course.

For the best angle of the green, you’ll want to stay to the left – too far left however in you’re in the marsh.  If you’re on the right, you’ll have multiple layers of bunkers to contend with, and not much of a view of the green.

Hudson National Hole 10 Small

Hole 11 (145 yards, Par 3)

11 is the most unique par 3 on the property in my mind. It’s wide open and walking up to it, my first reaction, was “oh, this might be a little boring compared to some of the other short holes.”

That lasted all of about a second as I got up to the tee box.

The two tiered green will reject anything short, and if you miss anywhere off the green you’ll have long rough, and potentially a steep hill to contend with.

Hudson National Hole 11

Hole 12 (503 yards, Par 5)

I loved this hole. The tee shot is relatively benign, get it out in the fairway and you’ll be in good shape.

This was one of the biggest risk/reward shots I’d had up until that point. I had a good drive and was about 220 out – so do I go for the green, or play it smart?

I’d have to clear rough, sand, trouble on the right, and lots of bunkers, but it didn’t seem like a completely ridiculous risk today.

I flubbed it into the long stuff 50 yards in front of me.

That’s what this course does though. It gives you legitimate chances to take a risk, but forces you to hit a good shot if you’re going to capitalize.

Hudson National Hole 12 Approach

To go for it, or not go for it. That is the question.

Hole 13 (170 yards, Par 3)

Another cool par 3 that’s tucked into the side of the hill above 12 green and the 10th tee. The green is relatively big and flat, and is an excellent opportunity for birdie with a good tee shot, so take advantage of it! The view standing to the left of the green looking back, is another one of my favorite on the property.

Hudson National Hole 13

Hole 14 (530 yards, Par 5)

This was my favorite hole on the course.

From the tee you can’t see much, so I just launched it down there and ended up in good shape right in the middle of the fairway.

Time for another risk/reward shot. Again sitting about 220 out, I knew my 3 wood was in range, but the way the hole is designed it makes the green look tiny. It’s actually much bigger than it looks, but with bunkers flanking both sides of the front green and water all right – I knew it would be a tough shot.

I hit it any way and the result was me being too afraid of the water and hitting it in the right bunker – which if you know my sand play, is almost worse.

I ended up having a very rare sand save, and got my par making the 3 wood absolutely worth it.

Hudson National Hole 14 Approach

Hudson National Hole 14 Green

Hole 15 (407 yards, Par 4)

If you can get it out in the fairway the 15th is a relatively straight forward dogleg right. If however, you slice your drive into the trees or tall fescue (as we both did) it could prove to be much more of a challenge.

I had a good rescue 7 iron to get it in the rough just off the green, but a couple chunked chips put a black mark on what ended up being an excellent back 9.

It was around this time, I legitimately started to get sad. I didn’t want the round to end, and I knew it would be coming to a close soon.

Hudson National Hole 15 Tee

Hole 16 (224 yards, Par 3)

The signature hole at Hudson National, in a course full of signatures. This remarkably long par 3 was featured on the cover of Fazio’s book “Golf Course Designs”.

At this point, our caddie immediately walked us up to the top tee box to get the entire view and glory of all 256 yards. It wasn’t hard to see why Fazio chose this as the cover of us book.

The green is huge, but with a pin location tucked behind the bunker that far away, there’s no way I was going for a hole in one here.

Derrick said it was about 225 yards away. “Is that what it’s playing?” hoping that because it was slightly downhill it might be a little bit easier.

“Yep. Still long.”

Ha.

Hudson National Hole 16

Hole 17 (301 yards, Par 4)

The par 4 17th was a huge surprise that I wasn’t expecting, a short par 4 to finish off the round. The tees were even farther up than they usually were. I had driver in my hand and Derrick was playing forecaddie, so switching clubs wasn’t an easy option.

It was then I realized we were closer to 265 than the stated distance of 301.

Alright, let’s do this.

I launched a good shot straight up the hill that landed just short of the green for an easy pitch and two putt.

Again, great risk reward. You get to choose how much of the fairway you want to cut off, and if the tees are up, you have a legitimate shot at the green if you strike it well.

Hudson National Hole 17 Hudson National Hole 17 Green

Hole 18 (437 yards, Par 4)

The return to the clubhouse, reminded me of a few of the great finishing holes I’ve played (Bethpage Black, Olympic) where you can see everything out there, and the clubhouse perched above the green.

The light was beginning to get warm as we headed up the final fairway, and all we could do was give each other giant grins as we walked off the course, both of us knowing exactly what the other was thinking.

Hudson National Hole 18

After the Round

Even though we had plans in the city that evening, we decided to drag out our experience at Hudson and shower and enjoy the clubhouse.

We walked in to the clubhouse to see the US up against Ghana 1-0 only 1:47 into the game – so that was a nice start.

From there we showered, and went upstairs to the bar to have dinner. I had a fantastic wood fired pizza, and the service was exactly what you’d expect: perfect.

In an effort to drag out the day just that much longer, afterwards we headed out to the patio, and had a drink by the fire while overlooking the Hudson.

I could get used to this.

As we were walking back to the car, Dan said something I could totally relate to. He said “The thing that makes leaving so hard is because I know there’s a very good chance I’ll never play this course again – and it was just that good.”

It truly was one of the best days of golf I’ve had not only in my top 100 quest, but in my entire life. If you have the chance to play Hudson, do whatever you can to make it happen.  If you’re expecting a flat, traditional, championship layout, that’s exactly what you won’t get.

However if you’re looking for unique holes, elevation changes, fun, and a great model of what a modern golf club should be like – look no further than Hudson National.




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