On a recent trip to a new restaurant in Sayville, I decided to take the scenic route through the downtown centers of Babylon, Bay Shore and Islip on Montauk Highway. Along the way, the fairways and greens of the West Sayville Golf Course waved hello from the south side of the road. Eighteen hours later on a refreshingly warm late-autumn morning, I was on my way back east toward Suffolk County's south shore, headed straight for West Sayville's first tee. Never underestimate the draw of lush fairways and 50-degree forecasts in early December.
Just a few short irons from Great South Bay, the county-operated West Sayville Golf Course is a pleasant par-72 in a park-like setting. Unlike its sister course at Timber Point, where the bay helps transform the nine-hole Blue Course into one of Long Island's most popular public tracks, West Sayville is separated from the bay by an expanse of marshland. It is a flat course that is tight in some spots, roomy and open in others.
The first shot of the day is a drive down the fairway of West Sayville's longest hole. The 485-yard opener (515 from the back) draws softly to the left on its way to a back-to-front green. A deceptive bunker 75 yards out is farther from the surface than it appears. Strike a 200-yard drive on #3 to clear a fairway bunker on the right side of this 317-yard par-4. The degree of difficulty is much greater though when playing this hole from the back tee, which is set back in surrounding reeds and offset from the fairway. From there, you'll have to fade the ball onto the fairway and keep it clear of that same bunker, now about 230 yards away.
The 372-yard fourth is the tightest hole on the course and arguably the toughest from start to finish. Drives and approaches that stray too far left or right will likely be closed off from the green by a wall of tree trunks. The entire left side is out of bounds, and the back of the green is separated from Montauk Highway by only 15 yards of choppy rough. Stay away from the left side of #5 (pictured left), a par-5 that plays parallel to the roadway and offers little room for pulls off the tee. Though it may go against your most aggressive instincts, play to the short side of this green. A back pin here is for suckers -- the green rolls downhill off its rear end toward a large pond.
Whether or not you stay safely away from the pond on #5, you'll have no choice but to confront it on #8. The only route to the green on this 165-yard par-3 (pictured right) is up and over the water, though it is recessed far enough from the putting surface to allow misses short. Bunkers guard the left-to-right green on each side. A straight, 398-yard par-4 leads you directly into the wind as you work to finish the front nine with a well-earned par. The bay breeze will help carry drives past the small bunker on the 355-yard tenth and blow high fades safely onto the fairway. A short-iron approach must avoid a spacious trap left of the green to set up a putt for birdie.
Success on the par-5 11th hinges on strategy and execution off the tee. A diagonal water hazard forces players to put on their thinking caps for the first time all day. Confident drivers can set their sights on the distant left half of the fairway and fire aggressively. Erratic shooters might be fooled into aiming at the closest section of firm ground, leaving themselves a lengthy journey to the green and no chance of reaching in two.
The par-4 13th suffers from a rare quirk. A huge screen protecting golfers on the #3 green rises high over the right rough. Without it, the 372-yard hole playing into the bay winds with a small creek snaking through its left rough might be West Sayville's toughest hole (and #3 might be its most painful). But players who hack poor drives to the right are allowed a free drop clear of the screen.
Players face another tricky decision on the tee at #16, a par-4 that sidesteps a pond cutting into the fairway's far left side. Lay up short of the water or attack the small sliver of fairway leading up to the left-to-right green? The pond serves mainly as decoration on the 123-yard 17th. A day at West Sayville ends with a 343-yard par-4 into the wind. Small trees line the rough and threaten to complicate approach shots to the slightly elevated 18th green.
West Sayville doesn't ask for much from its challengers. With the exception of #11 -- a par-5 that requires a strategic water carry -- most holes are clearly defined and follow a formulaic fairway-trap-plus-two-greenside-bunkers pattern. The par-4 16th, with a pond that devours what would be the far left rough and fairway, offers another escape from this standard layout. It is the only hole on the course without bunkers.
West Sayville is flat, making it a breeze to walk and perfect for all skill levels. Its lack of trees in the middle of the course allows guests to enjoy sweeping views of the property, especially from the elevated 11th tee. The century-old Meadow Edge estate adds a historic element to the course as it looms behind the ninth green and overlooks the opening tee.
Some greens have features that help them stand out from the rest. A back hump on #11 must be accounted for when approaching this green, especially if the flag is stuck nearby. The backside of #5 quickly plummets down into the rough. Sucker pins can also be placed in the back-left corner of #6.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
The drive on #11 will be the most daunting shot of the round. The diagonal hazard's presence in front of the tee is intimidating, and the best route to the green may prove difficult to find. A smashed drive pulled a bit left of the fairway will likely make a splash landing if it fails to travel 240 yards in the air. Those who find the fairway and put a charge into their tee shot will be rewarded with an excellent chance to reach the green on this par-5 in two.
Shorter, safer tee shots designed to clear the hazard under control will bring into play a separate challenge on the second shot. A bunker clogs the layup area short of the green -- getting caught there will leave a 50-yard blast to the center of the surface. The final obstacle is a hump in the back half of the green. Chipping or putting from above this hump could be disastrous when the hole is cut close by.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Avoid overshooting the greens on #4 and #5. There is limited real estate behind the fourth green before the fence that separates the course from Montauk Highway. Balls have a strong chance of settling into a poor lie. On #5, balls will slide off the back of the green toward a pond. At best, this will leave an uphill chip from the rough. Be aware of this threat when planning an attack of a backside pin on the approach.
Montauk Highway, West Sayville 11796
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