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National Golf Links of America: Iconic Terrain

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The National Golf Links of America, located in Southampton, New York, is considered one of the most prestigious and influential golf courses in the United States. It was the brainchild of Charles Blair (C.B.) Macdonald, who is regarded as the first great golf course architect in America. MacDonald adapted features of famous British links courses but tailored them creatively for American conditions. In the decades since its opening in 1909, the National Golf Links of America has earned high praise, stellar rankings, and a reputation as one of the greatest golf courses ever designed, both in America and globally.

The course is renowned for its wide open, rolling terrain framed by fescue grasses, with iconic landmarks like the tall lone tree behind the 3rd green, the Redan 4th hole, the tabletop 5th green, the punchbowl 7th green, the diagonal ridge running through the 8th fairway, the tiny pushed-up 9th green, and the glorious stretch of holes on the back nine hugging Peconic Bay.  

In this post, we’ll discover the National Golf Links of America, learn its origins, reception and rankings. We’ll walk through the course, the notable events that it has hosted, the course today. Finally, we’ll suggest some further reading and show some videos to help bring the course to life. As always, the images are simulated to help set the scene and provide context.

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C.B. Macdonald was introduced to golf while studying at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in the 1890s. He became enamored with the classic Scottish links courses and their strategic design principles. When he returned to the U.S., he lamented the poor quality of American golf courses and resolved to bring the classic Scottish template to courses in his native country.

After searching for suitable linksland to build his ideal course, Macdonald found an ideal site in Southampton on Long Island, not far from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. The land was rugged, rolling, sandy terrain dotted with native grasses that mimicked the linksland of Scotland. Though the site had never been used and was considered worthless, Macdonald saw its raw potential.

Macdonald opened his ideal course, the National Golf Links of America, in 1911 after several years of routing and construction. It was built in the classic out-and-back links style, with holes running north-south on the front nine and south-north on the back nine. Macdonald incorporated his famous “template holes” into the design, including the Redan, Eden and Punchbowl. He also added new template holes of his own like the Double Plateau. The course featured open, windswept holes, crowned greens, and penal bunkering.

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Windmill

The iconic windmill standing guard near the 16th hole of the National Golf Links has become a symbol of this historic course, but its origins come with an amusing tale. As the story goes, early club member Daniel Pomeroy remarked to course designer C.B. Macdonald that the existing water tower looked unsightly. He suggested a windmill would make for a more pleasing landscape feature. Macdonald, known for his strong opinions on golf course architecture, took this as a challenge. During his next trip to Europe, he purchased a windmill and had it shipped back to the National Golf Links. Upon completing its installation, disguising the water tower, Macdonald promptly sent the bill to Pomeroy!

While the specifics of who footed the construction costs are still debated, the windmill has stood the test of time. Visible from many holes, the windmill provides a memorable emblem and charming story that contributes to the spirit and lore of the National Golf Links. Both practically and symbolically, this landmark encapsulates the history and tradition that make the course one of America’s most revered golfing shrines. The windmill remains a special signature of the masterpiece Macdonald crafted over a century ago.

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Did You Know?

The “Bell” is an iconic feature at the famous Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland, home of the first Open Championship in 1860. Golfers ring the bell to alert the group behind that they have cleared the green. When C.B. Macdonald designed National Golf Links of America, he created his own version of Prestwick’s iconic bell by placing one between the 2nd green and 3rd tee.

Macdonald revered Prestwick and sought to incorporate some of its key features into his own masterpiece on Long Island. The bells bind together these two seminal golf courses across time and place, representing Macdonald’s deep appreciation for Prestwick’s integral role in golf’s formative years. Their ringing echoes through the history of the sport on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Reception and Rankings

Upon its debut, National was hailed as a masterpiece and America’s first true links course. It influenced a generation of prominent golf architects and cemented Macdonald’s status as the father of American golf course design. The brilliance of Macdonald’s strategic design remains evident over a century later, solidifying National’s reputation as one of the world’s finest courses.

When Golf Digest first published a ranking of America’s Toughest Golf Courses in 1967, National Golf Links was included in that inaugural list. However, it then was absent from the magazine’s rankings for 15 years before reappearing again in the 1980s. Since then, the course has consistently been ranked as one of the top 15 courses globally.

Herbert Warren Wind reflected that “Those who think that it is the greatest golf course in the world may be right or wrong, but are certainly not to be accused of any intemperateness of judgment.” Modern golf architect Jon Cavalier said of the course that “the greatness of the National is timeless. The combination of strategic design, beauty and fun transcend the fads of any particular era.”

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Spanning 6,934 yards with a par of 72, the National Golf Links features open, rolling terrain framed by native fescue grasses, with holes routed along both Peconic Bay and Cold Spring Pond. Architect C.B. Macdonald expertly used the natural contours and landscapes to craft a strategic course famed for its template holes modeled after famous British links holes. Architecturally, the course is known for its template holes modeled after famous British links holes, strategic bunkering, and varied green contours, all tied together by C.B. Macdonald’s unique ability to lay a course over the natural terrain.

A walkthrough of the course moves from inland holes like the Cape 3rd and Eden 13th, to holes set right along Cold Spring Pond such as the short par-4 6th and the brutally long par-4 14th. The course then shifts to unforgettable oceanfront holes like the par-5 16th and culminates at the famous 18th, with its green dramatically perched on Peconic Bay. It’s a course that brilliantly combines beauty, strategy, and fun.

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The Front Nine

The outward nine at the National Golf Links begins gently at the 1st hole, a mid-length par 4 playing uphill to a plateau green, easing the player into the round. Things get more interesting at the famous template holes – the Cape 3rd with its cross bunkers and the Redan 4th with its kick slope and deep bunkers. Two strong par 4s follow – the 5th to an elevated tabletop green and the tough 6th hugging Cold Spring Pond. After the unique short par-4 7th with its punchbowl green, the 8th plays diagonally over a ridge and down to a tricky putting surface.

The front nine crescendos at the short par-4 9th hole – arguably the most ingenious on the course. Measuring just 288 yards, it looks harmless from the tee, but the tiny, pushed-up green is well-protected by bunkers and falloffs. Herbert Warren Wind wrote, “a more scary 280-yard hole cannot be found anywhere.”

The outward nine concludes in thrilling fashion at the 9th green, with players then heading “inland” across the property, leaving behind views of Peconic Bay. Several strong par 4s await on the back nine, culminating in the unforgettable oceanfront stretch of holes from the 15th to 18th, with the National saving the best for last.

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The Back Nine

The back nine at the National opens with the downhill 10th, its green benched into a natural hollow. The 11th then plays back up the slope, culminating at a raised plateau green with a false front. Two strong par 4s follow – the 12th heading downhill and the Eden 13th curling picturesquely around a brook. After the tough 14th, ranked as the hardest hole on the course, the closing stretch kicks off with the long par-5 15th.

The 16th hole is a standout – a mid-length par 4 that hugs Peconic Bay, culminating at a peninsula green that juts out into the water. Herbert Warren Wind wrote that the 16th hole gives “a feeling of complete detachment from the ordinary world.” The 17th then returns inland, but the round crescendos at the famous 18th hole along the bay. It’s one of the most thrilling finishing holes in golf, a long par 4 with a diagonal green pushed right to the edge of Peconic Bay.

The back nine at the National is filled with interest and challenge, but it’s the unforgettable oceanfront closing stretch that leaves an indelible impression. Wind reflected that “coming down the last three holes by the Peconic Bay, the golfer feels he is separated from the world and the world’s affairs.” It’s a timeless conclusion to a round at one of golf’s most iconic courses.

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Notable Events

The National Golf Links has hosted several prominent championships and events over its storied history. Most famously, it hosted the 2013 Walker Cup. This biennial team competition between amateurs from the United States and Great Britain & Ireland is considered one of the pinnacles of amateur golf.

The U.S. team edged out the visitors by a score of 14-12 in front of massive galleries that lined the links. The matches featured future PGA Tour stars like Jordan Speith, Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. Fans relished the chance to see the world’s top amateurs battle at one of America’s foremost courses.

The cousre has also hosted prestigious amateur events like the Metropolitan Amateur Championship, the Anderson Memorial Four-Ball Tournament, the Palmer Cup, and the 2023 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship. The club takes pride in opening its gates to top amateur competitions, giving the players a chance to test themselves on C.B. Macdonald’s brilliant strategic design. With its sterling tournament history and stature as one of golf’s great courses, the National figures to play host to many more high-profile events in the future.

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Over a century after its founding, the National Golf Links of America remains one of the most acclaimed and revered golf courses in the world. Its reputation has not diminished with time. In recent years, it continues to be ranked highly – it was named the 15th greatest course in America by Golf Digest in 2009. The course itself remains timelessly beautiful and strategically brilliant. Its wide open vistas, rolling terrain framed by native grasses, deep bunkers, and views of Peconic Bay seem untouched by modernity.

Architecturally, C.B. MacDonald’s templates, from the famous Redan 4th hole to the ingenious Short par-4 9th, continue to challenge, inspire and delight each generation of golfer. Writer George Peper reflected that “National Golf Links looks, plays and ‘feels’ like a British links, yet has a character all its own.”

In 2013, the National again welcomed elite amateur golf by hosting the Walker Cup. The event demonstrated the enduring quality of the course. In preparation, Superintendent Bill Salinetti oversaw improvements that respected the spirit and tradition of the National. Visit National Golf Links online at https://www.ngla.us or check out Golf Digest’s “Every Hole At…” video.

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PuttView Golf Books

PuttView Books are detailed yardage and green maps designed to help golfers save strokes, especially under tournament conditions. They offer precise visual representations of courses, including topographic slope percentages, fairway arrows for slopes over 4%, and a dual view of greens accurate to the millimeter. The books are printed on high-quality waterproof paper, sized to fit traditional yardage book covers, and are USGA legal. 

Customers praise PuttView Books for their stunning detail, stylish presentation, and the confidence they instill in decision-making on the course. With 30,000 courses represented, your home course is bound to be available, as is National Golf Links!

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Further Reading

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Scotland’s Gift, Golf
by Charles Blair MacDonald

Summary: Scotland’s Gift, Golf is a masterpiece of early golf literature, written by the Father of American Golf Course Architecture, C.B. Macdonald. Considered by historians to be the most important book ever written on early American golf, this book details the birth of golf in the United States in the late nineteenth century and the formation of the U.S.G.A. in 1894.

In addition to a detailed summary of the characteristics of an ideal golf course, this guide provides rare insight into the methods and philosophies that Macdonald used to design some of the world’s most renowned courses, including the National Golf Links of America, Mid-Ocean Club, Lido, and Yale Golf Club. It also includes personal anecdotes and correspondence describing the development of the rules of golf, as well as the evolution of the modern golf ball and golf club.

Written in 1928, this book features 56 black-and-white photographs from the author’s personal collection, including rare photos of Bobby Jones, Young Tom Morris, and Francis Ouimet. Also included is an appendix which highlights the oldest surviving rules of golf from 1754, as well as the amended version from 1858.

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Sand and Golf
by George Waters

Summary: “Sand and Golf” explores how sandy terrain uniquely suits golf, studying similarities and differences between courses worldwide with sandy features. It examines all aspects of the relationship between sand and golf, from the sport’s origins in Scottish coastal dunes to its global spread onto sandy sites. Written by golf architect George Waters with a preface by renowned designer Tom Doak, it details through examples and illustrations why firm, rugged, windy sandy terrain makes creative shot-making integral to the game. The book appeals to knowledgeable golfers interested in course design and architecture, analyzing the art and science behind why golf belongs on sand.

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Anatomy of a Golf Course
by Tom Doak

Summary: The book explains the thought process and strategies used by golf course architects in designing courses, including factors like hole length, placement of hazards, and routing. It aims to help golfers understand why certain design choices are made so they can better approach playing the course. Written by acclaimed golf architect Tom Doak, it appeals to both knowledgeable golfers and beginners interested in course design and architecture. The book also includes an appendix with examples of noteworthy golf courses that are worth studying.


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The Links
by Robert Hunter

Summary: A masterpiece of architectural literature, The Links is the first book that fully addresses the complexities of the golf course in terms of design, construction, and definition of the game. Written in 1926, Robert Hunter conceptualized The Links as a complete study, a manual for golf course architects and design enthusiasts, specifically written to advance the field of study in a way that had never been tried before.

Although Hunter was not a golf course architect by trade, or even a golfing professional, his background as a dedicated socialist reformer led to his unique understanding of the relationship between golf and its greater contribution to society. The challenges posed by golf, as well as the beauty produced by the singular nature of the world’s most famous links, led Hunter to conclude that diversity is what makes golf the cherished game that it is. In The Links, he postulates, “It is not the love of something easy which has drawn men like a magnet for hundreds of years to this royal and ancient pastime; on the contrary, it is the maddening difficulty of it.”


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Book of the Links
by Martin H.F. Sutton

Summary: The Book of the Links features selected writings from prominent golf figures of the early 20th century, including Martin H.F. Sutton, Bernard Darwin, and H.S. Colt. Written in 1912, this collaborative guide provides rare insight into the methods and philosophies that were used to design, construct, and maintain the world’s most renowned golf courses.

According to Sutton, “In producing this volume, it has been my aim to provide in the first instance a compendium of information, of a more complete character than has before been compressed into a single volume, on all the points upon which golf secretaries, green committees, and greenkeepers desire instruction.”


Videos

2013 Walker Cup Preview
National Golf Links – Flyover

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