Tillinghast designed some of the most well known courses in the game--Winged Foot (East and West), Baltusrol (Upper and Lower), Bethpage, and San Francisco Golf Club. Perhaps Somerset gets overshadowed by these giants that have hosted some of the most prestigious tournaments in the game. But, what Somerset lacks in fame is certainly made up for in design and enjoyment.
Somerset is a course one could study to see a bunch of different design elements in play on a single course. It has a little bit of everything. There is a redan and a biarritz green, as well as some greens with just big ole bumps in them that follow no formulaic pattern. The par threes are short, medium, and long in length. The par fives are fairly short with people in our group hitting them in two a few times. On some holes, the best play is to bounce the ball up to the green. On others, there are false fronts that will funnel a ball 40 yards backward into a bunker if you try the bump and run. The front nine is wide open and the fescue reminds you of Bethpage. The back, for the most part, abandons the fescue as it winds through the forest. Water hazards are wonderfully incorporated into three holes on the back (but, I think, there is no water on the front at all). There are flat holes, uphill holes, and a few par fours that drop off steeply from fairway to green.
This variety keeps you interested from hole to hole and must be great for members because you are forced to practice so many shots in your bag. I found it in stark contrast to Bethpage (which I love), but tends to be a one-note course--every hole is long with beautiful fescue and bunkering.
Because the back and fronts nines are so different, people must commonly ponder which they like better. I love the aesthetic of fescue, so, to me, the front nine was more beautiful. Others would probably say the back is more peaceful and secluded. But, surely, the back had the more memorable holes, which, to me, makes it the better side. Of the holes that I will easily be able to recall years from now, the front had one of them (the second) and the back had three (11, 12, 15). .
Another thing I enjoyed about Somerset is the fact that it has 14 strong holes and 4 standout holes. There did not feel like a filler or throwaway hole anywhere on the course. A lot of courses hang their hat on having a handful of outstanding holes and the rest are mediocre. That's not Somerset's game.
Certainly, a defining feature is how much is happening on the greens. The greens run super quick, so it feels like every putt is breaking multiple feet-there is no "just inside the right edge" on this course. Not only are they quick, but there are often bumps and humps in the green, which makes the speed that much more difficult to judge. That is when having caddies becomes priceless. I didn't even bother reading putts after a little while because the caddy was so good and I was so wrong--over and over again. It wasn't even that I simply didn't see enough break, I thought it was going the other way. Having caddies makes me realize that I have a good putting stroke because my putts go in with so much more frequency. But that also tells me that I have no idea how to read greens on my own.
The overall feel of the club is traditional and golf oriented. The clubhouse is nice, but understated. The people are friendly and accommodating. I appreciate the lack of bells and whistles. There is not a pool with screaming children (though there are a few very nice tennis courts).
Somerset is a solid, classic course with no gimmicks. If you want a fun and fair test of golf, this is as good a course as any. Very thankful for the opportunity to have played here.
Onto the course.
The first is a tough opener--448 yard par four with fescue, bunkers, and a treacherous green (like most on the course) hoping to get your round off to a complicated start.
Approach to first.
The second--a 205 yard par three--is one of the memorable holes. A redan at its finest, but what makes it that much more difficult is the fact that you cannot bail out to the right because it is above the hole. Right of the green is just as difficult of an up and down as the front bunker. That is, of course, even assuming you get it all the way to this green. Come up short and the ball will filter down a false front into more bunkers.
From the tee at two.
Good luck if you come up short.
This hump on the right side of the second green is what makes an up and down from the right difficult.
I am a big fan of the 378 yard third hole. Tee shot if fairly straightforward, but the approach must be the right distance. Short and it is down the false front. Long may lead you to fly a huge hump in the green. This hump generally will help balls by serving as a backstop, but, if you fly it, then it will be an impossible two putt.
Approach to three.
The fourth is another beast of a par four at 457 yards and uphill.
Uphill approach to four.
The 343 yard fifth is a deceiving hole. From the fairway, it is difficult to see the bunkers that protect the front of the green as they are set down, which makes the green appear much closer than it actually is.
Approach to five--you wouldn't know there are two huge bunkers directly before the green.
The sixth is the first of the par fives at 541 yards. With firm fairways, big hitters can give it a run, but even the shorter hitters will be getting it to less than a wedge.
Approach to six.
Thanks to @d.k.s.photography for this picture of my brother putting on six. Check out this instagram account for some great golf photography.
Unfortunately, I lost my camera on the sixth hole and it took me a while to get it back, so the review will now skip to the 11th hole.
The eleventh, another one of the memorable holes on the course, is a 412 yard dogleg right par four with trees and a stream on the right. There is a lake that plays a central role in the eleventh and twelfth holes. It is the source of the stream up the right side on eleven as well as a stretch of water that cuts into the eleventh fairway. This bit of water on the eleventh fairway requires you to think about your club off the tee. Not only does hitting it too far on a straight line risk running through the fairway, but, even with a fade, you could find this water bisecting the fairway.
This view from behind the twelfth green gives you a great view of the eleventh hole. Twelve green is in the foreground. In the background you can see eleven--dogleg right, trees on the right, the water cutting into the fairway, and an elevated green. One of the more scenic and strategic holes I have played.
Me putting on eleven with twelve in the background. Thanks again to @d.k.s.photography.
The twelfth is a worthy encore to the eleventh--a 151 yard par three. The green is among the more unique ones I have seen as it feels built into the water. In fact, our caddies said that on a fast, dry day, a shot on the front portion of the green will roll back into the water. I think this hole is the perfect distance. At 151 yards, it is not so short that you should never make a mistake. Any longer it would be difficult to navigate this exceptionally difficult green. It is a good combination of difficulty from the tee and difficulty once you are safely aboard the green.
Thirteen is a 409 yard par four. The interesting part of this hole comes at the biarritz green. I was stuck on the top tier and was advised to hit my putt hard past the hole to let it go as far up the backstop as possible so that it would have a chance to come back down with enough speed to go in. Nearly worked!
Fourteen--a 421 yard par four--is one of my favorites on the course. The drive is straightforward and fairly flat, but the approach plummets downhill. With a front pin location on the day we played, the prudent play was landing your approach ten yards short on the downhill and letting it run up.
Downhill approach to fourteen.
The fifteenth--a 407 yard par four--is one of the most memorable on the course. The tee shot requires a fade and the more you can cut off the hole the better. The green is protected by a stream immediately in front of it, so the shorter the iron into this green the better. If you look closely at the second picture below of the green, the green appears large, but there is a ridge that bisects it. Shots to the right of the ridge will funnel all the way to the front right of the green. So, though the green may appear big, the target area is in fact much smaller.
Approach to fifteen.
Sixteen is a great 170 yard par three. The green is perched on an embankment. Short is bunker and too far right it may bounce off into a stream. While looking for someone's ball in the stream, we saw one of the craziest things we have seen on a golf course--two snakes fighting over a live fish (each snake had an end of the fish in its mouth). We may have saved the fish because the snakes got afraid of us when we walked over and dropped the fish. Hopefully the little guy got away.
The seventeenth is another strong hole--a 378 yard par four. The goal here is to hit it far enough to catch the downhill slope in the fairway. Everyone was able to make it down the slope--the longer hitters only had about 50 yards in while the rest had about 90.
Approach to seventeen.
There is not a ton to the eighteenth hole--an uphill 335 yard par four. It sure is a pretty one though with the fescue coming back into play and lining the fairways and the clubhouse serving as the green's backdrop.
Approach to eighteen.
Overall Somerset was one of the better golfing experiences I have had. The course is a perfect combination of gorgeous, challenging, and fun. Every hole requires strategy and penalizes bad shots, but not in a way where you are going to make an 8 for being out of position. You can usually recover and bad shots (as long as not truly terrible) will only cost you one stroke to get back into position. As I have said in other posts, those are my favorite types of courses. This is one of those courses where you could play regularly and still enjoy. I love Bethpage, but I only want to play there every so often--it is exhausting and often leaves you feeling bad about yourself. Here, you could play every day, have fun, and, because of the variety of shots required, greatly improve your game.