[This flyover was updated on October 5, 2012.]
The Town of Oyster Bay Golf Course, like Eisenhower Park, is an oasis of fairways and greens in the middle of Nassau County commerce, asphalt and turn signals. Golfers in the center of Oyster Bay's 15th fairway face a deep pot bunker straight ahead and a busy Woodbury street and strip mall on their left -- a setting straight out of an urban course like Dyker Beach (Brooklyn). For shoppers waiting to escape the crowded mall parking lot, the 11th green is only a 3-wood away.
Tom Fazio's design, in spite of its location at the corner of busy Jericho Turnpike and Southwoods Road, is one of the area's stiffest challenges and worth a trip from anywhere on and around Long Island. Crammed into a square of hilly Woodbury real estate, Oyster Bay is noted for its extremely narrow front-nine fairways, tiered greens and unexpected elevation changes. Players must choose targets wisely and execute their shots, or risk a day full of desperate recoveries and three-putts. At 6,376 yards from the back tees, Oyster Bay makes up for its short length by keeping all but the most accurate players on the defensive. The course, especially the front nine, offers only slight margin for error. It's a true test for strong players, an overwhelming mismatch for high handicappers.
Oyster Bay's back nine, parts of which are visible from Southwoods Road, is relatively flat and forgiving. Drivers have room to explore the airspace over holes like the downhill par-4 tenth and the back-to-back 13th and 14th. But hidden from view is the formidable front nine, a collection of claustrophobic, tree-lined holes that demand precision and intelligent decision-making. The opening hole, a short par-4 with a comfortable fairway, is the exception. More in line with the rest of the front half is the 531-yard second (571 from the tips), with its razor-thin landing area and short stretches of rough that cut across the far end of the fairway. Many of Oyster Bay's prevailing features are on display on the 133-yard third -- a two-tiered green, grass bunker and steep decline into wooded boundaries.
In discussions about Long Island's toughest par-4s, Oyster Bay #4 flies under the radar -- ironic considering how high it reaches into the sky. The flag sits on top of a mountain, in the middle of a green that can only be reached in regulation by those wise enough to keep their tee shots on the left side of the fairway. Perfect position still leaves a daunting shot up a hill that is covered with thick, club-grabbing rough. Misses off the tee leave no angle to the green and clinch a bogey -- at best. And to add an extra heap of difficulty, the green, invisible from everywhere below (see photo), features three shelves.
Not to be overshadowed, the 351-yard seventh offers the tightest fairway on the course, and its left bend can be problematic for those who play a fade. A steep ridge in the green funnels balls to the front left portion of the surface -- when the pin is down there, do your best to keep the approach away from the back half of the green.
The course finally opens up after the turn. Your hard work on the front is rewarded on #10 with a downhill drive and room to miss. Big boppers can drive the green on the 263-yard 11th (295 from the back), though shots that run out of gas will likely land with a thud inside a spacious bunker. The cautious play on this left dogleg is to the roomy fairway, leaving only a short iron or pitch. Keep that 9-iron or wedge handy -- you'll need it on the 117-yard 12th, a slightly downhill par-3 that feels like it was transplanted from a pitch-and-putt course.
Pedestrians and commuters driving along Southwoods Road will note the water hazard and deep pot bunker on what is Oyster Bay's par-4 15th. Players on the course may consider the trap more of a concern (a 175-yard shot will carry the hazard from the middle tees). Sending your approach shot into the bottom of that crater is the quickest way to turn a refreshing par opportunity into a maddening double, triple, quad and beyond -- assuming, of course, that you count all your bunker shots.
Oyster Bay comes to a close with its three lengthiest par-4s. The 412-yard 16th makes a hard right turn toward another elevated green. A touch longer, the 17th tempts players into hitting the driver, but the wide fairway is most welcoming about 200 yards from the tee. Beyond that, trees and rough begin to infringe upon the landing area. The closing hole bends softly to the left with a final uphill approach through a narrow chute of trees.
Thanks to its tight routing, Oyster Bay is an easy course to walk, as long as you can handle the occasional climb. (There is, however, a lengthy 100-yard backward walk from #1 green to #2 tee. Take your driver with you and leave your bag up near the fairway.) It has a parkland feel that is enhanced by the proximity of holes and the variety of trees and greenery. Maintenance of the fairways and greens is excellent.
Dramatic contours and internal movement set Oyster Bay's putting surfaces apart from nearly all public courses on the Island. Only a few -- think Stonebridge Golf Links and Tallgrass GC -- boast such distinct green features. Some surfaces are tiered, like the par-3 third and the heart-shaped, tri-level green that follows on #4. Just ahead at #6, the downhill par-3 funnels balls toward a right-side bowl. The seventh comes at players in waves, sliding shots toward front and rear green segments. Others like #11 and #15 pull balls in various directions even with much more subtle shaping. The fact that Fazio laid out many of these greens on a diagonal to the fairway places tremendous importance on smart, accurate approaches.
In addition to a mix of large, small, serpentine and pot bunkers near the greens (there are very few fairway bunkers on the course), Oyster Bay utilizes obstacles like grass depressions and mounding to complicate the short game. Holes like #4 and #14 feature long stretches of rough in front of the greens to make sure that the flag can only be attacked from the air.
Trees do more than just choke the fairways. They also cast shadows across the tiered greens and put added stress on putters trying to find their line up and down the slopes and ridges.
Distance is never hard to gauge. Nearly all sprinkler heads have yardage markers.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
The 212-yard eighth may be Oyster Bay's most pleasing hole to look at, until you realize that the trees and mounds frame this par-3 just as effectively as they disguise its dangers. Think twice about club selection from the elevated tee and consider that anything left or right is all but lost. Part of the left side is out of bounds. On the right, a steep decline down 30 feet of dirt and branches leaves a treacherous and obstacle-riddled recovery. A nice hybrid should provide the distance, trajectory and soft landing necessary to post a good score on this challenging par-3.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Oyster Bay provides very little room for error, which is why it's important to take advantage of the one shot that you have control over -- the tee shot -- and hit your target. The mountainous #4 is hard enough when played perfectly -- don't make it harder by missing to the right of the fairway (you'll have no shot at the green, and you'll likely be in the woods). If anything, allow for misses short of the green on the par-3 eighth, not left or right (see above). Keep away from the right side of the par-4 13th to take the greenside water hazard out of your line to the putting surface.
The Gold Coast Golf Center is located on site and offers private lessons and junior golf camps.
Oyster Bay is closed on Mondays.
1 Southwoods Road, Woodbury 11797
Have thoughts and opinions on Oyster Bay? Share them with other Golf On Long Island readers by posting in the comments section below.