Out of reach for many of the region's golfers, the twin forks of Long Island are generally associated more with wineries, vegetable stands and Hamptons extravagance than they are with public golf. On the South Fork, Montauk Downs attracts vacationers and golfers with a place to crash. Up north, the road from Riverhead through wine country is free of any public 18-hole destination until it reaches the very aptly named Island's End Golf & Country Club in Greenport.
Golfers who make the trek out to the northeastern limits of Long Island will be treated to an enjoyable round on a flat and forgiving course that features some of the area's most expertly manicured greens. The view from the 16th tee, atop a bluff overlooking the Long Island Sound, is a reward in itself. Golfing Magazine named the hole to its Long Island Dream Golf Club last winter. The course is a par-72 of 6,655 yards from the back tees and just over 6,300 from the middle. Golf Digest gave Island's End a four-star rating in its 2008-09 Best Places To Play listing. It is playable for all skill levels, and though it might not be a tremendous challenge for lower handicaps, the rural and tranquil setting makes it a pleasant destination in one of Long Island's most beautiful areas.
Island's End begins with a pair of mid-length par-4s that play back and forth next to one another. A draw over the left-side fairway bunker is the play on the 351-yard opener. The 335-yard second fades to the right and culminates with a very narrow green wedged between two large traps. A mammoth bunker stands guard in front of the green on the 147-yard third and threatens to intercept shots by careful players trying to stay below the hole on this uphill surface. It is the first and shortest of three par-3s on the front nine -- the 180-yard fifth and 186-yard seventh are both protected by an abundance of sand, and each plays more than 200 yards from the back tees.
Execution off the tee is vital on #6, a hard dogleg right that offers no relief to those who fail to strike a solid tee shot to the fairway beyond the turn. Bunkers at the near and far ends of the turn and two more steep ones shielding the green make this par-4 one of the toughest holes on the course. A well-executed approach shot is the key on the 540-yard eighth, where a ridge splits the green into two tiers. Keep tee shots to the left side of the fairway on the 358-yard ninth to ensure a prime angle into the green and a satisfying end to the front nine. Losing the ball inside the soft turn on this fading par-4 will likely leave no shot at the flag.
There are three par-5s on the back nine. The straight 503-yard 12th provides no room to miss down the heavily wooded right side. Aggressive shots into the green from the left side will go toe to toe with a pair of large traps. Players that can bust a drive over the corner of the 479-yard 14th leave themselves an opportunity to attack the relatively open green on their second shot. The 517-yard 17th also calls for a powerful draw over the soft left turn, but thanks to a trio of greenside bunkers, the flag here is much safer from bold approaches.
The back nine gradually makes its way toward the Sound and finally reaches it upon completion of the 284-yard 15th, the course's shortest par-4 (right). Its green has a tight and deceptive entrance in between two bunkers and some thick rough. A false front can reject short pitches and even some putts, and send them back down toward the apron. The signature 16th begins with a few moments to soak in the surroundings. When that's complete, it's time to refocus on a tough, wind-blown par-3. At 185 yards -- 210 from the back tees -- the 16th isn't just eye candy, especially for players shaky with their longer irons. A cluster of bunkers separates the green from the Sound and encourages players to aim for the roomier left side.
An Island's End member (the course is semi-private) said recently that the greens are in the best condition he has seen in years. Players will get a smooth roll at a medium speed on surfaces that for the most part are generously sized and easy to find. Nearly all pins are defended by several sand traps. The same can be said for almost all fairways as well.
The course is flat and, except for the Sound, free of water hazards. Fairways and bunkers are in excellent shape. Obviously, on a course situated on a sliver of land between the Sound and Gardiners Bay, wind plays a starring role. When blowing toward the Sound, wind gusts can send balls toward danger on the 16th and tack significant yardage onto the clubhouse-bound par-5 17th and long par-4 18th. When the wind blows in the opposite direction, one frequent patron said it's often necessary to aim tee shots on #16 out over the water and let the gusts send them back toward dry land.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
The 16th is memorable for the distant horizon, but the challenge shouldn't be overlooked. As you make your way up from the 15th green, the Sound suddenly comes into view beyond a white wooden fence. The bluffs and rocky coastline below appear as though they've been transplanted from California or Hawaii. The green sits slightly below the tee, 185 yards from the whites and 210 from the blues. Yardage can fluctuate greatly with pin placement on this deep green. On the left side there is little that should cause any concern, and with the green's right-to-left tilt, it's best to approach the pin from this direction. A half-dozen bunkers dug into the mounding off the green's right side set up tricky sand shots. It will be very difficult to save par from inside any of these traps. Further right is the Island's most gigantic water hazard.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
There is trouble everywhere on the par-4 sixth, a dogleg that turns right at a 90-degree angle. Traps wait inside and at the far end of the turn, and the rough on all sides is lined by trees. This leaves a small area in the fairway from which an aggressive attack on the flag is possible. Bunkers guard the entrance to the putting surface, meaning #6 requires two excellent shots in order to set up a favorable par opportunity.
As for #16, a sign on the wooden fence near the tee (left) says it all.
Shelter Island Country Club (4 miles)
Cedars Golf Club (11 miles)
Route 25, Greenport 11944
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