Family owned and operated, the Thunderbird course at the 27-hole Spring Lake Golf Club facility is a mid-1960s Charles Martin design that lies within a compact 180-acre property just outside Middle Island.
Charles K. Martin, who died during 2016 at age 94, has often been forgotten for his work in building and designing golf courses on Long Island. According to a 2010 Newsday article, Martin is the “forgotten man of Long Island golf design and construction” and yet his mark can still be found on a number of Long Island’s courses, most notably here at Spring Lake Golf Club.
Although the course will not be in running to replace Bethpage or its signature golf courses as the premiere public golf destination on the island, the Thunderbird's 7,000-plus yard measure will provide plenty of test for the average player.
Approximately 25 years ago a group of my friends opted to head out from Jersey to play Bethpage Black but unbeknownst to us the course was closed for maintenance and our desire to play the Red was derailed because of a tournament being played on it that day. Inside the clubhouse area we huddled together and then asked a few of the people working at the course if they had any recommendations on the public side we could play. Two of the people strongly suggested Spring Lake -- as they both lived near to the course.
Getting to the course was not exactly a short ride -- roughly 45 minutes further east.
When we pulled into the lot the place was clearly busy. Fortunately, the people we met at Bethpage gave us the name of course personnel so we set up tee times prior to our arrival.
The facility has 27 holes -- the main 18-hole course is called Thunderbird and the adjoining 9-hole layout is called Sandpiper.
The opening hole plays 456 yards and dog-legs right. In a number of ways, it is similar to the opened at Bethpage Black minus the drop-off encountered at the Farmingdale layout. The 1st requires players to be ready right from the get-go.
The progression of the holes that follows is quite entertaining and appropriately challenging. The long par-3 3rd requires a well-played approach to a contoured green. The long par-5 5th requires placement as the green is tucked around an array of protecting trees.
The ending trio of holes closes out the outward nine is fine fashion -- two testing par-4s followed by a birdie opportunity at the par-5 9th.
The inward half continues the momentum -- holes moving in different directions and sufficiently differentiated to sustain one's interest.
The ending five holes carry the day because while scoring opportunities are available you must be in the correct position off the tee to score. The long par-4 14tth is complimented by the equally long par-4 17th. The closing hole ends the day near to the clubhouse and is a par-5 that will yield birdies but never gives them away.
The Thunderbird 18 does have a number of interesting greens, however, a few are fairly vanilla and could be a bit more complex. A general updating of the course by a qualified architect could certainly raise the profile and standing of the course. One of the issues needing attention is overhanging trees in certain areas. A prudent plan that pulls back the encroachment of the canopies would be a real plus.
Long Island is clearly the home of some of the best private golf in all the world. The public side is nowhere near that level but there are clear alternatives for those looking to do so. The Thunderbird 18 flies under the radar for many because of the huge shadow that nearby Bethpage causes. There's plenty of quality golf holes and shotmaking challenges to keep one fully engaged. I am happy to know when my original plans to play the Black were cancelled, I had the good fortune in being directed to try out Spring Lake.
You should too.
M. James Ward