The Sands Point Club was founded under a different name, and was open for just a few years with a nine-hole course before it was bought out from the previous owner. That group — with the majority of decisions being made by future Governor of New York Averell Harriman — aimed to bring the course to 18 holes and a minimum distance of 6,000 yards. They wrote to A.W. Tillinghast in the pursuit, who replied with typical frankness: “Is the property worthy of modern course? Most assuredly. Is the present plan good? No. It is very bad.”
Tillinghast most assuredly managed to find a championship course among the rubble of the existing very bad nine, and the result is the Sands Point Club. Robert Trent Jones extended the course to a more modern length during 1961, but the approach of play remains the same. Although the original polo field disappeared long ago, replaced by the current practice area, the original design elements of Tillie are well-recognizable, thanks to a number of renovation projects over the years from Ron Forse, Keith Foster, and Kevin Hargrave.
Before delving into the merits of Sands Point -- which are quite endearing -- it's important to point out how geography plays a role in keeping Sands Point more in the shadows than the rightful recognition the club deserves.
Consider this -- when one looks at the depth of golf on Long Island (comprising Nassau and Suffolk counties), I can clearly state without equivocation that the area in question has the greatest depth of private clubs in the USA. The only noteworthy public course being added is the famed Black Course at Bethpage State Park.
The sad thing for Sands Point is that being in such a competitive environment means the bright spotlight shines on a number of other courses on the Island. How good is the depth of Long Island golf?
I can easily make an argument that when a top overall 100 USA listing is put together -- Long Island alone could have ten serious candidates for inclusion. That's 10% of the listing! Incredible stuff.
There's also the slew of other courses just below those elite clubs and if the second tier were located in other States they would receive far more attention. That is the case of Sands Point and a number of others located there.
Architectural blood hounds coming to the north shore area will likely gravitate to the likes of nearby Piping Rock and The Creek respectively. No question both are stellar. There's also been the poitive received improvements carried out at Nassau.
Fortunately, the club's leadership at Sands Point opted to reinforce the Tillie connection when hiring architect Keith Foster. Foster has played a role with other metro area layouts -- Apawamis in Westchester is another quality outcome as well as nationally rated gems such as Southern Hills in Oklahoma, Five Farms at Baltimore CC, Philly Cricket Club and Colonial in Texas, to name just a few.
Like so many other clubs a number of earlier decisions had caused the club to lose touch with core Tillinghast elements. Tree growth impeded the legitimate shotmaking challenges and needed to be rectified. Greens had to be enlarged to former footprint glory. Bunkers were either lost or repositioned and tee boxes had been shifted -- all crying out for attention.
My first time at Sands Point came roughly 25 years ago and the course clearly showed promise but the aforementioned items were clogging the design drain from flowing so naturally. That has certainly happened -- most notably on the pulling down of countless trees that were an impediment to both the architecture and overall turf quality.
The property also plays a central role in the architecture. The land has sufficient movement so shaping shots is called upon again and again. Although Sands Point is just under 7,000 yards from the tips -- the need to be in the proper position plays a pivotal role when playing. Working the ball into an optimum angle for the approach is paramount in determining one's success.
The start of the round belies what one will see. The opening par-5 invites a good start as does the short par-3 2nd that follows. Just realize low scores don't happen by osmosis - you have to hit quality shots to pull them off. Matters get more intense when you reach the par-4 3rd and 4th holes. Both are quality two-shot holes -- especially the 4th. The fairway rises and then tilts left to an out-of-bounds area. The hole then goes downhill before ascending to a devilish green that slope harshly to a left-to-right green. Leave with a par and take bow from your playing partners!
The dog-leg par-4 8th is a first-rate hole -- reminiscent of Winged Foot West's 8th hole -- albeit shorter. There's been some tree pruning but a bit more work would add to the character of the hole. You will also find the noted "propeller bunker" that sits a number of yards in front of the green. A stellar hole.
The inward half commences with two under-400-yard holes. On the face of it the 10th and 11th should provide scoring situations but again one has to deal with ideally located fairway bunkers and greens appropriately contoured to keep that from happening.
The challenge intensifies over the next five holes. The par-3 12th suffers no fools and it is followed up by the likes of the superb par-4 13th and then the longish par-5 14th which plays 605 yards. Rounding out this sequence of holes is two fine par-4's with the likes of the 15th and 16th holes.
Sands Point doesn't bludgeon you to death in the manner of the Black at Bethpage or the West at Winged Foot. You are constantly forced to secure the right position to succeed. Power players can avail themselves at certain points in the round with cutting a few of the dog-legs but the execution must be present. Precision is an important attribute and one that has the longer lasting impact when carried out successfully.
The final two holes -- the penultimate par-3 17th and the ending par-5 18th each provide final scoring opportunities but neither does so without some serious effort from the player.
Turf preparation at Sands Point is very good. The contrasts in the different grasses really adds to the golf experience. Having firm and fast fairways is also a plus because of the added premium placed on shotmaking. The only area I would recommend taking action is pulling back a few of the canopies so the strategic elements can really come to life.
One also has to keep in mind all of the golf is happening on roughly 120 acres of land and Tillinghast provided a brilliant routing never formulaic or predictable. Kudos to Foster's efforts in resurrecting a layout with so much to tout and for members to now rightly boast about.
Long Island golf is undoubtedly stacked with an array of superior private clubs. Sands Point rightly belongs in the conversation among the second tier of stacked vintage designs. Those getting the opportunity to play there should take advantage of what the course provides so well.
Trust me -- you won't be disappointed.
M. James Ward
Everything about A.W. Tillinghast working on a Long Island sandy site just feels like Christmas morning. You can’t wait to get out of bed, lace up your golf shoes and see what surprises are waiting for you. The presentation of this course is magnificent, as has been noted in other recent reviews. With a relatively low amount of play, the playing surfaces are sublime, and the renovated architecture is a delight to experience. Raised greens, mostly tilted from back to front are often guarded by deep cavernous bunkers on either side. I especially enjoyed the flow of the course and the enjoyable change of direction as you skirt the boundaries and then move towards the center of the property. It is a pretty flat piece of land with limited changes since the course was developed. The nines were flipped decades ago, and a short par 3 next to where the clubhouse is now located was removed many years ago. Old photographs in the men’s locker room offer a huge amount of education about the course’s evolution. Most notable changes in recent years are the now third iteration (and position) of the par 3 2nd green which is much shorter than its original position, and a relocation of the 3rd tee to allow for improved alignment with the fairway. The flow and transition of the entire course is majestic. Both nines finish at the clubhouse as is typical with a Tillinghast routing, and I continued to enjoy the short par 4s which were a tremendous test of skill. This prestigious club is an enormous treat to play, and the best of American architecture is on full display.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say either A.W. Tillinghast or Pete Dye were the “best” golf course architects, however few have combined oversized personalities with strong design foundations to better effect than this pair, hence why they’re at least my personal favorites. A round earlier in the week, at Bethpage Black, gave a proper reminder at just how “big” Tillie’s personality could be. Sands Point offered a refreshing change of pace and an insight into the mind of a maximalist when faced with conditions not ideal for his mantras.
The Sands Point property is small, especially when compared to the wandering acreage of the aforementioned Black. The plot supports the existing 6,800 yard route but further/farther expansion won’t be possible anytime soon. I frequently think about Donald Ross’s numerous Rhode Island clubs when it comes to fitting a worthwhile “championship” course into a tight parcel...does Tillinghast have such routing talents?
Sands Point suggests that he does, with the architect filling the vast majority of the plot without creating any fear — for this duffer, at least — of ending up on another fairway. My caddie has been employed by the club at two points in his life, and shared how many fewer trees exist now compared to his previous stint. Keith Foster has many celebrated Tillinghast restorations on his résumé and it’s only fair that the same success be acknowledged at Sands Point.
There are just a few points where some trimming could be used. Faders may struggle with the oak off the tee at No. 1, and drawers may have the same issue at No. 8; both are long doglegs and wise members may be keen to employ the incorrect fairway to shorten the hole. Management at Sands is between a rock and a hard place, admittedly. We GCA folks are too clever for their own good, especially on a compact property.
The subtlety at Sands Point is a break from what one expects from the Tillinghast oeuvre, and not in a negative way. Although the visual appeal of “Great Hazards” and the like frequently finds Tillie affiliated with par fives and long fours, there simply wasn’t room for such extravagance here. But if one is unsatisfied with hazards that include A) the mini-”Great” ahead of the green on the aforementioned No. 8, B) the deep trench around the front of the No. 12 par three, and C) the Raynorian “Corner Pocket” at the front right of No. 15 (among others), perhaps you haven’t earned the right to tackle Tillinghast’s biggest hazards yet. The greens also employ less aggressive movement than other putting surfaces from the architect, which is not to dismiss the danger of their subtle breaks.
Although the one-two punch of the par fours at Nos. 3 and 4 may have been my favorite stretch thanks to their differing approaches to flexing muscle, Sands Point is a rare instance where the par threes are the true highlight at a Tillinghast club (as mentioned above, his distinctive longs often steal the show). No. 2 is the only true “Tillie Template,” an example of the short “Tiny Tim” hole. No. 7 is an uphill knock over a valley...No. 12 is the only “short” to break 200 yards (but also has the largest green on the course to provide a landing area), and No. 17 provides a more “table-top” target from 170.
If there is anything keeping Sands Point from matching the other Tillinghast championship entries on Long Island, it may — however unfairly — be memorability alone. Black showcases Tillie’s grandest hazards, and the Rockaway Hunting Club happens to sit on the water...a somewhat unfair advantage when analyzing course architecture. It may take a more nitty-gritty GCA appreciator to grasp what’s on display at Sands Point.
There are many fine clubs on Long Island...it can be tough to remember all of them. But it would also be a colossal shame to forget a specimen as skilled as Sands Point.