The Yale Golf Course Review (2022)

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Universities and golf courses have a storied relationship. Golf courses offer students the opportunity to mingle and spend hours together in the beautiful outdoors.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the Yale Golf Course, the best-ranked collegiate golf course in the United States and one of the best courses in New England.

The Yale Golf Course, located in New Haven, Connecticut, and owned by the renowned Yale University, is one of the best golf courses in the world. In 2021, Golf Magazine ranked it as the 83rd best golf course in the world.

It’s also ranked as the best course in Connecticut and the best collegiate course in the country! But what makes Yale so unique? Well, it’s a mix of its storied history, its beauty, and its individual holes that place it make it a proper championship golf course.

History of the Yale Golf Course

Before the Yale Golf Course was built, Yale students often had to travel outside of New Haven for a round of golf. University graduates were eager for their golf course. In 1923, Yale approached Sarah Wey Thompkins, the widow of Ray Tompkins, a former Yale football captain who in his will left the remainder of his wealth so that Yale could “furnish facilities for extending and developing the practice of athletic exercises on the part of students of the University.” In the spirit of her late husband, Mrs. Thompkins purchased a large tract of land and donated it to the University.

Later that summer, Yale officials contacted famous architect Charles Blair Macdonald to design their course. Macdonald, who coined the term “golf course architect,” decided to work alongside Seth Raynor– a renowned architect in his own right. The Macdonald-Raynor duo combined to design some of the best golf courses in the United States, including US Open host Shinnecock Hills and Sleepy Hollow. However, it is Yale that may stand as their best work.

The course took three years to build, with Macdonald and his team having to blast through dense trees and swamps to turn the forest into a championship course. In the end, the project cost a then-record $400,000 to build, which is equivalent to about $6.5 million today!

Although it was a very expensive undertaking, it has been well worth it. While the Yale Golf Course has provided undergraduates and Yale affiliates a place to play for almost a century, it has also hosted national golf tournaments on multiple occasions.

In 1952 and 1988, the course hosted the United States Golf Association (USGA) Junior Amateur Championship, the country’s most prestigious junior golf tournament. It has also hosted the NCAA Regional Championships five times and is set to host the prestigious event for the sixth time in the spring of 2022.

What is Special About the Yale Golf Course?

Yale is revered among golf course enthusiasts. Golf course architect Tom Doak, who himself has designed six golf courses inside Golf Magazine’s Top 100 courses list, says that he was “astounded by the scale” of Yale. And according to sports writer Herbert Warren Wind, the course was a work of art “that one would have expected of Michelangelo.”

Every hole at Yale is unique in its own way. On some holes, you are faced by a hill that rises one hundred feet up to the green. Some holes include greens that are eight yards from front to back, while others will sprinkle a bunker or two that lie thirty feet under the putting surface!

Even more interesting is that many holes at Yale are modeled after “template holes” that Macdonald had identified in Europe before designing courses in the United States! Before diving into some of the course’s best holes, let’s explore some of the course’s characteristics.

The Rundown of the Yale Golf Course

  • Yardage: 6800 yards (from back tees)
  • Rating: 72.9
  • Slope: 135

The Yale Golf Course offers three different sets of tees for golfers of all skill levels: the Long, Regular, and Short. While the Championship tees can tip out at 6800 yards, the Short tees can play as little as 5100 yards. From tee to green, the course consists of bent grass, the best type of grass for golf in the northeastern United States. It can be played walking or in carts.

The course also includes a large clubhouse filled with Yale memorabilia, a driving range with over thirty hitting bays, a short game area, and two putting greens. Needless to say, I’m sure you’ll enjoy Yale’s breathtaking course! Now, let’s dive into some of the course’s best holes.

Unique Holes at the Yale Golf Course

Hole 4: Road

This hole is modeled after the iconic 17th hole at St. Andrews Golf Club in Scotland, the 4th hole at Yale measures over 430 yards from the Championship tee. It plays as a slightly uphill dogleg-right with a challenging water hazard bordering the fairway on the right and large pines just left of the left rough. As the number one handicap hole, a par is a great score here!

Hole 8: Cape

This hole does not seem to bite very much– it’s only 400 yards and slightly downhill from the back tees. However, the putting green says otherwise. With a green that measures eighty yards from front to back, you could have anywhere between a wedge and a long iron into the green from the same spot in the fairway.

And that’s not all: a wayward approach shot that misses left of the green will spit your ball into a vicious bunker that is thirty feet below the green. However, two good shots could give you a good chance at a birdie. You might need it, especially when you consider the hole that follows.

Hole 9: Biarritz

You might be wondering: what does Biarritz mean, and why is the final hole of the front nine named after such a weird word? Biarritz is actually a coastal town in southwestern France. In this small town, a golf course called Biarritz Le Phare (which no longer exists) had a hole that included a green that had a colossal swale right in the center of the putting surface.

The first tier of the green would give way to the swale, which would then rise and then flatten out into a second level. What’s more, the original hole at Biarritz was played over the Bay of Biscay, playing some thirty feet down to the green. Over the course of time, Biarritz has come to signify not the entire hole itself but rather the unique putting green. However, at Yale, Macdonald was able to alter the terrain to such an extent that he built a replica of the historical hole.

From the Long Tee, the hole plays over a lake some 195 yards to the end of the first tier and 210 yards to the start of the second tier, with the large swale dropping down about 8 feet below the level of the green. While the putting surface is one of the biggest on the course, you have to be sure to find the tier that the pin is located on!

Hole 12: Alps

Inspired by a hole at the links-style Prestwick Golf Club, “Alps” stays true to its name. The hole plays at least 20 yards up the hill and includes one of the most severe two-tiered putting greens you’ll see at Yale.

While you won’t be able to see the flagstick from the fairway, a navy blue Yale flag designates the center of the green. As you walk onto the thirteenth, be sure to ring a loud bell to let fellow golfers know you’ve finished the hole.

Hole 18: Home

This hole is an absolute monster. It evokes Yale’s scale: it plays 640 yards from the back tee! You won’t see your ball land for your first two shots, but if you find one of the split fairways for your third, you’ll have a clear shot at one of the flattest greens on the course.

How Can I Play at the Yale Golf Course?

There are two main ways to play Yale. First, you can play the golf course as an accompanied guest if you know a Yale affiliate. The second way to get on the course is to be a resident of Connecticut! Residents play for $115, and you can book your tee times online.

However, if you can’t make it to Yale, don’t worry! The course is actually slated for a massive restoration by Gil Hanse, who has worked on multiple Macdonald and Raynor courses. He will bring the course back to its original design, which includes even more unique holes! Better yet, the course will have daily rates so that anyone can play. Yale is already one of the world’s best golf courses, and it will only improve after Hanse’s restoration.

Recap: The Yale Golf Course

Yale’s eighteen-hole golf course ought to be on anyone’s bucket list. It represents the best of golf course architecture and golf history. If you have the opportunity to play such a famous golf course, you should take it.

And, while you’re in the area, be sure to check out Yale’s beautiful campus as you take in some of New Haven’s best pizza. Sally’s Apizza and Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana are local hits!