Sports fans love a good list, ranking, survey, poll -- you name it. The more room for debate, the better. And we here at Golf On Long Island are no different. So what better time of year than Masters Week -- the unofficial universal start of the new golf season -- to come up with our "Nassau 18," a fantasy course comprised of some of the best public holes in the county.
Long Island golfers are no strangers to local lists. Golfing Magazine puts out its "Dream Golf Club" every year, and the Long Island Press includes a "Best Golf Course" category in its annual "Best of LI" survey. Originally published in 2007, Newsday's "Dream 18" was a handy reference guide for great public golf holes until it got lost in the shuffle of the newspaper's website redesign.
With the "Nassau 18," we've highlighted some of the county's most challenging, scenic, historic, uphill, downhill, straight and doglegged holes and attempted to show that there's more to public golf in Nassau than Bethpage and Eisenhower. In order to accomplish that, we picked the best holes, by hole number, according to the following guidelines:
- No more than three holes per course;
- No more than nine Bethpage holes in total;
- Holes were selected to conform to a typical course sequence; and
- Holes were selected to offer a variety of styles -- long and short par-4s; uphill and downhill; wet and dry; etc.
So, sure, some of the holes below might not be the absolute "best" in the county, per se (let's face it, the Black Course alone would make up two-thirds of the 18, hands down), but in terms of creating a fantasy golf course out of thin air with a mix of styles and qualities, the 18 excellent holes listed below are certainly worth the praise.
Golf On Long Island's "Nassau 18" begins at Bethpage...
1) BETHPAGE RED -- par-4, 471/459/438 yards
On the A-list of opening holes not just locally but nationally as well, #1 at Bethpage Red is 471 yards of shattered optimism. All that anticipation to start the round, and one poor drive later you're in the rough staring at a green 300 yards away atop what looks like a small mountain. And that's if you can even see the green at all. The groups of waiting foursomes have a clear view, though, and they don't like what they see. They just watched you closely from #1's stadium teebox and are now muttering to themselves as you slowly make your way up the fairway. There's one way to keep them quiet, however -- hammer a drive into the fairway and follow with a long iron or hybrid to the small, elevated surface. It's a tall order for the first two shots of the day, but pull it off and you're on your way with a swagger in your step.
Honorable Mention: Merrick Road Park (p5)
2) MERRICK ROAD PARK -- par-3, 147/122 yards
Two similar Long Island par-3s reside on municipally owned courses. Each hole directs golfers to the edge of Atlantic bay waters. Only steps from the bay, flags piercing elevated, back-to-front greens whip in strong South Shore gusts. Miss to the sides and balls will tumble down into sand, rough or uneven lies.
One of these holes is Timber Point's famous "Gibraltar," a par-3 celebrated among Long Island's most historic, iconic golf holes. The other is at Merrick Park, free of fanfare. Of course, the 60-yard difference and Timber Point's past life as a storied private club is why only Gibraltar is featured in works like William Quirin's "America's Linksland," but its shorter, rougher-around-the-edges neighbor one county over deserves some respect, if only for the scenery. The Jones Beach tower and amphitheater are visible in the distance.
Honorable Mention: Oyster Bay (p5)
3) EISENHOWER RED -- par-5, 515/490/356 yards
You'll need to be accurate on this dogleg-right par-5, because there's not much room to play with inside the hole's thickly tree-lined perimeter. A powerful drive will net an outside chance of reaching the green in two, but the risk is a punch-out from under the trees and most likely a third-shot lay-up to boot. Club down off the tee if you're not comfortable with the driver, but beware of the bunker trio waiting patiently in the hybrid/wood landing area.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Green (p3)
4) BETHPAGE BLACK -- par-5, 517/461/438 yards
Somewhere between #3 green and #4 tee, first-timers at Bethpage Black begin to understand that they are walking their carts around a world-class course. The trademark glacier bunker in the distance serves as a welcome and a warning: "Welcome to Bethpage Black. You better be on your game."
A drive short of the massive trap leaves a limited-view, uphill second shot that should be played as far into the upper fairway as possible. Easier said than done. Deep bunkers (first photo above) defend against any careless attempts to get home in two as well as lay-up attempts directed too close to the green. Also dissuading long shots at the green is a front-to-back surface that is nearly impossible to hold with a long iron or wood.
Honorable Mention: Oyster Bay (p4)
5) HARBOR LINKS -- par-4, 333/305/280 yards
The first of three double-fairway holes at Harbor Links, this short par-4 finds a near-perfect balance of risk and reward. A lower, more approachable fairway is open on the right, but the second shot is totally blind and must fly over a slope of merciless rough. Getting caught in there is practically a penalty stroke. The upper fairway ensures a clear shot at the green, but landing there safely in the first place requires a precise tee shot to an ever-shrinking sliver of short grass that's no more than 15 yards wide in the ideal landing area. (Right: The view from the lower fairway.)
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Black (p4)
6) BETHPAGE BLUE -- par-4, 462/446/437 yards
Envision trying to make a hard left turn going 40 mph -- in a Mister Softee truck -- and you'll begin to understand the difficulty of this Bethpage behemoth. Not your everyday dogleg-left par-4, this version starts from an elevated tee, then climbs back uphill from fairway to green. Ideally, a mighty draw finds the sweet part of the fairway with minimal risk, but since many players don't have that shot handy, a different route might be necessary. You can try to cut the corner blindly over trees, but miss and you're lost. Go straight out to the turn, just keep in mind the elevation brings a far-side bunker within easy reach. Plus, it's not too hard to overshoot the turn and scoot down to the fourth fairway. Even with the perfect drive, there's still close to 200 uphill yards to go on one of the best holes in the entire Bethpage complex.
Honorable Mention: Harbor Links (p5)
7) GLEN COVE -- par-4, 410/304/292 yards
The toughest hole at Glen Cove's municipal course is a left dogleg with a unique teeing area. The back tee is recessed behind a tight corridor framed by trees, a creek and some shrubbery, which leaves only a small part of the fairway visible in the distance. A trio of bunkers waits to gobble up long, straight drives outside the turn, but play the tee shot short of these traps or draw the ball to the left-center of the fairway and all that's left is a mid- to short iron approach to a flat green.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Black (p5)
8) BETHPAGE BLACK -- par-3, 210/191/152 yards
The hills of Bethpage are hard to capture in photographs and even harder to envision in mind if you've spent any prolonged stretch of time in central Nassau. Stepping up to #8 on the Black Course, one wonders if they're really just a mile from flat, soulless Route 110. The hole plummets from stacked teeboxes. Black's lone water hazard fronts the green, while a tree overhangs on the right and bunkers sit left and long. Wind and the descent force you to think hard about club selection.
Honorable Mention: Oyster Bay (p3)
9) BETHPAGE RED -- par-4, 466/449/433 yards
It's tempting to snip some yardage off this lengthy par-4 by cutting the corner of the soft dogleg, but a cluster of bunkers in the rough between #8 and #9 calls for a carry of up to 250 yards. Plus, two trees stand over the traps like bodyguards. Mess with them if you wish, but it's usually best to steer clear and head over to the right side of the fairway for a slightly longer approach. Unless you're coming in from the right side, you'll have to take this green from the air, as a trap short of the surface guards the left half.
OUT: Par 36 - 3,531/3,227/2,948 yards
10) BETHPAGE GREEN -- par-4, 343/328/290 yards
After some cruelly long par-4s, how about opening the back nine with a shortie. The toughest part of this hole might be the hike to the elevated teebox. A well-struck iron or hybrid down the hill to a tree-lined fairway will set up a short-iron approach. If you play with wild-eyed abandon, or you're a pro that can thread powerful drives into a tiny window, you can rip driver and see what happens. Two bunkers clogging the neck of the green convince you not to bother.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Yellow (p5)
11) EISENHOWER BLUE -- par-5, 460/450/367 yards
You can score nicely on this short par-5 if you cut the unprotected corner on the left and safely reach the farther half of the fairway. Follow up by drilling an approach and you could be putting for eagle. All that stands in the way is a lone front bunker styled after the traps typically found next door on the White Course. If you don't get off the tee well enough to challenge the green in two, a lay-up actually comes with an element of danger. Inside 100 yards, left and center fairway bunkers combine with the greenside trap to form a loose triangular defense of the preferred lay-up area.
12) BETHPAGE YELLOW -- par-4, 313/300/289 yards
Once part of Bethpage's original Blue Course, the 12th on today's Yellow is a remnant of A.W. Tillinghast's signature "Reef" hole, a design that asks golfers to weigh the risks and rewards of challenging a diagonal hazard near the green. More than 75 years after the hole's debut, no such hazard exists, so what's left is a driveable par-4 that provides some fun ahead of Yellow's formidable par-4 13th. Give it a go from the tee -- you can send a runner up the far end of the fairway with little to worry about except a far-left bunker and mounding on the right. On the other side of the mounds, the hole's designed bailout area lives on as a small arm of fairway.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Black (p4); Bethpage Blue (p5)
13) EISENHOWER RED -- par-3, 211/193/176 yards
Par is a good score on this lengthy par-3, especially if the pin is hidden on the right side behind a meaty trap. Add a few yards as the green is slightly elevated. If you opt to play safely to the left side or just short of the green, it's still a long two-putt or up-and-down for par. Even if the hole is cut in the center or left, it still takes a big-time long iron or hybrid with bunkers on both sides for offline shots.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Red (p4); Bethpage Yellow (p4)
14) LIDO -- par-4, 402/376/351 yards
The threat of water is present all over Lido's closing holes, whether it's Reynolds Channel along the preceding 13th or interior hazards on 14 through 17. Water ripples on both sides of #14's narrow fairway -- a large hazard flanks the entire right side while a smaller pond splashes far and left. The best tee shots begin down the left side and fade back into the fairway. You can start balls out to the right, but if they don't draw back, they're sunk. The green is offset to the left and protected by a deep trap. Left of the green, the pond remains in play to catch pulls and hoppers through the side rough.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Yellow (p3)
15) BETHPAGE BLACK -- par-4, 478/430/417 yards
Another of the Black's iconic par-4s, this brute seems surprisingly tame from the tee. The fairway is wide open, at first glance, compared to the rest of the Black. But it's a heck of a 50-foot climb to the green, and a drive into the rough makes the sand- and rough-riddled slope impassable with the second shot. Putts rocketed around this severely sloped green during the U.S. Open in 2009, and even though some of the contouring has been leveled, there's still plenty of work to be done once you've made it to the top.
Honorable Mention: Eisenhower Red (p4)
16) LIDO -- par-5, 487/460/430 yards
Bring a map, compass, GPS, caddy; whatever it takes to navigate around Lido's double-island fairway. There are several methods of attack on the 16th, but none of them offer clear views of their targets, and only the most precisely executed plans will result in a spot on the green in two or even three strokes. Tee shots are directed to an island landing area that offers a conservative path to the green and a daring one. Shortcuts follow the right side. Here, the water carries on both the drive and approach are much longer, the margin of error much slimmer and the angles much less favorable. There's much more dry land to work with on the left, but short drives will force you to play the rest of the hole on the defensive. Oh, and don't forget the whipping wind!
Honorable Mention: Oyster Bay (p4)
17) HARBOR LINKS -- par-3, 201/184/157 yards
Nassau boasts some memorable one-shotters at #17, including this pseudo-island, self-titled "Oasis" that must be challenged blindly with a long iron. The good news is that you can club down off the tee and play short of the green with a preferred iron, then chip or pitch on from there. The bad news is that any misses left, right or long are gone for a swim. Making matters worse, you won't know the fate of borderline shots until you proceed to the green, since the surface is out of sight from the tee.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Black (p3); Lido (p3)
18) BETHPAGE GREEN -- par-4, 398/386/368 yards
Wrap up this round of dreams the same way it started -- with an uphill approach to a small green. This time the target is perched high on the right side. After an open tee shot, take aim at a green that is wedged between an even higher sidehill on the right and a deeply sunken sand trap on the left. If you're in the fairway with a nice tee shot, it's a middle iron into the green and a favorable par opportunity to end the round. Just don't trickle down into the trap -- it's a long way back up to the green.
Honorable Mention: Bethpage Red (p4)
IN: Par 36 - 3,293/3,107/2,845 yards
TOTAL: Par 72 - 6,824/6,334/5,793 yards
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