The last time we encountered a par-6 hole was in 2008, just south of the state line that separates North Carolina from South Carolina, on the 18th tee of the Farmstead Golf Links. This course -- my personal favorite along Myrtle Beach's "Grand Strand," for those who care -- hangs its hat on the 767-yard 18th, happily marketing the rare opportunity to pull your driver in one state (S.C. ) and putt out in another (N.C. ).
Here on Long Island, the home of the area's lone par-6 is a little more discreet about its oversized closer. Though the hole doesn't cross any geographical boundaries (a Riverhead to Aquebogue crossing probably wouldn't carry the same cachet, anyway), the 644-yard 18th at Cherry Creek's Links Course is an entertaining way to finish a round and an appropriate representative of a course that's longer than every other Long Island public except Bethpage Black.
The Links Course is the original layout at Cherry Creek, a 7,187-yard giant that's been a Long Island fixture since 1996. It's significantly more roomy and forgiving than its kid brother across the street. (The Woods Course debuted in 2002.) Despite the name, there's very little "linksiness" about it. Drivers get a healthy workout here, with wide, lush fairways on nearly every hole. Elevated greens and large bunkers promote an aerial game. Players who enjoy stepping up and muscling their ball around the course will consider Links their ideal playground, provided they know how to escape from a sand trap.
The Links begins with a 402-yard par-4 (446 from the back) that favors a high-trajectory, left-to-right ball flight on the approach. It is wide open and slightly downhill from the tee, but a disruptive cluster of trees deep on the right side of the hole sends the fairway jutting to the left. A 20-yard stretch of rough between the fairway and green mucks up the route to the flag. The shortie at #2 barely scratches triple digits on the scorecard, its green (pictured right) an ultra-wide, inviting target that seems impossible to miss. From the tips it plays several clubs longer at 145 yards.
After #3 -- where a trio of beefy bunkers in the rough passively protects the short grass, and three more squeeze the green like a noose -- Cherry Creek's true, lengthy nature revs up. The fourth plays nearly as long as the course's behemoth par-6 but without the fanfare or the additional stroke to par. At 623 yards from the back tees and 585 from the middle, #4 is only a long lag putt shorter than the more popular closer. Two fairway bunkers and a dry creekbed break up the route to the back-to-front green. Along the way, beyond a small water hazard in the left rough is a sweeping vista of the surrounding farmland.
There's no chance to run the ball up onto #5 green, thanks to a yawning front trap that covers the width of the surface. The 386-yard par-4 must be taken by air -- a much taller order when playing from the back-tee length of 439 yards. It looks to be the same at #6, where the green is defended by another wide sandpit. But unseen from the tee is a 15-yard apron behind the bunker that allows for landings short of the green. Water hides left of the target.
The shortest par-5 -- the 495-yard eighth -- favors a soft fade. Next, water splashes in the direct line of play on the front nine's closing par-4. There's little reason to flirt with the hazard, as a short iron will likely get you to the green even if you stay back a safe distance.
A ridge in the fairway of the 405-yard tenth can help tack a little extra distance onto solidly struck drives. There's no such assistance, however, at the 370-yard 11th, which features an offset fairway and a teebox awkwardly aligned toward the left rough and one of Cherry Creek's most prodigious bunkers. A strong drive along this line will safely descend onto the far end of the fairway, but less accurate shots might contend with a trap that's 50 yards in length. Despite its flat and shallow physique, the bunker's no picnic -- trees scattered around its perimeter assure almost no line toward the green.
Similar to #9, a water hazard clogs the far end of the fairway on #12, a 389-yard par-4 with a drive zone that runs downhill and a green perched up high behind two bunkers. In between, the hazard, another thin trap and the cart path occupy a shaggy 50-yard expanse that's best left alone. The uphill second shot is one of the more demanding approaches to be found at Cherry Creek. Not to be outdone, the 224-/184-yard 13th calls for an accurate long iron or hybrid to an extremely narrow green.
Fly a small creek off the tee at the par-5 14th and find favorable position in a fairway that turns to the right. This is a three-shot hole for most players, as the green is angled away from the fairway and bodyguarded in front by -- you guessed it -- two medium-sized traps. You'll get a break though on the 15th and 16th, both short, straight par-4s that welcome pars and birdies. The par-3 17th flies in the exact same direction and subscribes to the same protection plan (sand short-left and short-right) as #2, but at 154 yards, it plays a few clubs longer.
Finally, the famous 18th is a member of Golfing Magazine's "Dream Golf Club" and Newsday's "Dream 18." The lengthy route to the green is free of major roadblocks, but expect to get up close and personal with your fairway woods. If you're a player who's more comfortable lofting short irons than wielding a 5-wood, Cherry Creek's 18th could be a tough slog. (More on #18 below in "Holes to Remember.")
Cherry Creek sports a fairly consistent set of features -- smooth, manicured greens, generous landing areas, prevalent bunkers, high rough. Midway through the front nine it becomes clear that the thick rough makes a living on scheming strokes, an extra club won't hurt when aiming at the elevated greens, and putts will roll true with limited break.
There's plenty more consistency where that came from. Nearly every hole plays straight out, its destination typically a back-to-front green shielded by two or three bunkers. Whether the traps are staggered in the fairway or squeezing the neck of the green, very few deviate from the procession of medium to large, bean-shaped bunkers. Depending on how much variety you seek in your golf experience, this uber-consistency may be a turnoff. There are very few surprises on the Links Course. Given the course's length and the nature of its holes, it's driver all the way, with few exceptions. Strategy off the tee doesn't go far beyond whether to wash your ball now or later.
Take a look at Cherry Creek's ground rules and become familiar with them -- a quick perusal of the scorecard may come in handy during your visit. Among them, dry creekbeds (most notable on #4) play as waste areas, and stones in bunkers are movable obstructions. A pump house next to #9 green is an obstruction. So is the flagpole and surrounding structure left of the 18th green -- in this case, complete relief is allowed.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
According to Cherry Creek general manager Peter Quaresima -- as told to Newsday's Mark Herrmann in this May 2010 feature -- the widely accepted explanation for the course's closing par-6 is that a hole of normal length would have left an abundance of unused streetfront property along Reeves Avenue. Now, when drivers seeking a shortcut to the wineries pass by the Links' doorstep, they'll have a clear view of drivers seeking a shortcut to a green more than 600 yards away.
The hole bends left at the start, then straightens out over its last 200 yards. Two depressions in the left rough eliminate any viable detours and push all action to the outside of the bend. Target areas are wide open and free of detrimental hazards. In fact, the biggest nuisance (if you find yourself left of the fairway) might be the giant flagpole and surrounding structure -- but even then, swing, stance and line of sight relief is offered. All in all, it will take at least two, maybe three swats with a big-headed club before you're in reach of the green, so consider accuracy before power. You'll be better off in the long run. (Emphasis on loooong.)
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
The first fairway is detached from its elevated green and apron by a 20-yard blanket of thick rough. This section of tall grass comes into play on second shots, more noticeably from the right side since the fairway jukes left around a cluster of trees. Underneath and around these trees, the expanse of rough becomes much more prominent. You can avoid this rough, of course, by simply landing your approach on or around the green, or at least landing safely on the small section of fairway leading up to the front bunker. But players who are not in position to go for the elevated green will be threatened by this crossing of thick stuff. It's not a major obstacle, just an irritating one to start the round, and chances are you haven't been practicing uphill 60-yard pitches over bunkers from buried lies.
Cherry Creek - Woods (across the street)
Long Island National (2 miles)
Sandy Pond (2 miles)
Indian Island (5 miles)
900 Reeves Ave., Riverhead 11901
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