[This flyover was updated on November 26, 2011.]
The road to the clubhouse at the Middle Island Country Club takes visitors past the Spruce Course's sixth hole, a narrow par-4 with a line of trees standing tall down the entire length of its right rough. It stands out on the generally roomy Spruce Course, but on Middle Island's nine-hole Dogwood Course, this tree-hugged two-shotter would feel right at home.
Dogwood, one of Middle Island's three tree-titled courses, battles the adjacent Oak Course for the honor of tightest fairways at the club. With a pair of par-5s topping the 560-yard mark, it is Middle Island's longest layout. Pinpoint shotmakers are equipped to handle the course's squeeze between dense rows of foliage and should enjoy its trio of blind doglegs. Spray shooters and unpolished drivers, on the other hand, may find the course to be a nine-hole nightmare.
Dogwood's opener is a 397-yard par-4 with a relatively spacious landing area for tee shots. The right side is open, save for a large bunker, but the downhill slope of the rough makes this area less than ideal for your approach shot. Miss the green a touch in any direction and risk being embedded in forest. The 561-yard monster that follows plays straight out from the tee. Venturing even a little bit into the rough risks an unfortunate lie behind or near unavoidable timber. A trap presses into the fairway 70 yards short of the green (pictured right) and threatens to intercept well-struck second shots.
A tree clearing added some breathing room around #3 tee as part of Dogwood's recent renovation. The par-3 was also extended to 160 yards (170 from the tips), but be sure to double-check the distance since the hole often plays a couple of clubs shorter from its original tee location. A false front rejects shots to the left half of the putting surface on the 144-yard fifth. Finessing this shot off the tee will yield either a chip on from the left or a blast from the right-side trap. Long tee shots will kick down a slope and set up a potentially disastrous recovery from a poor lie.
Wave goodbye to the scoring holes once you've replaced the pin on #6, a 316-yard dogleg with a downhill approach to a wide green. This hole can be played conservatively short of the gaping trap inside the turn and still net a simple short-iron approach. The fairway slides downhill on the far side of the bunker, so why not unleash the driver and leave nothing but an aggressive pitch toward the flag on the second shot? Besides, it might be the last opportunity to attack the course.
Stretched to its max, #8 nearly grazes the rarely seen 600-yard mark. At 597 from the tips and 562 from the regular men's tee, the eighth puts enough on players' plates before it piles on a hearty helping of tree-strangled fairway. Second shots on this hole must be struck with precision, as the far half of the fairway is choked by dense, encroaching woods. Any shot off line will be followed by a wasted stroke, whether it's an obstructed, cross-your-fingers shot at the green or a punch back toward safety.
Dogwood's closer is another dogleg with an approach to a sunken green. This time, however, accuracy is vital. A fade off the tee is the best bet for prime position beyond the turn and leaves a middle iron or less to the green. The tricky part is managing the dramatic slope that kicks balls toward the center of the putting surface.
For a course that never seems to close, Dogwood -- and its two sister layouts -- offers players nicely manicured landing areas and fair greens. With so many trees come so many fallen branches and leaves -- all the more reason to control your shots and keep them within the confines of the fairways.
While other courses keep groups in the clubhouse because of frost delays, Middle Island is more than happy to send groups into the cold. A walking-only restriction on a recent wet and 35-degree morning was lifted right before we teed off, and management rushed to supply us with a cart.
Some readers noted this past spring that conditions throughout the facility were poor amid the on-course renovations, though this seems to have been rectified.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
Dogwood #9 is notable for its downhill shot into the green and the precision it requires. Play a fade off the tee on this dogleg right, but be careful not to slice the drive into choppy rough that drops down toward the first fairway. The deep but narrow green (pictured, from behind) features a steep slope on its right side that slides incoming shots clear across the surface. (Simply drop a test ball on the green and watch it roll to the center.) If you're confident in your accuracy, aim to the right of the pin and use the slope and high mounding to your advantage, then watch your shot kick to the middle of the green. Otherwise, if it's one of those days when you don't have a clue where your next shot will wind up, miss short or left. A bad push that settles in somewhere above the pin will leave a frighteningly fast chip or pitch down the slope.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Any section of rough that requires an ax or a chainsaw for a clear shot should be avoided. Don't spoil one of the softest holes on the course, the par-3 fifth, by flying the green. A backslope shoots balls toward more trees and sets up a testy recovery shot.
Middle Island has GPS systems in its carts for yardage and scorekeeping, always a cool addition to a round. Just don't stray too far from the cartpath between holes unless you like battling stubborn computer software. It offers fairway and greenside mapping, driving distance and yards to the pin. (NOTE: As of November 2011, carts are no longer equipped with GPS units.)
275 Yaphank-Middle Island Rd., Middle Island 11953
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