Located between historic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and Peconic Bay, National Golf Links of America was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald, who is often called the “Father of American Golf Architecture.” Macdonald, winner of the inaugural U.S. Amateur in 1895, had been schooled at St. Andrews in Scotland during the 1870s. He had built Chicago Golf Club, the first 18-hole golf course in the U.S., and was a driving force behind the creation of the United States Golf Association in December of 1894.
Macdonald had been a member of Shinnecock Hills, but he later left the club following the 1896 U.S. Open that was conducted there. His goal was to design a course that would rival the prominent layouts in Great Britain and Ireland. He looked at potential sites in Cape Cod and Napeague before finally settling on a plot of land on Sebonac Neck near Shinnecock Hills and adjacent to Peconic Bay.
When the course opened in 1911, it chose the name National Golf Links of America because its 67 founding members were from various parts of the U.S. That group included Findlay S. Douglas, winner of the 1898 U.S. Amateur and future president of the USGA; Walter J. Travis, champion of the 1900, 1901 and 1903 U.S. Amateur and future designer of Garden City Golf Club; William K. Vanderbilt Jr., a champion yachtsman; Robert Bacon, a former U.S. Secretary of State; Henry C. Frick, an industrialist who played a role in creating U.S. Steel; George W. Baxter, former territorial governor of Wyoming; and James A. Stillman, chairman of National City Bank.
The course, which hosted the first Walker Cup in 1922, is laid out over 250 acres with holes that are patterned after famous layouts in Great Britain. The par-4 second hole, called “Sahara,” is modeled after the third hole at Royal St. George. The par-4 third hole is called “Alps” that requires a blind approach similarly found at No. 17 at Prestwick.
Perhaps the most noted hole is the par-3 fourth, which is a Redan modeled after the 15th hole at North Berwick. There are also some original designs like the par-4 14th, which is called “Cape” because the green was located on a small peninsula that jutted into the bay. Due to the construction of Sebonac Inlet Road, that green had to be moved and is now surrounded on three sides by a large bunker.
But the most iconic feature on the links-style course is a large windmill located between the second and 16th holes. During construction, a member remarked that a windmill would make a nice addition to the course, so Macdonald purchased one while he was in Europe and sent the member the bill.
The stone clubhouse was designed by Jarvis Hunt, one of the club’s founding members.
Today, National Golf Links of America consistently ranks among the best layouts by every major golf publication.
Because the course doesn’t have a driving range, participants in this year’s Walker Cup will use the facility at adjacent Sebonac Golf Club, which is the host site for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open.