Nestled in the woods and on the hills just south of Lake Ontario in what amounts to an enclave of Rochester about 20 minutes north-northeast of downtown, within Irondequoit, New York (See this map: http://www.mapworksinc.com/online_map.php?map_id=4&zoom_level=level_1&grid=AC-10#map), lies the phenomenal Durand Eastman Golf Course. Durand Eastman is one of three 18 hole courses which are run and maintained by Golf The Parks, which appears to be either a department of the Monroe County Parks System, or a private company charged with running and maintaining the courses, which are all located within Monroe County public parks. While the websites for both the Monroe County Parks and Golf The Parks do little to clarify the exact relationship between the two, the pricing of the courses is extremely reasonable, and the feel of both Durand and Churchville, which I played several times last season, is decidedly Municipal.
The Durand Eastman Golf Club, which is not directly affiliated with the course, but does maintain a detailed and passionate website devoted to the club’s home course, traces the lineage of the course to the late 1910’s, claiming that the first 9 holes were built in 1917. The club also claims the legendary Donald J. Ross as the potential architect of the original 9, but remains non-committed to his involvement. Golf The Parks’ website states that the course was built in 1934, and was designed by the also legendary Robert Trent Jones. The DEGC confirms Jones’ involvement in the architecture of the course as currently laid out, and provides a reader with all the detail they will undoubtedly desire regarding the evolution of the course after having played a few rounds.
Ross and Trent Jones are legends of golf course design, and Durand Eastman stands as a glowing example of early twentieth century American public golf. While there have certainly been alterations to the course over the years, and some of the original design elements may have eroded during the passage of time, the course that remains is both very challenging yet eminently playable, offering breathtaking views of the park and course.
Measuring just 6029 yards from the farthest set of tees, for a par of 70, what Durand Eastman lacks in length it more than makes up for in requiring accuracy, ball placement, and shot-making if a player is going to score well. In addition to the traditional blue tees for the back markers, there is a set of white tee markers measuring 5785 yards for the less aspiring player, as well as a set of red tees, measuring 5159 yards, for the ladies and juniors. At first glance of the scorecard, it is easy to become very excited about the prospect of scoring well at a course featuring no hole longer than 469 yards, two par 4’s under 270 yards, three more under 360 yards, and two par 3’s under 140 yards.
Stepping up to the first tee should allay any concerns you may have about having a walk in the park ahead of you. The view from the blue tees on 1 alone will convince you to play from the blues the rest of the way, if you were not convinced by the length before you began. That being said, even if you are a big hitter, there is no shame in teeing it up from the whites at this course, as it is plenty challenging regardless of where you’re starting from. I chose to play the blue tees, and was rewarded with a breathtaking view to start my round. Hole 1 is a 436 yard, dogleg left par 4. From the blues, you hit your drive from a very elevated tee offering you a majestic view of your long, straight drive towards the creek that will rear it’s head on nearly half the par 4’s on the front nine. In my case, however, the only view I had was of a terribly duck hooked low liner into the woods on the left. My round was under way, in a far less than spectacular manner. I tripled 1, and moved on to the second hole in awe of both the beauty and challenge of the course.
I parred hole 2, a 388 yard slight dogleg right par 4, a beautiful hole in it’s own right, protected along the right and in front of the green by the same creek on hole 1, and featuring an approach to a small green well protected by moguls. I moved on to hole 3 – one of the more intimidating par 3’s I’ve played in a while.
Hole 3 measures 178 yards from the blue tees – and is very narrow. As you can see, there is no room to miss to the left, to the right or long. The green is small and slopes moderately from back to front. My buddy and I were playing behind a threesome, two of whom were riding, one walking, who were playing behind two naive beginners (I only say naive because any beginner who plays here has no idea what they are in for) who were walking. Not surprisingly, we had several minutes to stand on this tee in fear of the inevitable results. Playing for my standard high draw, I laced a 6 iron over the left edge of the trees on the right, and just missed the green short and to the right. A chip and a putt later, and I walked away with a very satisfying par.
The next several holes are are short to medium length par 4’s, each either zigging to the left or zagging to the right. Precise tee shots and calculated approaches are required to approach par. Both 4 and 5 are rarities at Durand in that they do allow you to miss, even if only slightly, to the right, while 6 requires a demanding downhill tee shot to a narrow fairway lined thickly with trees to both sides.
Having fumbled my way through these holes, I was struck with both intrigue and opportunity standing on the 7th tee. Hole 7 measures just 263 yards, yet is wrought with challenge. Both the tee and green are elevated, ensuring that the only way to drive the green is to fly it the entire way there. Making matters worse for the masher are the marshlands and woods to the right the entire way, and the OB to the left. The green is nestled in a grove of trees, and only the left side of the green is visible from the tee. Feeling aggressive, I gripped and ripped on the tee, and shouted fore as my shot was blasted, and fading nicely towards the green. After my buddy had reached the green, he exclaimed “I hate you” as he saw my ball resting comfortably 25 feet below the hole, leaving me an uphill eagle putt. A nice lag and tap in later, and I was rewarded for my aggressiveness with a birdie in my first round at Durand.
Hole 8 is a short, downhill par 3 played to a small green, a brief respite before the storm of hole 9. At just 434 yards, the par 5 9th is reachable in two only by the most precise players. The tee shot is not playable with a driver for any but the shortest hitters, as the fairway turns sharply to the left, narrowing between thick forest along the way. The fairway is cut out of a valley, and failing to land the ball in the 5 yards of flat land in the center of the fairway will leave you with a side-hill lie. I took my triple, complete with an approach shot which sailed out of bounds to the right and a three putt on this hot-dog shaped green, and moved to the back 9 questioning my motivation in coming to play Durand.
As much as such a spectacularly designed course such as Durand can have a straight forward typical hole, Durand does have the 10th, a straight 393 yard par 4. 11 is simply brutal, with a creek and trees running down the left side of the fairway, requiring a tee shot of at least 250 yards to give you an angle at the small, highly sloping green.
The great challenge of Durand Eastman is in it’s fierce insistence that you not only select the right shot, but actually make the right shot on each and every shot if you’re looking to score well. Hole 12 is a fine example of this. Despite measuring just 266 yards, the green is essentially unreachable by all other than those able to impart a severe hook (righties) or slice (lefties). Another elevated, sloping green backed by an amphitheater awaits.
I’m going to take this opportunity to use a few photos to illustrate some of the design elements of Durant Eastman.
This is the 12th green, as viewed from the 13th tee. The approach on 12 would be coming from 9:30ish on a clock on this picture. Take note of both the elevation change from previous green to next tee, as well as the proximity from previous green to next tee. As is more typical of older classic American golf courses, there is not a lot of distance between green and tee. If you do feel like walking a hilly course, Durand is nice in that you will not be hiking very far between holes, even if you are certainly hiking along the way.
Moving to 13, you’re faced with yet another elevated tee to a narrow fairway. I want to point out the other tee markers on this hole are to the right, not the left, effectively taking a shot to the right side of the fairway out of play. A mid length drive down the left side left me with about 230 yards into the par 5, albeit around those trees jutting out from the left which appear to be just in front of the green.
I made my par, and moved to 14, a short par 3 which interestingly has two greens, the use of which alternates. We were playing the far shorter hole, and I made my 12 foot downhill putt for my 2nd birdie, and moved on to 15. 15 is another narrow, tree lined par 4, playing to a severely undulating green. The green features plateaus in the front left and right, with a valley between them running down to the latter half of the green. In my estimation the toughest green on the course, today’s pin spot was right in the middle, at the most forgiving spot on the green. I made another par, and found myself in a nice stretch at 1 under par the last 3 holes.
The course ends with two medium length par 4s sandwiching a long downhill par 3. 16 requires either an iron or hybrid off the tee as the dog leg is severe and protected by heavy wooding. A long, narrow, three tiered green awaits. 17 measures 201 yards, and is likely the most simply designed hole on the course. 18 is a beautiful finishing hole, a slight dogleg right 428 yard par 4. Of course, a creek meanders across the target area from short and left to long and right, while a large oak tree is lying in wait to suck up any stray drives sent to the left.
If you were merely browsing the hole by hole, all you really need to know about Durand is that it is narrow, features many elevated tees and greens, and forces you to plan your hole out tightly from tee to green. The course lacks bunkers, and doesn’t really need them as the difficulty level is high enough already.
I ended up shooting an 88, a very up and down round featuring both 2 birdies and 2 triple bogeys. While I was hoping to shoot closer to my average of 85, I didn’t leave upset given the difficulty of the course, and the fact that it was my first time playing there. However, the classic American charm of the course, coupled with it’s challenge, beautiful views and great condition would have had me singing the praises of Durand Eastman even if I had shot a 98.
I got all of this for just $30, including my silky smooth and opened up electric power cart. No detail is overlooked at Durand Eastman – the carts are quiet, powerful and smooth, the staff was friendly and accommodating for some out of towners, there is nice snack bar at the turn, and there is also a small but exquisite banquet hall called “Jack’s Place,” located in the clubhouse. The clubhouse has a small pro-shop with a small selection of both equipment and clothing, and features hardwood floors.
Incredibly, all of this is pulled off without the slightest hint of pretension. Indeed, this is what had me most impressed with my experience at Durand Eastman. The course gives you literally everything you would want in a golf experience, excepting a driving range, and lacks everything you don’t want.
Durand Eastman is a fantastic public golf experience. Short enough to entice beginners, yet challenging enough to feature a course rating (70.7) higher than par (70), a feat rarely reserved for municipal courses, Durand Eastman is a spectacle to behold. You’ll immediately feel welcome, and the price can not be beaten. This is a great model for any municipal course, and any municipality ought to be very proud of a course even half as endearing as Durant Eastman is. In one of the must play courses of Central and Western New York, Monroe County has an awful lot to be proud of.
Please note that this is NOT one of the 49 rounds in 49 days. Rather, I’m experimenting with course and round descriptions. Did you like the integration of the two, or would you prefer more on my round or the course? Leave a comment, let me know!