Just like the West course at Winged Foot Golf Club, the East is the work of A.W. Tillinghast and it’s another of his revered creations.
The East is perhaps a touch easier than its big and brutal brother the West, but make no bones about it, the East is no pushover. Once you’ve managed to hijack the mandatory member, you’ll be faced with tight, narrow fairways and a collection of strong par threes and the 6th is one of the toughest one-shotters you’re ever likely to come across. This 194-yard hole was nicknamed “Trouble” by Tillinghast because there’s an element of luck as well as plenty of skill required to hit the raised green with a long iron.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak commented as follows: “Winged Foot East, on the other hand, is a bone of much greater contention. There are those who believe it’s better than the West course, because it has more variety of terrain (including a lake and a stream in play) and relies less on length and steep greens for its challenge; but I think it is sorely lacking for great holes such as the 10th or 18th (or even the 11th) on the West course. Its closest approach used to be the East 10th, a good shortish par-4 with the great elm by the clubhouse for a backdrop; but without The Tree, even it is just another hole.”
Just like its namesake at Wentworth in England,
the East course has been used as a car park during major tournaments, but a
2014 renovation by Gil Hanse – described by commentators as among Hanse’s
absolute best restoration work – will maybe prevent the turf at this delightful old layout
from being subjected to the insults of oil leaks and tyre imprints in the
I have always preferred The East, and my love continued yesterday. The Gil Hanse renovation is just fabulous and the extension of greens and the meshing of fairways into greens is also fabulous. Everyone was raving about the now updated West yesterday at lunch, and I hope to see that in the future. Winged Foot is also hosting 40 Officers and Enlisted from the US Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard on Friday of Fleet Week. Great course(s) at a great club. #GoNavy
The defining characteristics of Winged Foot are its greens, which almost all slope back-to-front and have narrow entry areas. In the 1920s the press dubbed them "bottle-necks." Being above the hole is not recommended. In their 1923 brochure announcing the opening of both courses (East and West), the golf committee warned the golfer about the first two holes on the East course. "A dollar bill couldn't lie level on either of the first two greens with their pitches and roll."
The second hole is named "Man O'War" because of the necessity of keeping your shot left, or, as in horse racing, in the pole position, to keep out of trouble. At the time of the course's opening "Man O'War" was a popular race horse. Although all the greens on the course slope back-to-front there is never a time you think they are unfair; the ninth green, for example, has a hump in the rear that serves as a backstop.
Tillinghast's description of Winged Foot sums up how much effort he put into the greens, "The holes are like men, all rather similar from foot to neck, but with the greens showing the same varying characters of human faces."
If I do have one small criticism of Winged Foot it is, as Tillinghast himself says, that there are many similar holes; I find this to be particularly true on the front nine of the West course where almost a half-dozen holes are of the same basic type tee-to-green. The East has more variety in the style and types of holes. The East course only has fifty-three traps, so this is golf of the strategic vs. the penal variety that you may find at a course like Oakmont. Although there are relatively few traps, they add to the scenic beauty of the course because your eye is drawn to them, and they are placed with maximum effectiveness to catch wayward shots.
A strong case can be made that the best stretch of holes on the property are the East course's eleventh through fifteenth. I am a big fan of the East course and personally prefer playing it to the West.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
9 years ago I was lucky to play the West Course the same the Club Championship Final was being held. A couple of weeks ago when confirmed my trip to NY a second visit to Winged Foot again with friend Alberto and invited by Member Ted we knew West Course was going to have 2 holes closed (10 & 15) so Ted suggested we played the East Course, which he suggested us to play someday in our visit 9 years ago.
Although you always want to play the "Famous" venues I was not at all disappointed as I had already played it and my country man Roberto De Vicenzo won the first US Senior Open back in 1980 (there is a picture of him, his scorecard, his ball and his putter in the alley inside the Club House). And I have to say that the East Course can fight against the West with no discussion, the only difference is it was not lenghtened as much as its sister. But the greens are as fast, challenging and tough as the West and there are some fantastic golf holes.
First to describe is the adrenalinic sensation of getting into a US Open Club, where you are received by the Staff for Valet Parking and Bag Drop. Then off to a nice Driving Range where every ball is a ProV1 with the Winged Foot logo, it might not be noticeable for people who play it often but for visitors like me it is a nice detail. Then the chipping green and the short practice hole can prepare you for a brutal short game test. And then off to the first tee. The walk is amazing, the caddies are great and the stories you listen are just great. It is a golf mecca, I believe only Oak Hill and Merion give that special sensation when walking the courses.
Again, as a description of every hole can be found online I will just give a deeper description on the best holes in my opinion.
Par 3 third hole is the best example that a one shooter doesn't need to be long to be tough, go miss the green and try to make a par. Par 5 fourth is great, second shot over the water and trees is a great risk/reward example. Par 3 sixth called Trouble, a 200yds uphill hole where finding the green is only for the very good ones. Par 3 thirteenth made me remember the 16th at Pasatiempo, the structure of the green and bunkering is very similar. Par 4 15th is maybe the best example on how a good two shooter doesn't need to be long: lay up before the stream and then a wedge to an elevated green where getting 2 putts is only for experts if you miss the platform. and par 3 17th has the toughest green on the course after a 230yds shot downhill: I am not a fan of long one shooters but this one is great. The walk on 18th fairway might be not as special as the West Course, but is as good as you can expect. Played some good golf, hit 12 GIRs but 5 three putt greens spoiled the scorecard. I will need to go back to break 80 for the first time!
A special paragraph for the golfers "born" at Winged Foot: we played a match against Ted (7 hcp) and Mike who had qualified for the US Mid Amateur some weeks ago. We were beaten 2&1 after an exhibition of short game and putting by Ted, making some great chips and impossible putts. If you play those greens every day, you will get your short game very sharp. 9 years ago I admired Ted for his short game, time has passed and he remains great.
If you get the chance to be invited to Winged Foot and West is not available, go play the East and you won't be disappointed. I smell Emiliano Grillo playing the Presidents Cup at Liberty National in 2017, why not go there and repeat the game at Winged Foot?
One of golf’s most enjoyable walks – certainly a more attractive and fun layout than the West course.
Arguably has the best set of par 3s in the region and without doubt has the most challenging set of approach shots into the severely raised green-sites. While the property is relatively flat, the green-sites are pushed up with treacherous contours. Tillinghast created a masterpiece with a routing that brings you in every direction.
The Winged Foot experience is truly fabulous, and the historical stories that accompany this club will stimulate your golfing juices.