The Gull Haven Golf Club bills itself as Islip’s family golf course, a claim based in its wide, flat fairways and friendly atmosphere. Experienced fathers or mothers (and grandfathers or grandmothers) might hesitate to teach the game to their kids at the other Town-operated courses – the 18-hole Brentwood and Holbrook Country Clubs – but Gull Haven’s medium-length nine-hole layout is a great spot for the newbie golfer to learn. Of course, it can go the other way too, with an experienced junior helping a parent or sibling take up and appreciate the game. In either case, Gull Haven’s welcoming characteristics make it an ideal spot for a relaxed round.
Located in Central Islip, Gull Haven is a par-35 with 2,700+ yards of open, hazard-free fairways and surprisingly small greens. Designers deserve an ‘A’ for effort in the creativity department for throwing into the mix a few small gimmicks that help give the course a more lively personality than the typical nine-hole muni. The only players who might be turned off by Gull Haven are those easily freaked out by the "paranormal," as the course weaves around the long-abandoned and creepy remains of the Central Islip Psychiatric Center.
There is an odd contrast between the old and the new at Gull Haven. North of the course – and a lob wedge from the first tee – rests some hollowed-out remnants of the psych center. A dilapidated baseball grandstand, seemingly untouched for decades, and eerily out of place in an area of rapid growth, stands alone and watches over the fourth and fifth fairways. Ghost fans from generations past jeer as you skull an approach shot. To the south, more of the old buildings, resurrected as active members of the New York Tech campus, peer into the course to study your tee shot on #6. Meanwhile, along the course’s eastern boundary, new condominiums brighten the scene. Evidence of the dreary economic times, the pristine condos sit as spookily silent as the abandoned hospital.
As far as the golf course itself, the layout is flat and accommodating to all skill levels. There are two par-3s at Gull Haven, but you won’t see them until the eighth and ninth. The course begins with five par-4s before the lone par-5, the 467-yard sixth.
The opening two holes play opposite from one another – the first hole bends to the left, the second hole fades slightly to the right. The small second green is wedged between two bunkers in the front and a backdrop of tall shrubbery, creating an effect that makes the target on the approach shot seem even slimmer.
After the first two, the rest of the holes are as straight as a flagstick. Par-4s of 336, 284 and 286 yards wait on the other side of Gull Haven Drive, each with small wrinkles that give the holes some character. The small green on #3 is bordered by thin ribbons of sand on each side rather than traditional bunkers. On #4, getting on in two is no magical accomplishment given the short distance, but a birdie attempt can quickly go up in smoke if you find yourself putting from the wrong side of the steep ridge that runs across the center of the green. The fifth hole is nearly identical, but the flat green doesn’t put up the same fight. Instead, three small moguls protect the front of the green. The level of protection they serve isn’t all that high – unless you’re unlucky enough to find yourself awkwardly on top of one – but they are certainly a break from the norm.
The length of #6 sets it apart from the rest, though it plays just as straight as the holes preceding it. Very bad slices can find their way out of bounds on the 467-yard par-5, but in the likelihood that you stay on the course, a green that gently slopes from back to front awaits. The fairway on the 314-yard seventh dead-ends in front of the green, where two bunkers and a sort of grass trench threaten to intercept any run-ups (right). Approach shots here carry a heightened degree of difficulty, as the green is slightly elevated and hidden, subtly sloping away from the shooter.
Back-to-back par-3s complete the round at Gull Haven. The eighth hole is a garden-variety 142-yarder with a flat green, but a solitary tree stands in the far end of the fairway, almost directly between the tee and the pin, acting the part of the green’s bodyguard. (Its birdieguard, perhaps?) It’s not much of a deterrent – like the mini bumps in front of the fifth green, the tree (left) should mess with only the unluckiest of players.
The finishing hole offers a clear shot at the green but ramps up the security level. Several bunkers dot the perimeter of the putting surface, and two raised ridges – imagine a pair of oversized speed bumps – slow down or halt any run-ups toward the green.
The conditions at Gull Haven are exactly what you'd expect from a well-maintained municipal course. Greens are smaller than usual, providing good target practice for strong iron hitters. The area around most of the greens isn't treacherous, so you can give your chipping game a light workout as well.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
Unless you come away from Gull Haven with a story about how your ball went into the tree on #8 and never came out, or if you holed out from the top of one of the speed bumps on #9 (right), none of the holes are very memorable. That's not a bad thing, of course. The second shot on #7 (pictured above) is one of the more challenging shots on the course, in my opinion. The fairway runs very slightly downhill toward a large bunker on the right and a steep grass wall in the center. Rollers up the fairway or irons left too short can find a bad lie very easily. Working too hard to get onto the raised green can send you over to the far side, where some trees enter the fray.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Holes #1 and #2 play opposite one another, and the rough separating the two is dotted with a line of large trees. Drives that overshoot the left turn on #1, or bad slices on #2, can wind up on the wrong fairway. The penalty is a heavily obstructed second shot and a damaged par opportunity.
1 Gullhaven Drive, Central Islip 11722
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