Fishers Island is located just off the coast of Connecticut, but it is technically located in New York. The island serves as a summer getaway for the upper tier of society. It is a place of understated wealth, the “anti-Hamptons.” You do not see any overt statements of wealth on Fishers. Most of the families who spend summers on the island have been doing so for multiple generations.Fishers Island Club, or the “Big Club,” as it is colloquially known on the island, is one of the most exclusive clubs in the States. Its golf course is ranked #28 in GOLF Magazine’s Top 100 in the World list. A beach club and yacht club also serve as entertainment for those fortunate enough to be members.
The simplest way to access the island is via ferry from New London, Connecticut. Anyone can go to Fishers Island; however, one half of the island, the side containing Fishers Island Club and Hay Harbor Club, is private.
I was fortunate enough to spend four days on the island. In addition to golfing while on the island, I participated in a sailing race with the Fishers Island Yacht Club and my host, a world champion sailor and winner of the America’s Cup. A traditional Thursday night formal dinner at the Big Club, along with parties, meals, and many introductions, created a unique insight into an exclusive enclave that many will never see.
Now for the golf: Fishers Island Club is a Seth Raynor design and was opened in 1926. Many of the holes on the course are modeled off of famous hole designs. Of all the courses I have played in the US, Fishers played most similarly to a Scottish links course. Dry conditions allowed for low running shots. I loved using the bump and run that I have spent the last three years practicing in St Andrews. (Click on any of the photos to enlarge.)
Hole #1 – 396 yard – “Raynor’s Start”Raynor eases golfers into the course with a wide opening par 4.
The second hole is Raynor’s take on North Berwick’s famous Redan hole. In keeping with the traditional Redan hole, the green moves left and away from the player with a large slope on the right.
Hole # 3 – 335 yards – “Plateau”The third hole is a beautiful short par 4. The carry to the fairway is just over 200 yards, which leaves a wedge into a difficult, elevated green. It is a classic risk / reward hole.
The 4th hole was one of my favorites on the golf course. It is a blind approach and reminded me of Prestwick Golf Club’s 17th hole, the “Alps.” The sheer size of the green is striking. The green truly is a bowl, and if you miss the bowl, a heavy price is to be paid.
Hole #5 – 207 yards – “Biarritz”
The 5th hole is an extremely strong par 3. Reaching the green can be a struggle with the hole playing over 200 yards and uphill. I had seen photos of this hole many times before visiting the course and it lived up to the photographs. The ocean and waves crash to your right as you strike the tee shot.
Hole #6 – 520 yards – “Olinda”The photo above is the hilly approach to the 6th hole. The 6th hole is one of the many blind tee shots on the course. Whereas blind tee shots are a mark of weakness on modern designs, they don’t detract at Fishers Island. They add to the quirk and strength of the design, harkening back to a Scottish or English links. The dry and firm condition of the course can be seen with the “burnt” look in this fairway.
Hole #7 – 363 yards – “Latimer”This tee box is one of the most stunning on the course. The “dinging” of the lighthouse seen in the distance can be heard across the course, lulling golfers into peaceful state. An iron off the tee takes the lake on the right out of play, and an extra half club is needed to reach the raised green.
Hole #11 – 164 yards – “Eden”This an extremely picturesque par 3. It would take an entire panorama of the scene to truly do this hole justice. The raised green is difficult to hit during the high winds typically found at the course. This is an “Eden hole,” based on the famous 11th hole at the St. Andrews Old Course.
Hole #12 – 389 yards – “Winthrop”The approach into the 12th hole is one of my favorites on the course. A severe left to right slope can be seen in the photo above and provided many options in terms of approach shot. During one of the rounds, I let my drive leak right, short siding myself to a front left pin. I was able to throw my approach into the slope, which took the ball back down towards the pin. I loved this hole and wanted to sit in the fairway all afternoon with a bucket of balls.
The 14th hole is unquestionably deserving of the number one handicap rating. Positioning in the fairway is crucial in order to have a manageable angle and length into the green. The design is a great use of the land in this area of the course. Legend has it that people have taken drives straight at this green over the water. It would take one hell of a carry. I shot my range finder across the lake. It would take a 340 yard carry to cross the water from the back tees.
Hole #16 – 146 yards – “Short”This hole rounds out four very strong par 3s at Fishers Island. The large green looks easily accessible, but once the wind starts whipping, the target becomes much smaller on this short hole.
Fishers Island had some great holes, especially the stretch of 3-7 on the front nine. One aspect of the course that immediate struck me as weak however, is the par 5 18th hole, measuring 452 yards from the back tees. The hole would make a good par 4, but is instead a weak par 5. Why not drop it to par 71 and make the last hole a par 4? Apparently, during tournaments, the hole plays as a par 4 from the championship tees – thank goodness.
The entire experience of Fishers Island was something that I will not forget. It is a special place. I am very grateful to my friends for hosting me at Fishers Island Club. I hope to go back to play more golf on the island, perhaps at Hay Harbor’s 9-hole course. My rounds at the Big Club also confirmed my interest in playing more Seth Raynor designed courses – the quest continues!
Thanks for the review and the pics. I suspect the pix, as nice as they are, do not do the place justice.
I can only imagine how challenging that course is in the wind–and I suspect in that location there is wind most of the time.
That is a very good point – the photos don’t fully capture the grandeur or scale of some of the holes / views. It would take a pro photographer and lots of time to truly do the course justice. I never had strong winds during any of my rounds, which is a rarity out there. Hopefully I’ll go back at some point to experience some Scotland-esque winds!
The insight of the private resort is great and the review showcased the beautiful setting and course design. Any idea on membership criteria and cost? With this in mind is the ranking and the exclusive intrigue justified in your opinion?
A side note Graylyn – Your travels offer such variation which is great.
Thank you for the comment, Ru! Membership at Fishers are legacies in many cases, but I’m not sure of any criteria or cost. The course’s exclusive intrigue is certainly justified, especially with the remote island aspect of the course. The Seth Raynor designed course is definitely worthy of the ranking well within the top 100.
It is one of the best settings for golf I have ever experienced. I will never forget sitting on the tee waiting for the group in front to clear and taking in the beautiful clear and crisp views of the sound and the Connecticut shore with the tress in full fall color. The water was so clear that it was easy to watch the Stripped Bass patrolling the shore. The course hits you from both sides from both its design and fantastic location.