Where I played: A hidden Rees Jones classic, Olde Kinderhook Golf Club

January 30, 2020
Thought-provoking golf and gorgeous scenery define this hidden upstate New York gem, despite its drawbacks.

Welcome to our “Where I played…” series, in which a resident GOLF staffer runs through a recent day at a course you might play in your future. Today, we’ve got Olde Kinderhook Golf Club in Kinderhook, N.Y.

Olde Kinderhook Golf Club is a place you couldn’t find on accident. The 1999 Rees Jones design is tucked away on a hidden swath of land in the rural town of Kinderhook, N.Y., roughly a half hour drive from Albany. Founded in 1999 as a private course, OKGC has since expanded to “semi-private,” offering public play for large stretches of the season.

What you’ll find at Olde Kinderhook isn’t much by way of glamour (more on that later). Rather, the course is a master class in charming, thought-provoking, brilliantly routed golf in a gorgeous setting. OKGC proves a worthy test for any foursome — so long as you’re willing to put the effort in to find it.

Course: Olde Kinderhook Golf Club, Kinderhook, N.Y. (not to be confused with Old Kinderhook, a golf resort in Missouri)

My tee time: 8 a.m., Aug. 29, 2019

Course type: Semi-Private/Public (tee times must be booked a day in advance, per course rules)

Price: $60 (includes cart fee)

Difficulty: OKGC is, in typical Rees Jones fashion, long, withering and tactical. Depending on the direction of the wind, Olde Kinderhook can feel like it’s playing half (or double) the 7,300 yards listed on the scorecard from the back tees.

Scoring well usually requires two things: consistent tee shots and smart elevation play. Several holes demand long carries to safely find fairways, while many others can only be parred by hitting hybrid or long-iron off the tee to elevated perches. If you prioritize elevation, you’ll find easy approaches into yawning greens with manageable pin locations.

There’s some water at OKGC, which is surprising for a course nestled between the Catskill and Berkshire mountain ranges, but the majority of the course’s difficulty comes from its length.  There are four sets of men’s tees and two sets of women’s tees to suit players of all abilities.

How to get there: Kinderhook is only a 30-minute drive from the Albany airport, on Rt. 203. We’d recommend using your phone’s GPS to navigate, as your chances of finding the club’s unpretentious entrance (along a winding country road) are rather inauspicious.

It's not every day you can play a 20-year-old course with a direct tie to a former U.S. President.
James Colgan

Fast facts: Despite its obscurity, Olde Kinderhook holds a unique connection to American history. Its name is derived from the town of Kinderhook’s prodigal son, America’s ninth President, Martin Van Buren. Throughout his life, Van Buren was referred to by the nickname “Old Kinderhook,” which his friends eventually shortened to “OK.” Historians credit Van Buren (and Kinderhook) for the popularization of the phrase “OK” in the English language.

The 16th at OKGC's three-tiered green marks the difference between par and birdie for solid tee shots.
Rees Jones Inc.

Notable/favorite holes: The 16th hole, a 180-yard par-3, is OKGC at its best. A well-struck tee shot over the water gives easy access to a gaping, three-tiered green. Your birdie chances are directly tied to landing on the same shelf as the day’s hole location, but any tee shot on the green should result in an easy par.

The views at Olde Kinderhook Golf Club make it a worthwhile walk.
Rees Jones Inc.

The 10th hole: Nowhere on the course is elevation more directly tied to scoring than on the long par-4 10th. It’s quite the introduction into the back nine — a blind tee shot over a ridge typically leaves a 150-170-yard approach into an elevated green. Shank, blade, or otherwise miss-hit your approach and you’re in danger of losing a ball in the ravine below or beyond the green. But a crisp iron shot into the safety of the left portion of the green (or its false front) and you’re in business for an easy par.

Scenic, quiet and beautiful. The 3rd at OKGC is a hole to remember (and the golf's not half-bad either).
Olde Kinderhook Golf Club

The 3rd hole: Architecture nerds, close your ears: the par-5 3rd hole is easily my favorite on the course purely for its scenery (especially if you’re playing during the autumn foliage). The 600-yard behemoth isn’t anything uniquely special from a design perspective; it plays nearly entirely downhill into an elevated green guarded by bunkers. Yet there are few holes in golf I’ve experienced that match the simultaneous feeling of complete seclusion from the outside world and unobstructed mountainous beauty that No. 3 at OKGC does.

I loved: Undoubtedly, Olde Kinderhook’s greatest draw is its combination of affordability and availability. For $60, you can play a Rees Jones course and, if you time it right, not see another soul between the first and last tees.

From a design perspective, nearly every shot asks provocative strategic questions of the golfer. OKGC’s wide fairways mean safe shots aren’t punished as hard as at some other courses, but its length results in very few “safe” shots, period. On good days, it provides both worthy tests and memorable shots to golfers of all skill levels.

I didn’t love: OKGC is a victim of its own strengths. It’s so remote and unknown, it doesn’t get nearly enough play to afford remaining in the playing shape a course of its quality deserves. It’s for this reason that Olde Kinderhook has gone from private to semi-private in the span of its two decades in existence.

Primarily, the financial limitations of the course are on display in its bunkers. Jones designed beautiful, strategic bunkering patterns throughout several holes on the course. Today, those bunkers are mostly dirt. Interestingly, it seems as though the course is willing to sacrifice its sand traps in the name of preserving the remainder of its design integrity. The fairways are still neatly trimmed, the rough is kept thick (albeit with more than the occasional dandelion) and the greens roll tried and true.

Despite its drawbacks, Olde Kinderhook Golf Club is close to my heart. It challenges, it makes you think, and most of all, it’s fun. For $60, this track is more than worth the adventure. You might even enjoy the golf, too.

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