[This flyover was updated on June 27, 2011.]
A quick glance at the Pine Ridge Golf Club scorecard reveals little that would inspire a double or triple take. At a touch over 6,600 yards from the back tees and a modest 6,135 from the second-set blues, Pine Ridge, at first, appears no more notable for its dimensions than any of the course's central Suffolk neighbors. But a closer inspection shows that Pine Ridge, the newest kid on the Long Island public golf block, can throw a heavier punch than most. It is a beast from the black tees thanks to par-4s -- four of them -- that stretch longer than 450 yards. And Pine Ridge is certainly no slouch from the second set of tees either -- those same par-4s each measure no less than 420.
Land that at the turn of the millennium was a large tract of pine forest is now occupied by the par-70 Pine Ridge Golf Club, a challenging, tree-lined layout that debuted in 2006 under the management of Billy Casper Golf. It might be cliche to talk about a public course with a private feel, but Pine Ridge fits the expression. The accommodating staff and the course's serenity and relaxed pace of play contribute to the club atmosphere. So do the recently completed clubhouse and the grass driving range (always a welcome amenity). It is a softly rolling layout where accuracy between and around the great pines is essential.
Pine Ridge digs deep inside its bag of tricks early on with four par-4s of varying styles. The opener is a relatively short 341-yarder with a deep green offset from the fairway by a pork-chop bunker. A lengthy 428-yard second hole (471 from the black) fades toward a huge green with water right and deep. Sand and ankle-deep grass bisect the fairway at the 90-degree dogleg third, turning a 357-yard hole into a mild test of shotmaking that demands good placement off the tee to enable an attack on its multi-level putting surface. Completing the opening run of par-4s, the 278-yard fourth is reachable for confident drivers, but the left half of the bean-shaped green is protected by the hole's distinctive valley of sand and a separate greenside bunker.
Another hefty par-4 -- the long and straight 439-yard sixth -- is sandwiched between Pine Ridge's first par-3s. It's a good idea to stay short and chip on at #5, a 196-yarder where an overworked tee shot can find either of two bulky traps (pictured left). Par on the 130-yard seventh is a smooth short iron away.
A wayward swing absolutely must be corrected by the eighth tee, because a succession of straight shots is mandatory on Pine Ridge's first par-5. Players with a left-to-right ball flight can find trouble easily on this painfully narrow 513-yard hole (554 from the black) with a fairway that kicks balls down toward the right side. Lingering headaches from #8 can be alleviated on the 300-yard ninth, a wide-open par-4 that has par or better written all over it.
A par-3 to open the back nine is a rarity and, depending on how the front concluded, a welcome sight. But lurking beyond the 173-yard tenth is a grueling test of muscle and endurance. In contrast to the front nine's opening variation in design, the first half of the back nine bludgeons players with distance. In fact, nearly a third of Pine Ridge's total yardage will be traversed between the 11th tee and 14th green! Some water is thrown in for good measure on the 571-yard par-5 11th. A pond divides the fairway at its midpoint and influences the first and second shots. Well-executed drives short of the pond will need to account on the next shot for several bunkers that carve up the right rough over the hole's final 100 yards. Beyond the bunkers to the right -- more water. The sloped green is deep but extremely slender.
The 12th and 13th par-4s play straight out and ask for challenging shots into different style greens. Approaches on the 421-yard 12th take aim at a spacious but tiered putting surface (pictured right). Position on the ultra-roomy fairway of the 440-yard 13th (a shade under 500 from the black) should be easy to find, but the same cannot be said of the tiny green protected by sand and the hole's uphill slant. Life is easier on the 510-yard par-5 14th if a nice fade off the tee finds daylight beyond the dogleg's turn, otherwise a good scoring opportunity could be squandered.
The final holes challenge players' touch and accuracy after the preceding feats of strength. The flag on the par-3 17th sits tantalizingly close, but a pond in front demands a full water carry. Landing a short or middle iron on the correct tier yields a favorable birdie opportunity. On #18, the landing area is narrowed by tall pines, but anything in the fairway sets the stage for a heroic middle iron (or less) into Pine Ridge's final green.
Pine Ridge was recently carved out of Coram pine forest, and despite its newness, it blends naturally into the terrain. It has a very understated, rustic appeal, seemingly free of foreign elements. (Even on the driving range, with its grass teeing area.) The routing weaves through the area's native pines, which along with an abundance of strategic bunkers (occasionally centered by a pine or two of their own) form the course's major obstacles. Wispy brown grasses accent some areas around bunkers and greens. Water interrupts the line of play on only three holes.
The course's spacious greens keep Pine Ridge playable for the bogey golfer and higher handicappers. With the frequent call for long approaches, the generous targets are a relief. Greens play slower than they look, a lesson I've learned but have yet to put into practice. Popular landing areas, such as the end of the first fairway section on the doglegged #3, are prone to voluminous divots.
It should also be noted that on my last visit, Pine Ridge responded admirably to a sudden battle with the elements. A 20-minute downpour -- rain of the flash-flood variety -- sent players running for cover, but play resumed under clear blue skies on fairways and greens that absorbed the sky's fury like a champ. Deep puddles were relegated to parts of the dirt cart paths, while main areas of play stayed clear and (eventually, after a little sun) dry.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
Ironically, the challenge on one of Pine Ridge's most treacherous holes, the par-5 11th, has little to do with the ever-present pines. Of course, the towering trees -- like they do on nearly every tee shot -- closely frame the drive zone, but the more pressing concern is how to navigate the hole once this tee shot is already on the ground. Second shots on this 571-yard three-shotter (589 from the tips) must clear a small pond that splits the hole in two. Players who set themselves up in good fairway position can follow their drive with a safe play to the left half of the second fairway, leaving a short or middle iron to the green. Why conservative? Because inside 100 yards the fairway begins to narrow and squeeze between sand. What once was a long river of sand running up the right side is now a five-trap chain cut into sloped rough. Water beyond the sand doubles the strength of this hazardous condition. An overly aggressive or careless second shot unnecessarily brings all of this into play.
Keep in mind, however, that playing too safely away from the hazards can be a liability in itself. A final approach from left of the flag will have to find a deep but wafer-thin green that slopes steeply from left to right. Enjoy!
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
The Pine Ridge greens are inviting targets, but going deep onto or over the few multi-tiered surfaces can be problematic when the pin is up front. This is especially true on #17, the water-carry par-3, where the pond is only a few paces from a bottom-tier flag stick. A distant putt or chip from above becomes a high-tension stroke. The 17th is also one of four holes to feature bunkers that house strips of tall grass or trees. Awkward lies and difficult greenside blasts from these traps on #1, #13 (pictured), #14 and #17 are score killers.
It's always nice to feel welcome. Two days after my first round at Pine Ridge, an e-mail arrived thanking me for the visit and inviting me back with $10 off my next round -- which by the looks of it is sent to all first-time visitors. Another thumbs up for a course that's done a lot of things the right way since introducing itself to Long Island a few years ago.
Pine Ridge also offers a free rewards card, with points redeemable for discounts on future rounds.
2 Golf Course Dr., Coram 11727
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