A Touch of the Emerald Isle in Dutchess County

By: John Torsiello

There's a large sign in front of the Links at Union Vale in LaGrangeville, N.Y., that greets visitors in Gaelic, "One Hundred Thousand Welcomes." It's a not-so-subtle hint at the kind of golf experienced when you tee it up at this course located about 90 miles north of New York City on rolling farmland near the state's border with Connecticut.

Looking Across the Links at Union Vale

While a lot of courses like to tout the "Scottish" or Irish links feel" of their routings and environment, the Links at Union Vale comes very close to replicating a true European links land experience, without the Irish Sea nearby. The holes are open to the elements, with ample bunkering (some of them of the pot variety), mounding, and fescue that grows tall in warm weather.

How Irish is the Links at Union Vale? Well, Padraig Harrington, he of the three major championships and an Emerald Isle favorite son, paid the club a visit awhile back and gave the members and guests the thrill of a lifetime. You can't get much more Irish than that unless your name is O'Leary and you were led to a pot of gold by a leprechaun. By the way, Harrington shot a 64 from the tips and tied the course record during his visit. It's nice to have that name on a scorecard on your pro shop wall for others to shoot at.

The history of The Links at Union Vale starts with Dutchess County golf in the New York City area. When Irish golfers living there tired of the long waits for tee times they decided to build their own course. About 500 golfers from the Irish Golf Association - and 16 other golf societies in the New York area - formed a corporation, and traveled north to find a place to build "their" course.

Water is a Concern at Links at Union Vale

They looked at several properties before finding 200 acres of a former cattle range that presented the opportunity for the kind of course they wanted - a links with lots of grassland. The golfers purchased the property and hired architect Stephen Kay and his partner, Doug Smith, to make their dream a reality. The Links at Union Vale opened in 2000 as a semiprivate venue and is open to public play.

Though Irish golfers may no longer be the most frequent players (although men by the name of O'Meara, Dunleavy and Costigan, among others, continue to play key roles at the club), they left their legacy at Union Vale. The course is a visually stunning nod to their homeland and provides a challenging yet approachable test for all players.

The 6,839, par-72 Links at Union Vale is certainly no pushover. There are some forced carries and the rough can be extremely penal if you wander too far off the tee. But that's part of the charm of playing here: the course presents obstacles and shot decisions not normally faced at daily-fee courses in the Northeast. Again, the only thing missing is the sea, although several water hazards must be avoided at all cost.

Some of the Course's Links-Style Bunkers

The first hole is a real toughie, a 421-yard par-4 that demands you place the tee shot before a wetlands. The next shot is decidedly uphill and the green is deep and curves to the left. I recorded a bogey and gladly moved on.

The fourth is one of the neatest here and typifies the quirkiness of Scottish and Irish links. It's only 385 yards from the tips but bends sharply leftward at about the 250 mark. The tee shot is somewhat blind to a very small landing area protected by a bevy of traps right and left.

An important note: Many of the holes at the Links at Union Vale have fairway bunkers that really cause headaches and sometimes make it virtually impossible to go for the green with your next swing. I told you this is a classic links-style course. On the fourth, I hit a good drive, found the fairway and had only a 9-iron to the green below me.

Lovely Views are on Tap at Links at Union Vale

The sixth is a great, short par-4 but, once again, has sand almost everywhere you look from the tee. Find the right piece of grass and you're left with a wedge into the putting surface. Find the bunkers and you've got trouble.

The par-3s are all on the medium to long side and very good. Perhaps none is better than the 170-yard 10th, which has long bunkers guarding both sides of a severely undulating green, making long putts from the wrong section dicey, to say the least.

During the round I got caught up in some of the mounding that appears seemingly out of nowhere on some holes, occasionally in the middle of the fairway. If you can find your ball in this fescue, the best you can hope for is to slash it out and carry on.

The 13th is a drivable par-4 that plays just over 300 yards from the tips. But there are several fairway bunkers near the green and two left of the putting surface that are found if your tee shot is pushed or pulled. I figured the wise play was to take a fairway wood and lay it to wedge distance. This conservative tactic was the result of having to chop my way out of one too many bunkers and high grass earlier in the round.

This brings me to advice on how to play the Links at Union Vale, so you don't leave it muttering. Take what the layout gives you and be happy. You aren't going to overpower it and there is just too much danger lurking every hole to merely get up on the tees of the par-4s and par-5s and thoughtlessly hammer away with a driver. The penalties for missing the correct spot from which to approach the greens are just too steep. My advice is to also play a few notches down from the tips, perhaps at the whites, which measure 6,216 yards. You'll still be presented with many challenges while managing tee shots with more accuracy and not be overwhelmed by the beefy par-4s and -5s at the end of the round.

The course has a strong conclusion. The 14th is a par-5 that stretches over 600 yards from the tees Harrington used, and there's a waste area to be cleared on the second. The 15th and 16th are 460- and 451-yard par-4s, respectively, and the 17th is a 428-yard two-shotter that is fairly simple until you get to the green complex, where five deep bunkers imperil the right side.

The Clubhouse at Links at Union Vale

The closer is a doozy, measuring 610 yards from the way-backs, with another waste area to be cleared on the second; huge fairway bunkers guard the tee- and second-shot landing areas. Par here feels like a birdie and is a good way to finish an invigorating, albeit testy, round of golf.

On-site amenities include a pro shop, driving range, chipping/putting greens, practice bunker, and a bar/grill. For more information, visit www.TheLinksatUnionVale.com.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.