SUFFERN, N.Y. - Throughout the 1990s, Spook Rock frequented Golf Digest lists of the best public golf courses in the United States. As new upscale public courses keep popping up around the country, it might be hard for the Rockland County course to maintain some of those lofty ratings. Nothing, however, has changed about the quality of the course.
Built in 1969 and 1970, Spook Rock, which is run by the Town of Ramapo Department of Parks and Recreation, features a classic design. All of the holes are tree-lined, some tighter than others. Spook Rock has its share of doglegs, rough, and sand traps that keep the large greens well protected. The greens feature plenty of slopes, but none to the extreme of being considered too tricky.
Water comes into play six times. Twice the hazards are positioned to try to make sure par-5s play as three-shot holes. Two of the water holes are par-3s where there is plenty of room to clear the hazards, even if a shot falls short of the green. The other two small ponds are only factors on shots that are off-line on a pair of short par-4s.
The package combines to gain Spook Rock a ranking of 22nd in Golf Digest's 1990 list of the Top 75 Public Golf Courses in the United States. In 1996, Golf Digest listed Spook Rock as the 10th best public course in New York state and placed it 52nd among America's Top 75 Affordable Courses.
Spook Rock still ranks as a relative bargain. The course, located minutes from Exit 14B of the New York State Thruway, provides local residents with an affordable quality round of golf. Since the course is very walkable for many players, it can be played for $18 without a cart or for as little as $13 for its popular twilight rate. The resident senior rate is $11.
The price is significantly higher for non-residents at $45 to walk or $59 to ride before dropping to $25.50 for twilight. But, compared to what one might expect to pay for a round at a nationally recognized course 30 miles from New York City, the price matches up well with other top courses around the nation.
Spook Rock is the kind of course where you carry your own clubs in from the parking lot. But for a municipal course, it is impeccably maintained. The only bad spots you will find on the greens or fairways are the occasional reminder that even a diligent staff can not make every one of the hundreds of players each day properly repair ballmarks or divots.
The quiet, wooded setting makes for a pleasant day on the golf course. There are not any condos to be seen and golfers on other fairways are often only noticed by peering through the trees.
Rangers and the regular players do their best to try to maintain a good pace despite the heavy play.
A strict set of rules for reservations allows registered residents the first shot at tee times and they even end up in a lottery to fill the prime Friday to Sunday spots. Visitors are more likely to get a chance at the course during times that are not traditionally the busiest.
It does not take long for Spook Rock to show a new golfer what it is all about. The front nine begins and ends with two of the five dogleg, par-4s. The first hole plays 385 yards from the white tees (400 from the blues) with the last 175 yards coming after the hole turns to the left. Two fairway traps guard the corner and another protects the right side of the fairway to make it difficult for big hitters to attempt to get much closer than 150 yards from the green. Two more of the course's 70 traps sit on each side of the first half of the green.
The ninth hole is 352 yards, but plays much longer because it is slightly uphill from the tee to the corner and more sharply uphill the rest of the way, with a carry over a trap to get to the right side of the green.
Like many northeastern courses, play in the summer of 2000 has seen conditions toughened by almost daily rain. That makes the rough thicker, including around the greens where a pitch from the rough over a bunker has gone from being delicate to becoming a true trouble shot.
Each side plays to par 36 with a pair of par-3s and a pair of par-5s. The course is 6,807 yards from the blue tees, 6,271 yards from the whites, 5,715 yards from the golds and 4,923 yards from the reds. The slope ranges as high as 127 and plays 123 from the whites and 120 for women from the reds.
The number-1 handicap hole is 6, a 484-yard par-5. The landing area for a solid drive is one of the tightest on the course between a trap in the left rough and two more along the edge of the right rough. The pro's tip, which is part of the yardage book that comes attached to every scorecard, reminds players to try to stay on the right side of the fairway on their second shots.
Such a position can just about eliminate a 35-yard wide pond that protects the left front and makes it tough to run a long second shot into the green.
A similar setup is in place at 11, a 480-yard par-5. The tight fairway is free of traps, but heavy woods and out-of-bounds are left. A long, narrow pond protects the last 75 yards on the left of the down-hill hole. The right side is protected by a trap 77 yards from the green, a large tree, and another trap near the front of the green.
All four par-3s require a healthy iron shot. Each is at least 160 yards (they average 197 from the blue) and three of the four are at least slightly uphill.
As a package, Spook Rock demands from a player a little bit of distance, a little bit more accuracy and an ability to deal with some rough and sand. The consistent way these tests are presented has established the course as one of New York state's top public options.
Spook Rock Road
Suffern, New York
$18 for residents
$11 for resident seniors
$45 for non-residents
$13 for residents
$25.50 for non-residents
$28 for two players
$16 for twilight
$16 for singles