The Sandpiper course at the Spring Lake Golf Club in Middle Island is the facility's nine-hole track, a mildly challenging layout that begins and ends with two par-5s and sticks a bunch of doglegged par-4s in between. At 3,250 yards from the championship tees, and a touch over 3,000 from the whites, Sandpiper is a bit shorter than the nines that make up the 18-hole Thunderbird course, but it shares many traits with its bigger, longer neighbor.
The greens, though not as tremendous, are just as challenging as Thunderbird's. Many of the holes offer the same secluded yet open feel, where trees form a perimeter around nearly every fairway and green yet rarely encroach too closely for comfort. Sandpiper though gets a big check-plus in one area in comparison to Thunderbird -- it has by far the most fun and interesting hole at Spring Lake.
The opening hole on the Sandpiper course is a bit of an anomaly. Most of the holes at Spring Lake are rather straightforward -- lush, manicured fairways, lots of trees, strategically placed bunkers, and huge, undulating greens. Only two or three have water influencing play at all. The bottom line -- not too many frills.
Yet, when you make your way to the first at Sandpiper, you're met by a teebox that points you out to a large pond. Look out over the water and you'll find that your second shot directs you toward a second pond. For a no-frills course, Spring Lake touches your nerves with Sandpiper #1, a double-carry par-5 with a third pond off the green to the right and back.
From there, Sandpiper turns you back toward dry land, with the ponds only coming back to greet you once at #5. The second hole is the first of several right doglegs with a large bunker (or bunkers) guarding the turn. This one plays a little more uphill on the approach than the others and features a deeper green.
Longest and most unique of all the par-4s is #4. Measuring 458 yards from the whites, the hole makes a sharp left turn at the 200-yard marker and plays downhill the rest of the way. There is a slight dip in front of the green that keeps some run-up shots from making it to the massive putting surface, and a big bowl-shaped waste area right of the green will leave you with an uphill pitch to a fast, wavy green.
The par-4 5th presents water down the left side of the fairway, and a right rough that slopes uphill. If you overcompensate for the water left, you may find yourself with a second shot where the ball is well above your feet. Holes 7 through 9 all turn right to varying degrees. #7 can sometimes play short enough for some to try driving the green, but be warned -- even though heavy hitters can carry the trees along the right side, the two huge bunkers guarding the near-side of the green are a step ahead of you. It will take a great drive to find and hold the green. The right fairway on #8 is shielded by two large bunkers, as is the par-5 ninth, where three traps lay in wait. All can be kept out of play with strong shots off the tee, however.
Sandpiper has two par-3s, neither of which are noteworthy. #3 is as long (190 yards) as #6 is short (102). They are the two easiest holes on the course.
I have vivid images in my head of nothing but the color green when I think of Spring Lake. That can be said about most golf courses, but at Spring Lake, there is very little that disturbs or breaks up the green that surrounds you. With the exception of a badly flooded and gouged bunker on #1 (it looked as though it was under repair), Sandpiper lives up to this pristine imagery.
Greens are not quite as enormous as they are on Thunderbird, but they are speedy, and breaks are difficult to read and often jump up out of nowhere. Three-putts can blindside you if you aren't careful.
Make sure to double-check yardage off the tee, because teeboxes on most holes are long, some stretching as deep as 50 yards or more. Yardage can differ from the scorecard on some holes by 30-40 yards. The par-3 sixth measures 102 yards in the book but plays as short as 85 yards at times. The last time I played, the middle tees on several holes played to the same length as the marked ladies' distances.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
Sandpiper #1 is the hole to remember for the entire 27-hole facility, not just Sandpiper, and if you don't agree, take it up with the yardage book, which labels it Spring Lake's "Signature Hole." The double-carry par-5 is not hard to score on, but for an opening hole it can be a little daunting. It's still fun though -- the green is reachable in two, and if you pull it off, starting your day by conquering two water carries and lining up an eagle putt should set the tone for a great round.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Don't go long on #4, which is difficult in the first place considering the green is nearly 50 yards deep. If you somehow manage to overshoot, the drop-off behind the green will leave you with an uphill, blind pitch to a pin defended by a lightning-fast putting surface and undulations that can slide your ball right off the green.
The right rough on #5 is the better alternative to the pond on the left, but it's not without its own issues. Medium-length rough slopes up from the fairway and can capture your ball so that your second shot is well above your feet. This is hardly an ideal position to be in when trying to par or birdie a very short, straight par-4.
30 E. Bartlett Road, Middle Island 11953
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