[This flyover was updated on April 22, 2013.]
The Spring Lake Golf Club's Thunderbird Course is the main attraction at the 27-hole facility in Middle Island, offering a combination of challenging, strategic golf and a pleasant, park-like setting that cannot easily be topped on the Island. It is a par-72 that measures 7,035 yards from the championship tees and 6,445 from the middle blues. Tall trees frame and overlook long, lush fairways and enhance the course's serene and secluded atmosphere. There is a very natural feel at Spring Lake -- my lasting image of both the Thunderbird and the nine-hole Sandpiper is simply their rich green fairways, a testament to the facility's conditioning and maintenance.
Water plays a limited role on Thunderbird, with small ponds influencing play on only two or three holes. (The facility's namesake lake is confined to the Sandpiper Course.) The battle then is mainly with the course's mammoth greens, not only in finding the easiest way to navigate their tiers and turns, but also the best route to reach them. Trees tighten most of Thunderbird's holes and can be a major nuisance for players unable to control their ball flight.
Standing out at Spring Lake are Thunderbird's large, undulating greens. It is vital that players take note of the hole locations when setting up for their approach shots. Green depth is large enough in many cases to make a two- to three-club difference, and discovering once it's too late that an 8-iron to the front of the green left you with a twisting 80-footer to a backside pin will have you exasperated while you scramble for a three-putt.
The course doesn't wait to show off its big greens either. The first three holes all sport putting surfaces that are more than 40 yards deep. Play to the left side of the fairway on both the 436-yard opener and the 325-yard second for optimal angles of attack. The 180-yard third is the toughest par-3 on the course. Pursuing a right-side pin on its elevated green means flirting with a steep, rough-covered downslope off the side of the surface. A left-side pin hides behind a bunker and the threat of water short and left. The mound on the far side of the trap can make it difficult to stop shots near a back-left pin.
Thunderbird starts to make some hefty demands with the driver on the fourth tee. The fairway on this 505-yard par-5 (up to 575 from the back tees) is sandwiched between two lines of trees, and making it play even tighter is the fact that any shots right of center are cut off from the green. That's because the fairway turns almost dead right inside 100 yards. A bunker short of the turn messes with layup attempts. In contrast, #5 is a short par-4 where it's safe to be a little reckless with the driver. The 340-yard dogleg left favors a draw, but anyone is free to bomb a drive over the traps at the turn and pitch onto the green.
Soar over the fairway trap on the 386-yard eighth as well to set up a tricky uphill approach to a green surrounded by five bunkers. A ridge running across the center of the surface makes attention to pin placement vital. Another narrow par-5 closes the front nine. The 480-yard ninth is relatively short with a downhill fairway, but it culminates with one of the course's most challenging green complexes. A back-left bunker collects balls that overshoot the slope in the center of the green, and deep traps on the right side can easily spoil a bid for birdie or par. The drop-off from the left side of the green into the bordering rough makes blasts from these bunkers very delicate.
The tenth is an uphill par-4 that, at 336 yards, appears to be a great drive-and-pitch scoring hole. But when the pin is tucked close behind the large and steep bunker in front of the green, it's best to play the hole a little safer, especially since #10 is one of the few holes where poor drives can be sent out of play. Sacrifice some distance off the tee to set up a second shot to the middle or back half of the green. Getting caught in the gaping bunker is foolish if the pin is in front. Save the driver for the 500-yard 11th, a par-5 with a fairway that climbs uphill and ends abruptly at a stretch of rough about 90 yards short of the green. Strong drivers can take this patch out of play and take aim at the green or landing area in front on their second shot. Those who leave their drives shorter than desired may have to lay up in front of the rough to ensure a smooth third shot into the green.
You'll also need controlled drives on the 14th and 17th, long and straight par-4s that both feature sand in the left sides of their fairways. Neither hole offers much room for error, which is the reality on most of the holes on Thunderbird's back nine.
Make your way back to the clubhouse on Thunderbird's longest hole, a 566-yard par-5 (586 from the back) that favors back-to-back draws. Strategic traps in the vicinity of the first and second landing areas do their best to help you close your round with a dud.
Spring Lake can be hard on players who have trouble keeping their ball from going too far left or right. The trees that surround every fairway and green will force these players to navigate the course defensively. And those who keep their shots on the short grass aren't necessarily out of the woods. Some trees spread their limbs wide and dangle over the edges of the fairways, influencing otherwise easy approaches or, worse, simply swatting them out of the air. In the 2011 offseason, however, Spring Lake added a little breathing room by removing some trees in certain areas around the course to help players find their balls and move along.
Yardage on Thunderbird's par-3s can vary tremendously depending on pin and tee placement. Both Spring Lake courses feature very long tee boxes. Two- to three-club differences between the listed and actual yardage are not uncommon. If the message hasn't gotten across yet, always be mindful of the flags at Spring Lake.
Greens are spacious and sloped, and an overall thorn in the side of anyone who can't keep their approaches reasonably close to the pin. They do not play overly fast, but speed seems to be less important on these surfaces than proper positioning.
Spring Lake has the feel of a park. While there are enough trees to set each hole off on its own, at times you can see much of the sprawling property around and between dozens upon dozens of tree trunks.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
The wide-mouthed and steep-faced bunker guarding the green on #10 is a poor place to work from when the hole on this short par-4 is cut only a few paces away on the front side. So close to the pin yet in such a precarious position, you are looking at bogey or worse, barring a sweet up-and-down.
Spring Lake does not allow singles to make reservations online. If you book a tee time as a single through the Spring Lake website, you will receive a confirmation number and e-mail, but the reservation will not be honored.
30 East Bartlett Road, Middle Island 11953
Observations: Spring Lake Golf Club (4/22/2013)
Tree-lined Spring Lake Golf Club adds a little "elbow room" for 2011
Chip Shot: Spring Lake - Thunderbird
Give the gift of L.I. golf without leaving your seat
Flyover: Spring Lake - Sandpiper 9
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