The Montauk Downs State Park course lies at the tip of Long Island, 120 miles to the east of downtown New York city. Golf was played here for at least forty years before Robert Trent Jones Sr. and his son Rees redesigned the layout in 1968.
Rees Jones returned to Montauk Downs in 2008 with Bryce Swanson to restore bunkers and tees on the par three holes.
Getting to Montauk Downs is not for the faint of heart. It is just about as far east as one can go on the south fork of Long Island. The first thing you will notice is the wind. If it is less than relentless, consider yourself blessed. The starter told me that Montauk originally meant very windy place. Carl Fisher an American entrepreneur who was part of the original development of The Brickyard in Indianapolis and ultimately created Miami was the catalyst behind Montauk Downs. He wanted to create a Miami of the north, winter in MIami and summer in Montauk was his slogan. Unfortunately, a few years after the initial investment and development the Great Depression ravaged the global economy and the vison died, short term.
If you are going to score you need to get off to a good start. The first hole is a welcoming par four. Favor the right side off the tee as the hole contours left. The 2nd hole is the shortest par three and can be anything from a flip wedge to a long iron depending upon the wind. The next two holes are long par fours and can play as unreachable or a mid-iron depending upon the wind. The fifth is the first par five and if the wind is helping, definitely reachable. Pretty straight forward, favor left of center of the tee and if you are into the wind play for the desired yardage. This should not be the number 5 handicap hole. The 6th bends a little left and is a good birdie oppty. Favor right of center of the tee. The green is elevated and well protected. The 7th is my favorite hole and I did not even birdie it. The longest par five has a surprise waiting for you after the tee shot. As you clear the slight crest the water hazard left catches your attention. Unless you are downwind, play it as a three shotter as the two-tiered green is tucked right behind the water hazard. The 8th is a mid-length par three with a large green. The 9th is the longest par four on the front, the approach is uphill and is the number one handicap hole. When I played I hit a good drive a good five wood and a good 8 iron to reach the green in three.
The back starts with a short par five that leans right and is definitely reachable. Favor left of center off the tee and remember to account for the elevated green. The 11th is the shortest par four and potentially reachable, regardless it is a fun hole. If you are going for it take dead aim, however there are fairway bunkers right as well as front on this elevated green. Many consider the long valley 12th par three the signature hole. It is a good hole, but I double bogeyed it. Conversely, I loved the 13th. Another short par five that leans right, but there is a water hazard in front of the green. I would only suggest going for it downwind. I played conservative, surprisingly knocked it close and finished with my birdie dance. The 14th is a non-memorable long par three. The 15th is a beast. I was lucky to get on in three on this 489 yard par four. The 16th is a short downhill par four. Be cognizant of the wind, as there is a water hazard about 80 yards out from the green. The 17th is a straightaway par four, a yawner. The 18th is a good finishing hole. Over 450 yards with fairway bunker left and a green that is well protected. Pars are earned on the 18th.
A good course that I recommend playing.
I have been playing the course, on and off, for over 40 years. Getting to the facility is no easy task as you must traverse the length of Long Island and the stretch commencing from Shinnecock Canal to the area can be a long crawl -- especially during summer months.
The course was updated by Rees Jones and he was able to add a bit more strategic calculation into the mix following his Dad's effort.
The land is rolling but sadly is not kept in the firmest of conditioning which would be a real plus. You also have greens that are often full of grass but necessitate a shoulder turn from six feet and closer.
I am a fan of the long par-3 12th -- always plays into the summer prevailing wind and it's not a stretch to say for many golfers it's a full bore driver to reach the putting surface.
The ending stretch is a series of four par-4's to conclude the round and they are all quality holes.
Montauk Downs would gain immeasurably with more details for the greens and adjacent area. Too many of the greens are just vanilla and a bit of contouring and grass cuts off the side areas would promote more of a thinking dimension to what exists now.
For those who believe Montauk Downs is right behind the likes of Bethpage Black I strongly urge you to put down the Kool-Aid glass you're drinking. Montauk Downs has been improved over the years but those improvements have been in areas not tied to upgrades on what the design can be. It would be very interesting to see how matters would go if the State ever opted to bring in an architect more attuned to the classical elements. No doubt those who play the course don't have any real quality option when you venture out to the lower fork of Long Island.
Montauk Downs is good -- it could and should be even better.
M. James Ward