[This flyover was updated on June 28, 2010.]
[NOTE: Hamlet Wind Watch G&CC and Hamlet Willow Creek G&CC were sold by the Holiday Organization to ClubCorp in June 2011 and are now known as Wind Watch G&CC and Willow Creek G&CC.]
[ANOTHER NOTE: Wind Watch renumbered 14 of its 18 holes during the 2012 season, essentially flipping the front and back nines. The following write-up reflects the original routing and will be updated soon. For info about the change, click here.]
Wind Watch Golf & Country Club has the look and feel of a course that Long Island golfers travel elsewhere to play, rather than one they can visit right in their own backyard. It is among the most visually impressive courses in the area, a carefully crafted gem set atop one of the Island's highest points. Take away its elevation, and Wind Watch can stand in perfectly for a course in a Myrtle Beach brochure. Ironically, its affiliation with the on-site Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge makes Wind Watch an ideal golf destination for out-of-towners taking a trip of their own to the Island.
The quality of the golf matches its natural beauty. With intimidating water hazards on 12 holes, there is a risk-reward element on nearly every shot. Massive bunkers threaten shots around the entire course, clogging the preferred route to the green in some spots and remaining passively in the background in others. Other natural elements are on hand to make a round at Wind Watch a challenging test of golf skill. The 6,650-yard par-72 was originally designed in 1990 by Joe Lee and overhauled in 1996 by renowned architect Stephen Kay.
Wind Watch begins and ends at its highest point. From the first tee, the opening par-5 drops down from the summit while golfers catch a view of the Island to the north from far above the distant treetops. The final approach in the day's round scales the hill toward the course's toughest green. In between, Wind Watch is routed over mostly level ground featuring close to 80 sizable sand traps and a network of spacious water hazards.
The downhill opener -- converted in May 2010 from a par-4 to a 490-yard par-5 -- stays dry as it descends from the clubhouse, but water makes up for its absence on #2 and #3. The 306-yard second curls right around two ponds, and its wide green puts the pin inside a narrow target between water and a trio of backside traps. These same hazards play a role on the 150-yard third, where water endangers shots to the right and three more massive bunkers gobble up anything long or left. Water up the right side is less intrusive on the par-3 fifth, but the hole's long yardage (up to 222 yards from the middle tees) can make the threat more real.
Wind Watch throws everything in its arsenal at players on the par-5 sixth. Water surrounds the tee and runs up inside the right rough. Trees tightly line the fairway on both sides and a half-dozen large traps fortify the route to the green. On top of all that, at 545 yards, #6 is the longest hole on the course. It's followed by a 329-yard par-4 where an aggressive drive must clear two bunkers and hit a fairway flanked on both sides by ponds. The shorter and more conservative the tee shot, the slimmer the landing area is between hazards. An ultra-tight par-4 surrounded by the property's residential community ends the front nine as Hyatt guests watch from above.
The back nine at Wind Watch is 500 yards longer than the front and a whole lot drier, as tough water holes are outnumbered by tree-hugged two- and three-shotters. After the downhill 348-yard tenth, players are greeted by nearly a dozen traps on the par-5 11th. Three bunkers squeeze the driving zone -- stay short of them and two more traps await in the lay-up area; blow safely past them and the lengthy approach will contend with sand in every direction. For those who don't like the sand, there's nowhere to hide on #11.
Looking only at the scorecard, it would seem that the 478-yard 14th is a prime spot for big hitters to go wild in the hopes of getting home on a par-5 in two. But #14 features one of the diciest approaches on the course, whether it's a second shot from 200 yards or a third-shot pitch. Its wide and shallow green is fronted by two stacked bunkers and a corner of a pond. A rear bunker collects shots that go long, and worse, a drop off the back and right sides of the green directs shots toward another hazard. The ponds of Wind Watch make their last significant appearance on #15, a 179-yard par-3 that demands a near-full water carry and a clearing of two hefty traps.
Wind Watch goes out with its foot still on the gas. The 424-yard 16th is the tightest hole on the course and its longest par-4. Only a touch shorter, #17 also sports a narrow fairway, plus a diagonal green wedged between two irregular bunkers. The 18th is a bit of an anomaly at Wind Watch, an uphill dogleg with a 90-degree left turn and the most severe green on the course.
The greens at Wind Watch roll at a moderate speed with very subtle slope. They offer large enough targets so that holding the greens shouldn't be an issue, however, there are mounds and dropoffs behind most surfaces. Overclubbing here generally yields poor results. As already noted, there are close to 80 bunkers on the course, some more penal than others, but all oddly shaped. The potential for awkward lies and long fairway blasts is great, though skilled sand players can live with a few misses into the fluffy greenside traps.
Yardage can fluctuate greatly from hole to hole thanks to Wind Watch's long teeboxes. GPS units had been available in all carts to clear up any confusion, but according to course staff, the service was discontinued in 2010 after the satellite provider went out of business. Sprinkler heads and yard markers are easy to find in all fairways, however.
The fairways at Wind Watch have the potential to be among the finest on Long Island, and from the tee, the rich green targets give each hole an expertly manicured look. Unfortunately, many of them have been sabotaged by the complete disregard of common courtesy by course patrons. Lush fairways are often buried underneath the carved remains of what used to be healthy squares of turf. The carnage left behind on some of these fairways is frustrating and sad to see (the photo to the right fails to capture the condition adequately, but at least gives an impression). Chunks that could double as doormats -- divots so big they could have divots of their own -- sliced out of the ground and left to rot (or for someone else to fix) by their creator. I don't ever recall seeing more unrepaired divots on any course that wasn't a beginner muni.
Players of Wind Watch, it takes three seconds to fix a divot, an act significantly less laborious and taxing on the body than a golf swing. Maybe I've just happened to play there on bad days for divots, but nobody is paying a greens fee to hit balls out of, or repair, the craters you leave behind.
(NOTE: Fairways were largely divot-free during our last visit.)
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
Water has a looming presence on all four of Wind Watch's par-3s, but only #8 has a distinct strategic element of risk versus reward. It is a 169-yard reverse redan with a water carry, its diagonal green angled away from the tee from near left to far right. A front bunker protects the line from the center of the green to the right, and two deep traps provide support for the near half. A pin tucked into the right side (see photo) enjoys multiple layers of defense from the front bunker, the hazard and a target that shrinks as the shot attempt gets bolder. Meanwhile, choosing to play to the safe side is almost a concession of bogey -- two-putting for par from across a wide green that slopes uphill and back down with speed would be a wonderful accomplishment. The hole takes on a much different persona with a pin on the safer left side, but it is a fun challenge either way.
The closing hole looks like it made a wrong turn on its way to Bethpage and decided to settle in Hauppauge instead. The 18th is Wind Watch's only dogleg hole, a 335-yard par-4 that makes a hard left and climbs the hill to the green. A tee shot here needs to find the fairway between the near and far bunkers to set up the final approach -- an approach, by the way, that is blind to the three mammoth traps protecting the flag. But landing this uphill shot on the surface is only half the battle. The three-tiered green does all it can to ensure that your round ends on a sour note. All bets are off if you find two ridges between your ball and the cup.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Combine the water, the sand and the houses, and you will find there are not just areas, but acres upon acres to avoid. (And don't forget the trees.) But more specifically, it's best not to go too long here. When there are no bunkers guarding the far sides of the greens, there are mounds and dropoffs. Some hazards are cunningly concealed behind greens as well (see #1 and #17). Of course, there is plenty of danger short too, but at least then you can see what you're up against.
1715 Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, Hauppauge 11788
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