[This flyover was updated on August 10, 2012.]
I spent the majority of my early rounds as a beginner hacking around North Woodmere and Bay Park. It was a peaceful time in a world where golf was a simple game built on consecutive par-3s and an occasional 300-yard par-4. When either course was closed or the wait was too long, we'd give Merrick a spin.
Though it's only a few miles east, Merrick demanded much longer drives (ha!) from someone who still didn't know much else besides grip it and rip it. Similar in some aspects (wind, pace, etc.) to those courses, Merrick always represented a step up in the early days because of its length. While that length is barely an afterthought now, nothing at a beginner's par-30 adequately prepared an inexperienced golfer for an opening par-5 just short of 500 yards, with Merrick Cove jutting into its left flank.
Merrick Road Park is a nine-hole course run by the Town of Hempstead. It is a par-36 that measures just over 3,100 yards, offering a pair of par-5s and two 400-yard par-4s. The course is situated next to Merrick Cove and faces across the bay to Jones Beach. Its open layout makes it a good place for beginners to take their first swipes on some legitimate golf holes, but Merrick also gives experienced golfers a good test of skills.
Merrick’s first two holes are the most interesting. You can make the case that if they were located on an 18-hole non-muni with a more glamorous name than Merrick Road Park, #1 and #2 would receive a little more notoriety. The opening par-5 is a cape-style hole with the cove running down the entire left side. It doesn't require a water carry but you'll have to at least aim near the water's edge to find the fairway beyond a small bunker inside the turn.
The second hole is a 147-yard par-3 and a smaller, more raggedly dressed cousin of the famous "Gibraltar" hole along the bay at Timber Point. It faces out over the bay and provides an unobstructed view of the Jones Beach tower and amphitheater. The green is elevated and tee shots almost always play into the wind. Rough around the green slopes down toward the water, so anything missed left or long will have to be played back up to the putting surface.
Holes 3 through 7 mix medium-length to long par-4s and a 487-yard par-5. All play somewhat similarly with only slight variation between them (besides length). Mounding hampers your approach to the third green, and fairway bunkering is most prominent on the fourth. Big hitters can let drives fly over a large bunker and try to cut the corner on the 487-yard par-5 sixth, which bends softly to the left. Wind is typically at your back, making it an exciting driving hole. The eighth is a short and toothless par-3, and the round comes to an end on a 400-yard par-4 that fades a bit to an open right side.
Like all of the parks and courses along the South Shore, wind is a factor, especially on the first two holes. Rough is generally thin, so with its open layout and wide fairways, the course overall is rather forgiving. Most holes are protected by at least one sizable greenside bunker.
Several teeboxes are bordered by manicured shrubbery, adding a nice visual appeal to those holes. Unfortunately some of the areas you will be aiming at are prone to standing water and muddiness. The area short of #7 green sticks out in mind, but other spots are chronically moist, and this softness seems to lead to other problems, like tire tracks dug into parts of the playing surface. In addition, even at the height of hot, rain-free summers, Merrick's greens remain incredibly soft, leading to inch-deep plug marks, too many of which are left unrepaired.
The greens themselves are large, and almost all of them contain ridges or slopes. Long, slow putts with double breaks from across the green are not uncommon. The first green has a severe left-to-right slope, and #2 is tilted from back to front. An elevated spine on #5 rolls balls quickly to the left side. There is little break on the par-5 sixth, but even this surface demands a hard stroke from the front of the green up the slope.
Sometime in 2010, Merrick lost a couple of its most well-known trees. The giant that used to stand on an island inside the fairway bunker on #4 is now a part of history. (Update: The tree on #4 is still kicking in the midst of a slow recovery.) So is the large willow tree a few steps from the water on #2 that used to help frame the view of the bayside par-3 (visible in the first photo above).
It's hard to get a smooth roll on Merrick's greens, which could complicate such potentially long putts. It's also difficult to avoid footprints and ball marks in the greenside bunkers since it seems players have little interest in raking them.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
Maybe it's because of my early struggles here, but hole #1, bending to the left around the inlet, always seems to play a lot harder for me than it really is. In actuality, it is a medium-length par-5 with a wide fairway and some trees on the right. If you're on the fairway, or your lie in the right rough isn't blocked by a tree or branch, there's nothing to cause you any worry between your ball and the stick. So why is it that I always seem to find myself hacking out of the sloped rough along the cove, or worse? I suppose #1 at Merrick simply worked its way into my head from the very start. There's no reason to be stuck down near the water, where the ball will sit above your feet in the rough, as you convince yourself not to simply get the ball back onto the fairway on just your second shot of the day. When you make it to the green, it welcomes you with a tricky left-to-right break.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Anywhere near the water on #1 is inexcusable, and hitting toward it on #2 will likely leave you with an uphill pitch off hard dirt. And a bad pull off the tee on #9 will leave you duking it out with a patch of trees and the netting of the driving range.
- The course is closed on Wednesdays, and the driving range is irons only.
2550 Clubhouse Road, Merrick 11566
[This flyover was updated on August 10, 2012.]
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