[This flyover was updated on November 26, 2011.]
The Spruce Course at the Middle Island Country Club is one of three nine-hole layouts -- all tree-titled -- that make up the 27-hole facility, which is undergoing a gradual renovation that began in the late 2000s under new club management. Luckily for those who have trouble directing their ball down the middle, Spruce keeps its trunks and branches away from the fairways for the most part and is much more forgiving than its heavily wooded sister courses, the Dogwood and the Oak.
The newly renovated par-35 allows players to swing away without fear of punch-out after punch-out, making it perhaps the most fun of the three courses and easily the most playable for golfers of all skill levels. Lightly sloped greens can be attacked from smooth fairways and short rough, though sizable bunkers stand guard on each hole. The recent redesign of the Spruce layout added teeboxes as well as a water hazard that stiffens the challenge on two of its closing holes.
None of the holes on the Spruce course, with the possible exception of the very narrow par-4 sixth, inspire much fear or doubt about club selection as you stand on the tee. There is ample room on nearly all holes for the erratic shooter and pedal-to-the-metal power swinger. However, course designers seemed to take a liking to fairway bunkers; to the best of my recollection, all of Spruce's non-par-3s featured at least one kidney-shaped trap within reach from the tee.
These traps await to the right of the fairways on Spruce's first two holes, par-4s of 449 and 345 yards. Wide landing areas keep these bunkers from becoming too troublesome, but despite the roominess from the tee, balls sprayed too far off course may still find themselves nestled underneath some shot-altering woods.
Hole #3 is a long and snug par-5 -- the only one on the course -- outlined on both sides by rows of trees. To the left, the thick line of evergreens can be a hindrance, but it also serves as protection from an out-of-bounds penalty. A band of trees running up the right rough is a bit more sparse, but if you send your ball through to the wrong side, it will take some luck to have a shot at advancing the ball toward the green.
The par-4 sixth (pictured left) is similar to #3, but it's more of a squeeze off the tee, and this time out-of-bounds borders the right side in the form of the course access road. Send your drive in that direction and a generous kick off the tall trees will be needed to keep your ball in play. There is some room on the left before patches of trees make an appearance, but overall, the hole plays extremely narrow.
Renovations on the Spruce course provided #7 and #8 with new identities as water holes. The seventh green now sits comfortably protected on nearly all sides by a pond, forcing some strategic decision-making off the tee on this mid-range par-4. That same pond pushes its way between your tee shot and the pin on the par-3 eighth. The closing hole plays back toward the clubhouse, where a slightly elevated and very wide green is protected on the left by a large bunker.
Considering renovations on Spruce were just completed this season, it's no surprise at all that the course looks great and seems to hold up well against the elements. Our last round there this year came on a surprisingly frigid November morning, after an overnight chill froze the greens and some of the shaded teeboxes. But, aside from some cartpath-like bounces on the frozen greens, the course still played fair (maybe even overly fair, as I got a fortunate skip out of an iced-over water hazard on the Oak course).
Greens are medium-sized to large, most of them shielded by two to three bunkers that command your attention. You shouldn't need to stand over your putts for too long on Spruce's greens, which are mostly flat or lightly sloped and lack the big breaks and ridges that zap putters' nerves. Getting to the green is made easier by rough that is short and manageable.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
The reborn seventh and eighth holes are most notable if only because they represent such a change of pace from the first six holes. The 405-yard seventh requires a quality drive to a strong position from which to attack the water-guarded green. Anything left short off the tee or too far to the sides may leave you no choice but to lay up. The fairway bends a bit to the left, so staying right will assure a good angle to the green. And beware of the fairway bunkers that sit on both sides just about 200 yards from the tee.
On #8, a 140-yard par-3, water short of the green isn't a terrible nuisance, but getting too cute with your short iron might leave you in a thin sand barrier between the green and the hazard. Any shorter than that and a par opportunity can quickly splash into a double bogey.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
It's merely stating the obvious, but keep shots on the correct side of the trees and not too far underneath them. That's about it. The Spruce course is light on trouble spots but they can still be found, especially on #3 and #6, the narrowest holes of the nine.
Middle Island has GPS screens in its carts for yardage and scorekeeping, always a pretty cool addition to a round. Just don't stray too far from the cartpath between holes unless you like battling stubborn computer software. It offers fairway and greenside mapping, driving distance and yards to the pin. (NOTE: As of November 2011, carts are no longer equipped with GPS units.)
The Dogwood and the Oak courses are much tighter than Spruce, demanding accurate shotmaking and placement in the fairway. Dogwood, which showed some signs of wear when we played earlier this Summer, is scheduled for a renovation of its own in 2009.
275 Yaphank-Middle Island Rd., Middle Island 11953
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