[This flyover was updated on October 5, 2011.]
Remnants of a classic American golf course dating back to the Roaring Twenties and the golden age of golf design are alive and well -- and unprotected by the exclusions of a private club -- along Suffolk's south shore in Great River. Timber Point, today a 27-hole facility owned and operated by Suffolk County, was once an 18-hole (and ultra-exclusive) gem regarded as one of the finest courses in the country. Six of its holes -- a stretch that made up most of the original back nine -- exist today in evolved form as part of Timber Point's Blue Course, the bayside layout that features one of Long Island's best and most breathtaking par-3s.
The Blue Course is the marquee attraction at Timber Point. Though the inland Red Course includes another half-dozen holes from the original, Timber Point's memorable ones are all on the Blue. Area golfers recognize that Timber Point Blue is one of the finest nine-hole stretches on Long Island and line up to wait at the course's first tee. When the sun shines bright over Great South Bay, a round here can be hard to come by.
At 3,341 yards from the back tees, it is the longest of the three courses at Timber Point. Water, either in the form of ponds or Atlantic bay, is present on six holes. The famous "Gibraltar" par-3 was selected to Golfing Magazine's Long Island Dream Club and Newsday's Dream 18, and was highlighted as a Golf On Long Island reader favorite in October 2008.
Stiff winds can dominate a round at Timber Point, especially along the water, and holes can play unpredictably from one day to the next. The opening par-5, at 460 yards from the middle tees and 484 from the tips, is impossible to reach in two if the wind is blowing back in your face, as it was on my last visit. A pond lurks to the right of the already narrow fairway, and the flat green is guarded by two wide bunkers.
Holes #2 through #7 made up the 12th through 17th on the original, a challenging stretch that must have made for an exhilarating finish. Today's second is the excellent "Harbor" par-3 (right), where tee shots aim at a thumb of land surrounded on three sides by water. From the elevated tee, enjoy the view of the expansive property and Gibraltar in the distance. Then focus your attention on this downhill 134-yard shot at the mercy of bay breezes. The receptive green slopes back to front. Stay to the right side of the fairway on the 365-yard third. A good drive in this direction will set up a nice angle to the green and negate the center-to-right pitch of the surface. Diagonal bunkers protect the front end of the #4 fairway but are too close to the tee to be much of a distraction on this 418-yard par-4. More troubling is the opportunity for lost balls on both sides of the fairway.
Perched high over the bay, which laps against the shore only a few yards behind its green, Gibraltar #5 is the jewel of the Blue Course and one of Long Island's standout par-3s. Uphill and 207 yards at its greatest distance, the hole challenges all comers, no matter their skill level. If the swirling wind doesn't blow away your dreams of par or birdie, the pitched green will certainly try. No matter the outcome on the scorecard, there are few spots on any Long Island course -- public or private -- that can match the view from the middle of Gibraltar's green.
The scenery is just as awesome on the sixth and seventh. Both par-4s play along the bay, which dominates each hole's left side. It takes some fearlessness to set the aim of your driver out over the water, but when the gusts blow in off the ocean, it's a necessity. The green on the 346-yard sixth is elevated behind two spacious traps, and the flat surface quickly drops off the left side into messy rough. Conversely, approaches on the 395-yard seventh are downhill to a larger green. Its entrance is open for running shots down the fairway's slope, and a thin bunker around the left side helps keep balls from swimming to Fire Island.
A roomy fairway on the par-5 eighth is hidden from the tee by tall reeds that surround an adjacent pond, but well-struck shots should find plenty of open space. More careful aim is required on the 413-yard ninth, where the fairway slinks to the right around another pond. It subtly curves back to the left toward an elevated green. Stay to the fairway's right side for the best shot at the flag. Anything to the left not only risks a splash landing, but also sets up a partially obstructed or blind approach with a large greenside trap in play.
The course was renovated in recent years to alleviate chronic flooding problems. The fairways on the sixth and seventh bayside par-4s and the teebox on #2 were raised to improve drainage. After a day of steady rain, my last round on the Blue this past October was free of any puddles or mud slicks.
Wind and water are the biggest roadblocks to a good score, especially in the middle section of the course. Once on the greens, the path to the bottom of the cup is typically flat and slow. Some greens have a soft slope -- #5, pitched back to front and right to left, is the exception -- but undulations within the surfaces are minimal.
[NOTE: The Blue Course sustained considerable saltwater damage and exposure of its irrigation system during Hurricane Irene in August 2011, underwent repairs that fall, and was then damaged again by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.]
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
It takes a smart and perfectly executed shot to find the green on the Gibraltar par-3. While the distance and the climb to the green (207 from the tips, 188 from the middle) are enough on their own to intimidate shaky long-iron or hybrid hitters, the fierce wind can carry most shots wherever it pleases. Typically that leaves balls short or, worse, left, where a bunker sits far below the green. The only spot with ample room to miss is right of the green, but this presents problems of its own. Margin of error on pitches or sand shots is razor thin, since the sloped green runs quickly from right to left and back to front. It might be tempting to beat the wind from the tee by pulling out the heavy artillery, but only about 20 feet of rough behind the green separates the course from some unplayable growth and Great South Bay.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Don't get too cute on the downhill par-3 second. Though it seems like you can reach out and pull the pin while standing at the tee, take care not to play a club too short. Missing the green on the short side will leave a miserable lie on trampled grass and dirt. From here you'll be below the surface, and elevating the ball from this filthy lie will not be pleasant. If your ball settles close to the hazard, you may be playing this shot from weeds or rocks.
150 River Road, Great River 11739
Long Island Dream Club: Timber Point Blue #6
Long Island Dream Club: Timber Point Blue #5
Reader Favorite: Timber Point Blue #5
"America's Linksland: A Century of Long Island Golf" -- by William Quirin
Have thoughts and opinions on Timber Point Blue? Share them with other Golf On Long Island readers by posting in the comments section below.
Photos for this flyover were taken in March 2009.