One of Long Island's newest public courses can be found in an area where premier golf is typically found tucked behind the gates of private clubs. Port Washington's Harbor Links sits in stark contrast to its more exclusive neighbors residing nearby, with its rock formations and southwestern-style vistas defying the tradition of renowned clubs like Nassau, Deepdale and Engineers only a few miles away. Built out of what used to be an industrial sand mine, Harbor Links is far and away the most unique setting for a public golf round on Long Island.
The 18-hole championship course at Harbor Links is a challenging layout where golfers must strategize around elevation changes, split fairways, blind shots and speedy greens, all while taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings. The high bluff on the west side of the course gives Harbor Links an enclosed, stadium-type feel. Teeboxes appear to be carved into its side, hovering over adjacent fairways. Sandy rock piles that look to be straight out of the Mojave give the par-3 12th its name -- "Arizona" -- and frame the tee on #13. Water is a primary concern on three holes; on most others, views of the green are obstructed by hidden hazards, mounding or fescue. The correct path to the green is often difficult to determine without course experience.
Harbor Links is a par-72 that plays 6,927 yards from the back tees and 6,490 from the middle. It is a Town of North Hempstead facility built in 1998 and designed by Michael Hurdzan. It was selected by Newsday last year as one of the Island's best public courses. The beauty of this exceptional design comes at a price, however -- visitors from outside the town can expect to pay some of the highest public golf rates on Long Island.
Very few holes at Harbor Links are laid out in wide-open, crystal-clear view from the tee, but the opening par-5 is one of them. It allows for an encouraging start, though its fairway is narrow and rough is thick. Players begin to get a preview of what's in store on #2, a 404-yard dogleg titled "Hidden Instinct," where all approaches from the right side must be made without a look at the green or pin. Drives to the left side are rewarded with an unobstructed look at the elevated green. After a downhill par-3, players battle another blocked view from the tee on the 367-yard fourth, a left dogleg offering a very limited view of the fairway. Inside the turn is a large water hazard.
There are three dual-fairway holes at Harbor Links, two of which play back to back at #5 and #6. The fifth is a 333-yard par-4 with an elevated fairway on the left and a much lower target on the right. If you can land a tee shot on the thin sliver of fairway on the high side, your prize is a clear approach to the green. The lower fairway is easier to reach, but from there the green is protected by 60 yards of thick uphill rough. On the sixth (pictured left), a 493-yard par-5, a drive of close to 200 yards may be required in order to reach either of the two fairways. Out of bounds on the right side of the hole guards the aggressive play. The conservative route tacks yardage onto the hole and makes getting home in two highly improbable. The risk factor is a little lighter on the 13th, a a 473-yard par-5 with a gaping fairway that splits into higher and lower tiers about 100 yards short of the green.
The back nine begins with a difficult 417-yard par-4 named "Deception," where one of Harbor Links' "environmental areas" presses into the right side and hides parts of the fairway and green from view. The 11th is a much shorter par-4 and a breath of fresh air, with a wide fairway that sets up an attacking second shot. An aggressive tee shot can be tempting on the 318-yard dogleg 15th, but the inside of the turn is full of tall rough and fescue. In contrast, the par-5 16th (pictured right), which can play as long as 540 yards, is a test of pure strength and distance. A straight drive that clears a narrowing in the first fairway can potentially set up a shot at the green on a hole strategically named "Never Lay Up." For safe players who choose to ignore the hole's title, a stretch of rough with two traps must be cleared to reach the slim layup area.
Harbor Links' par-3s each bring their own flavor to the layout. The third -- "Serenity" -- is a downhill 159-yarder with a ridge running across the front half of the green. Distance on the 200-yard eighth can be tough to judge with the flag dwarfed by the bluff in the background. A sand trap runs parallel to the target line along the entire left side and can lead to long bunker shots toward the green that must carry the length of the hazard. The "Arizona" 12th, one of the course's more recognizable holes, plays toward desert-style rock formations. And just when you thought you could skip out of Harbor Links on dry land, the 17th combines length, deception and a semi-island green hidden by tall fescue. There is a bailout area short of the putting surface for players who doubt their ability to keep longer clubs straight and out of the lagoon that wraps around the green.
Once that challenge is passed, the longest par-4 on the course brings the round to a close. The 437-yard 18th drifts left, bottlenecks at the ideal driving zone, and is surrounded by heavy rough. Its target is a green that is deep and narrow.
While the bluffs and the sandy remnants of the property's past give Harbor Links its southwestern look, the expanses of fescue and the environmental areas around the course integrate a spirit of natural beauty and wildness. Harbor Links -- a member of Audubon International's Signature Program -- is certainly a pleasure to look at.
Pleasure goes out the window if you have trouble negotiating a fast green. The surfaces here are quick and tough to read. Some of the more challenging pin placements can devastate a shaky putter. The green on #4 is two-tiered, with parts of its higher shelf falling off to the sides. A back left pin here can send putts sliding away in any of three different directions. Breaks on other greens are often much more subtle and deserve a second and third look. As a whole, Harbor Links requires a second and third look just to put all the intricacies to memory.
The rough is thick throughout the layout, the fescue thicker. Bunkers are dotted strategically around fairways, but are not a prime greenside concern. Water is in play on only a couple of holes.
The phrase "Cart Path Only" takes on new meaning at Harbor Links. Many holes cover wide expanses that include mounding, fescue, and sometimes two sets of fairways, so traversing the terrain results in just as much walking as there is riding.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
The majority of the holes at Harbor Links are worthy of in-depth analysis, so picking just a few is a challenge in itself. The 333-yard fifth seems simple enough from the tee -- play aggressively to the reachable higher fairway, or go the safe route to the lower right side. But each path presents a dilemma. The high side offers a small landing area for long irons or hybrids but shrinks to as narrow as 10 yards wide for longer shots. A successful tee shot nets a short iron on the same level as the pin. Meanwhile, the low side presents a more generous landing area, but the approach must clear a 60-yard stretch of thick rough, uphill and uneven. From within the rough, the flag is barely visible (see right). If you are unlucky or inaccurate off the tee and find your way between the two fairways, it's likely your ball will be sucked in by the fescue and either lost or unplayable -- a cruel fate for a straight shot.
Tee shots on the 493-yard sixth must carry, depending on the tees, close to 200 yards to reach either of the two fairways on this par-5. Attack the hole by bombing a drive to the high fairway on the right, but know that shots lost to the right are in danger of flying out of bounds. Send a drive to the farther half of this fairway and the green may be in reach. On the low side, hitting the green in two won't often be a consideration, so the focus is on laying up effectively. Heavy rough separates the fairways from the layup area and covers an uphill slope in front of the green. Ideally, this rough will be avoided, because once you're in it, it takes a supreme effort to get back out and score as intended.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Nothing can be done about blind shots from the tee, but players have a say when it comes to blind shots from the fairways, and it would be wise to focus your energy on limiting them. Concentrate on driving to the left side of #2, because a tall mound with a pair of traps blocks any sight of the green from the right. Activity on the nearby #3 tee, behind and above the second green, can play mind games from there as well. It's best not to go too far right on #10, because the green is obstructed by trees and brush (pictured). On the other side of the narrow fairway is a small berm covered with fescue and thick rough.
1 Fairway Drive, Port Washington 11050
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