[This flyover was updated on January 30, 2013.]
Once you make your way out into the high-60s of the Long Island Expressway -- too far east even for the HOV lane -- you can take your pick of courses to play as you approach the Long Island public golf haven of Manorville. A few turns away from the LIE on some quiet, rural roads will land you at Swan Lake Golf Club to the north, Pine Hills Country Club to the west or Rock Hill Golf Club to the east -- the Manorville Three. Blow past exit 70 and the world of Riverhead golf awaits.
Rock Hill is a lengthy, challenging course that batters players with hilly, uneven terrain teamed up with heavy rough -- a combination for which the inaccurate shooter is ill-suited. There is a bit of subtle deception playing a role in every round. None of the holes at Rock Hill appear all that overwhelming from the tee, making it easy for players to let their guard down as they send a ball toward a buried lie.
Area golfers helped the course achieve some regional recognition in January 2012 when the Long Island Press announced the results of its annual "Best of LI" poll. Rock Hill took second place in the "Best Golf Course" category, behind only Bethpage State Park, then repeated as runner-up in the newspaper's 2013 survey.
In essence, it's a tale of two layouts at Rock Hill. The front nine, which plays on the north side of the clubhouse, is carved into the woodlands surrounding the course. Dense patches of trees line many of the fairways, and most holes play alongside the heavily wooded course perimeter. Walking off the ninth green is like moving on to a different course. The back nine begins on the opposite side of the clubhouse and is wide open in comparison. Not that this makes it any easier, but with the exception of #12 and #18, trees are much lighter of a nuisance.
The end result is a par-71 that measures just over 7,000 yards from the back tees, nearly 6,465 from the middle. Rock Hill opens with a rather standard par-4, followed by a 530-yard par-5 that features a gully full of brush between the tees and the fairway (pictured left). Any poor drive that stays low to the ground is in danger of going in. A sliced tee shot risks a bad sidehill lie on the slope next to the fifth green, and a thick line of trees can make the situation even worse.
The fifth hole, a 360-yard par-4, is Rock Hill's roughest. From the tee it is not very imposing, but the fairway slopes from left to right and requires an uphill shot at a very narrow green. Miss the green right and you fall off a severe slope. A small pond off the right side of the fairway urges you to stay left.
There are two rather non-descript, medium-length par-3s on the front. The fourth and seventh are 160 and 150 yards, respectively, and don't pose too hearty of a challenge. But if your swing with the irons is a bit out of whack, don't expect any run-ups onto the greens -- the thick grass will gobble up your low liners after only a bounce or two.
The elevated tenth tee does its part to keep the energy flowing after a positive front nine or help revitalize a round gone awry. Overlooking the back nine, it is a breath of fresh air that points you toward a long, wide fairway and calls out for a worry-free driver. The 360-yard 11th, the easiest hole on the course and nearly identical to #14, is a sharp left dogleg that turns at a near 90-degree angle. Cutting the dogleg is a bit more dangerous on the 11th, where bunkers, brush and a ravine threaten mishits, but both are short enough to carry the corners with well-struck tee shots.
Two par-5s on the back each throw different obstacles at you in addition to their length. A small pond stands guard on the 535-yard 12th and dissuades all but the heaviest hitters from thinking about going for the green in two without a prime angle from the left side. Most players will lay up safely to the left of the pond, leaving themselves with a short iron to the flag. The 550-yard 15th sports a narrow fairway and a playable first cut of rough that quickly grows to a treacherous tangle of deep grass and waste area on the left.
Rock Hill closes with a blind, uphill 18th tee shot. From the crest of the hill, the fairway slopes down and severely to the left. Hit the ball straight and hope for a favorable lie. Chances are you will be battling an uneven lie, and going left increases the odds of your ball skidding down the slope and into the thick rough and treeline. (Pictured right, the view to the green from the bottom of the slope. Note the fairway above the player's head from this position.)
Rock Hill's greens are fast. After finishing on #6 recently, I replayed my chip shot a couple of times from the same spot above the hole, in the rough about a foot from the fringe. My regulation chip landed soft and safely -- so I thought -- and proceeded to roll off the bottom of the green. I shortened up the length of each practice chip and fared only slightly better. Finally, I tapped the last chip just barely over the fringe -- maybe 18 inches in the air -- and watched the ball roll to about 10 feet past the hole. I no longer felt so badly about my bogey.
None of the greens have any of the big ridges or tiers that other courses feature, but most do slope dramatically in one direction, so it's important to note pin placement and the safest areas of the greens.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
The 18th isn't the only blind tee shot with an up-then-down sloping fairway. The par-4 sixth rises uphill about 200 yards from the tee, leaving you with a view of nothing but a large tower in the distance that serves almost as an extension of the flagstick. Your second shot will be a downhill iron to a green that slopes back to front and is guarded on the left by a medium-sized pond. Try to remember what was written above as you stand over your putt on the sixth green, especially from the back.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Don't make the longest hole on the course, the 15th, any longer than it needs to be if you can help it. The hole is one of the few that enters thick waste grass into the fray, and a bad pull off the tee will leave you either buried or lost in a nasty stretch of shin-high weeds 350+ yards from the hole. Just punching it back toward the fairway is no gimme. Advancing the ball from here in any significant way is a near impossibility.
- Newsday lists Rock Hill in its 2008 ranking of top public courses on Long Island.
- Enjoy the view from the clubhouse bar as you sip a Blue Point after your round. It sits above the putting green and 10th tee on a high point overlooking areas south toward the bay.
105 Clancy Road, Manorville 11949
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