Quality public options abound – the lure of Long Island golf
by M. James Ward
The return for the 5th time of the US Open to iconic Shinnecock Hills will once again throw the spotlight on the qualities of Long Island golf. That focus has often featured an array of stellar courses but far too often the category has only included the elite private clubs. Places such as National Golf Links of America, Friar's Head, Maidstone, Sebonack, The Bridge, Atlantic, The Creek, Piping Rock, among several others. Accessing the White House is more likely a possibility than gaining a round of golf at any during the prime playing months. Nonetheless, the range and depth of private clubs on Long Island is one of the finest collections of golf layouts on the planet.
Beyond the private side there's a public golf component that often gets lost in the shadows.
At the top of the pecking order is Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale. Located in the heart of Long Island the 90-hole mega golf complex provides a various levels of golf courses. The flagship layout is the renowned Black Course. Designed by A.W. Tillinghast not long after The Great Depression. The Black has been the venue for the 2002 and 2009 US Opens and as host to the kick-off event for the FedExCup Playoffs via The Barclays and now Northern Trust events. In 2019 the storied course will be the site for the first PGA Championship played in the month of May and in 2024 the ultimate team competition -- the Ryder Cup Matches will be contested there.
The most impressive aspect of the Black is its grand scale. All golfers must walk the course -- as power carts are verboten. The Black is also blessed with rolling terrain and includes immense bunkers that can swallow golf ball and golfer as quickly as the shark did in "Jaws." While many courses use a small-sized Toro machine to rake bunkers -- at the Black you might find it interesting as well as amusing that a D-8 bulldozer is often used for such purposes! Amazingly, how many courses can one say has a "warning sign" to all golfers to consider before teeing off at the Black?
Those who do play the Black had best be aware of the admonition made famous by Hollywood star Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry movie role -- "A man's got to know his limitations." The Black is relentless. Demanding consistent high performing tee shots. Approaches must be executed flawlessly as many of the putting surfaces are elevated. The best example being the par-4 15th with its green perched high above the fairway.
Tillinghast fashioned a number of holes at the Black in homage to the legendary Pine Valley. The par-5 7th features a mega-sized bunker complex comparable to Hell's Half Acre at Pine Valley's 7th. The downhill par-3 8th at the Black is also reminiscent of the par-3 15th at the New Jersey course.
There's more to the facility than just the Black. The companion Red Course is well worth playing and less intense than Black. The opening hole and closing stretch are especially well done. The others in order of preference to play include the Blue, Green and Yellow courses. Be mindful the Black Course has a different availability than the other courses at the park and can be closed for various reasons. Best to check with the club direct before making any long-range commitments in your travel plans.
Other public course options nearest to Bethpage – be sure to check out Oyster Bay in Woodbury. The former 121-acre estate was turned into a public facility and layout is the handiwork of the acclaimed architect Tom Fazio. The concluding quartet of holes is among the Island's best closing stretch.
At the far end of Long Island is another worthwhile layout to schedule. Montauk Downs State Park, originally developed in 1927 has an 18-hole layout from Robert Trent Jones, Sr. in 1968 and later updated by his son Rees. The course does not provide views of the Atlantic Ocean but is significantly impacted by the breezes sweeping through the grounds.
Course conditions have measurably improved over the years and the State of New York has seen fit to make other added improvements. The journey to get there is a long one but well worth considering if one can opt to stay overnight or a few days.
Sunken Meadow is located in Kings Park near to the Long Island Sound. The Red and Blue nines provide a quality experience.
Three of the more prominent privately owned but daily fee operated layouts include the 27-hole facility at Spring Lake in Middle Island. The Thunderbird 18 is quite good and turf conditions usually are well prepared. The 9-hole nine design (called Sandpiper) is well worth including when visiting.
Just over 40 miles west of Shinnecock Hills along the south shore of Long Island is a layout with a fine golf pedigree -- Timber Point. The 27-hole layout has an illustrious history. When the course first opened it was touted as being one of the marvels of golf on the Island. One of four courses owned and operated by Suffolk County, be sure to play the Blue and Red Nines when going. One of the real gems is the par-3 5th on the Blue Course. The Gibraltar hole is a stout challenge when facing the always shifting wind pattern. When the weather cooperates and the sun is glistening off the water the views of the Atlantic are intoxicating.
Located in East Meadow is the 54-hole complex at Eisenhower Park named after the 34th President of the United States. The golf is highlighted by the Red Course, which has hosted a PGA TOUR Champions event. Designed by Devereux Emmett in 1914 -- the man responsible for Long Island's fabled Garden City Golf Club -- the par-71 7,107 layout requires dexterity off the tee as many of the holes are artfully framed with trees.
There are also several quality privately owned but daily fee operated courses. Middle Island Country Club is smack dab in the center of Long Island and provides 27-holes that are appropriately challenging without being overly so. For those nearest to Shinnecock Hills you can access a quality offering at Swan Lake Golf Club in Manorville.
Above images courtesy of Long Island State Parks
Things to see and do
Cowfish Restaurant, Hampton Bays: Cowfish serves up culinary delights of the land and sea. The flavorful menu features fresh ingredients. Cowfish often hosts special events from paint nights to live music evenings highlighting local artists.
Montauk Lighthouse: The oldest lighthouse built in New York State and the fourth oldest lighthouse in the United States, the Montauk Point Lighthouse was authorized under President George Washington in 1792. Climb the top for 360° views extending out from Block Island and the Atlantic Ocean. The light flashes every 5 seconds and can be seen from a distance of 19 nautical miles.
Splish Splash Waterpark: Experience 96-acres of fun. Choose between a serene ride through the lazy river or an extreme adventure with cliff dive and alien invasion. The rides, slides, wave pools, shows and kiddie rides offer favorites for the entire family.
Parrish Art Museum: The Parrish Art Museum celebrates the artistic legacy of Long Island’s East End, one of America’s most vital creative centers. Since the mid-1950s the Museum has grown from a small village art gallery into an important art museum with a collection of more than 3,000 works with 100 on view in the Permanent Collection exhibitions and more in special collections. Exhibits feature contemporary painters and sculptors such as John Chamberlain, Chuck Close, Eric Fischl, April Gornik, Elizabeth Peyton, as well as such masters as Dan Flavin, Roy Lichtenstein, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, and Willem de Kooning. The Parrish organizes and presents changing exhibitions and offers a dynamic schedule of creative and engaging public programs including lectures, films, performances, concerts, and studio classes for all ages.
Bedell Cellars is a pioneering, family-owned winery on the North Fork of Long Island Wine Country. For more than 35 years, Bedell Cellars has been committed to hand-crafting wines in small batches using methods that come to define the style of wine found in the East End: honest wine that is reflective of place. Artistically blending grapes grown in Long Island’s maritime terroir produce wines that have received critical acclaim, like being served at the 2013 U.S. Presidential Inauguration Luncheon.Sparkling Pointe encompasses 40 acres of vineyards planted only with the classic Champagne grape varietals—Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Using strictly the traditional Méthode Champenoise process, Sparkling Pointe is the only winery on the North Fork to produce exclusively sparkling wines. The Sparkling Pointe tasting experience is a showcase of prestige, artistry, and finesse combined with festiveness and just the right amount of savoir-faire. Earning coveted 90+ point scores from Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, Sparkling Pointe wines are consistently acknowledged as some of the best in the region.