Courses and Travel

Maidstone: The Garden of Eden

A few days ago, I played Maidstone,
which for decades had been on my “must play before I die” list. The experience was
mind-jarringly surreal, kind of like seeing Monet’s Water Lillies or
Michaelangelo’s David, and infinitely exceeded all of my expectations.

Maidstone is a 118-year-old club on
the east end of Long Island in East Hampton, N.Y. Wedged between the Atlantic
Ocean and Gardiner’s Bay, Maidstone is an ultra exclusive oasis of leisure with
it’s renowned 18-hole course (84th on Golf Magazine’s Top 100
courses in the U.S.), a nine-hole executive course, 19-grass tennis courts, a
beach club and a gigantic tudor clubhouse perched atop a hill between the main
course and the ocean.

I was the guest of Maidstone’s
longtime pro, Eden Foster (a Golf Magazine Top 100 Teacher and New Mexico
native), and I knew I was in for a good day when Farrell Evans, also a Sports
Illustrated golf writer, and I drove into the parking lot and was mesmerized by
its stunning views of the Atlantic.

The course is short (6,423 yards
from the back tees) but its links-like layout is a stout challenge. Indeed, one
of our caddies, Gonzo, said that the two-over 74 shot by my friend, Clarkson
Hine, was the lowest round he’d caddied for in three summers of looping at
Maidstone. Every shot is a challenge, because there is almost always a good
landing area (fairway, green, etc.) or a deadly landing area (thick gorse, ice
plant, water, cavernous bunker, etc.)

What makes the course so darn good
is its naturalness and fairness, and the ubiquitous, strong and salty ocean
wind. Nothing feels or looks contrived, and there are clear sightlines on every
shot. The ninth hole, which afficionados often include in their compilations of
the greatest holes in the world, is a prime example.

Nine is a 402-yard par four running
parallel to the ocean and starting on an elevated tee overlooking the gleaming
white sand and sparkling water. You drive down to a sliver of fairway
surrounded by two tall and long dunes that are covered with thick vegetation,
while the approach is to a very elevated green protected in front by a steep
slope and gaping bunker. The par I made, with a ripped drive and flushed
seven-iron, was one of the most satisfying of my life.

The elevated 15th tee,
also overlooking the Atlantic, is home to some of the club’s best lore. The tee
on thje 493-yard par five aims over a deep, narrow valley to a seemingly tiny
sliver of fairway. About 50 yards ahead of the tee and a mere 25 yards to the
right of it is a monstrous grey house (one of the multitude of stately mansions
around the course) that is well within the firing line of a good slice. (“That’s
why they have special windows,” a Maidstone member told us after our round.) Apparently,
Seinfeld tried to buy the house some years ago, but his offer, in the
neighborhood of $20 million, was rejected.

The same member asked us if we’d
seen anybody on the beach. We hadn’t. He chuckled, and then told us the swath
of beach behind the 15th tee is a nude beach that was a hotspot for
naked sunbathers all summer during the 1970s. Now, however, he said the nudists
tend to visit only in August.

If I’m lucky enough to return to
Maidstone, I sure hope it’s in August.

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