A turn south from the Long Island Expressway at exit 69 is a short-lived escape from suburbia. First in line to greet you -- besides a billboard for the Pine Hills Country Club -- are farms and pie stands. If that rural touch is enough to transport your senses elsewhere, say a place with a slower pace and a calmer demeanor than Long Island, one mile ahead at Pine Hills, you'll be taken right back. The vistas at the Manorville layout will be very recognizable to those who've traversed some of its Suffolk neighbors.
Pine Hills is the longest of Manorville's three public courses (Rock Hill and Swan Lake are the others). In fact, at 7,132 yards from the tips, Pine Hills is lengthier than every public course on the Island except Bethpage Black and the Links at Cherry Creek. Tree-lined fairways and spacious greens give the course a familiar look.
The course is a driver's delight -- not only because of its length, but also because its relatively roomy fairways allow you to keep the big stick active. Bordering trees do not choke the fairways like they do elsewhere. Fairway bunkers are present on every hole but are easily avoidable for accurate hitters, with only occasional exceptions. Water hazards are direct threats on five holes and very passive participants on several others.
The front nine plays straight out and back on the south side of the clubhouse, followed by a back nine that loops around the north side. The 400-/375-yard first makes for a soft opening to a round, with the only trouble coming around the nearest half of the green in the form of two traps and a false front. The par-5 second shakes things up a bit with a slight right bend and a pond guarding the green. Bad pulls off the tee could find water, as well. Two layups will take both hazards out of play, while a strong drive sets up a potential Tin Cup glory shot.
A sharp left turn -- with fairway bunkers on the inside and outside of the dogleg -- makes #4 one of the more challenging holes at Pine Hills. It takes a firm drive to reach the turn, and many shots into the rough will require a layup or punch-out thanks to the trees. The hole's final challenge is a green that slopes in two different directions.
Two short holes provide opportunities to play a little more creatively without reaching, by instinct, for the driver. The 335-/315-yard fifth uses water left of the green to impact your direction off the tee. Targeting the roomier left side keeps the water in play later. If you try to approach from a better angle on the right, a fairway trap enters the fray. Around 30 yards shorter, #13 is a gift for those who get tripped up at the start of the back nine. Birdie is just a hybrid and pitch away. Some might give it a go with the driver, but although there is plenty of open space around the hole, the front entrance to the green is well protected by sand.
Back on the front nine, #7 lends a hand with an opportunity to gain a stroke, though it's certainly no pushover. Attack the fairway from a slightly raised tee and settle into prime real estate just a short iron away from the flag. Use caution on the approach, since the green is also elevated and tilted toward a deep right bunker. Putts on this green will scoot very quickly from back left to the right edge. Only the treelines resist your efforts on the 539-/473-yard eighth, where big bombers can look to get home in two. A back-to-front green is a welcoming landing spot whether you play the hole for eagle or as a three-shotter. At 440 yards from the middle tees, #9 is a grueling par-4 assignment when directed into the wind.
A couple of left-bending doglegs test your draw on the back nine. Pine Hills' "signature hole," the 498-/475-yard 15th, turns hard to the left after passing by a small tree-topped pond that guards the corner. This hazard was once much more obtrusive, but part of it was recently filled in to make way for more fairway space. (See more below in Holes to Remember and in this Observations post.) Rewind a few holes to #11, which features another fairway angled nearly 90 degrees. The turn here is protected by a sloppy waste area and hazard. A boulder resting in the rough outside the dogleg serves as a helpful aiming aid.
After a blind tee shot on the hilly par-5 12th and an offensive charge on the short, roomy 13th, players lock horns with a par-3 for the first time since way back at the third. At 180 yards from the middle tees, #14 is the longest of the one-shot trio. Its bike-seat-shaped green is framed by three bunkers. Two traps monitor the surface at #3, an amicable 156-yarder. Ahead at #17, water to the left of the green tests your nerves and late-round accuracy. While none of the par-3s will inspire thoughts of Amen Corner, at 182, 217 and 220 yards (in order of play) from the back tees, they will certainly put pressure on your long-iron swing.
You'll want to get as far down the fairway as you can at the 396-/365-yard 16th and be in range to target the green with shorter clubs. Too little muscle on your second shot could send your ball to the bottom of a greenfront water hazard. At #18, it's not too late for Pine Hills' longest par-4, a 472-yarder with only a single fairway bunker and some low trees and shrubs between tee and green. The strongest defense here is the wind. But if you cursed the wind for slowing your progress on the lengthy and north-facing #8 and #9, at least par-favoring gusts will be an ally on the southbound 18th.
I've always found the greens at Pine Hills to be among the softest surfaces around. I recall a short 20-yard pitch a few seasons ago that stuck right into the ninth green, its bottom quarter nestled comfortably inside the putting surface. In the last visit, a thinly struck iron blazed over the water hazard and bit into the second green, rolling out maybe five feet despite packing plenty of heat. For those who prefer a course with some firmness in its greens, Pine Hills may be a flop (a plugged one, at that).
Some work has been done around the course in terms of hole redesign. As mentioned above and outlined below, part of the fairway hazard on #15 was recently filled in and seeded. It also appears #5 green has been reshaped in the front.
Trees frame every fairway, but all is not lost if you scoot beyond the rough. In most cases, there is room to play from inside the treeline, and even though you may not have an opening to advance the ball far, at least you won't have to swallow strokes for balls lost or treacherous hacks out of dense woods.
Out-of-bounds is present on 14 holes, according to the scorecard. Proximity to private residential property is a factor on some of those holes.
HOLE(S) TO REMEMBER:
A sign at the start of the "signature" 15th advises that it is 180 yards to the hole's prominent fairway hazard, 220 to clear it. The view down the fairway reveals two trees standing tall over the far end of the pond inside the crook of the dogleg. Pulling driver here is a fun risk/reward play.
Carry the hazard on this 498-/475-yard par-5 to score a cushy spot on an uphill portion of fairway. Or, to dial down the risk, play safely down the center of the fairway or toward the outside of the turn. This safer route has been made possible by the course's recent renovation of #15. Nearly half of the hazard, much of which jutted across the fairway, has been filled in and seeded. In the past, players who opted not to challenge the water had to lay up with a sub-200-yard tee shot on a par-5.
Beyond the hazard, a rising fairway peaks and then descends toward one of the course's narrowest greens.
AREA(S) TO AVOID:
Aggressiveness is a tempting option on the doglegged 11th, where a nice soaring drive over the corner can lop off a significant amount of yardage. Plus, there's little trouble on the far side of the turn, so overrunning the fairway isn't a primary or even secondary concern. But catastrophe awaits inside the turn. Yank, pop up or top a tee shot short and left of the fairway (just about any mishit will do) and you'll be mired in a waste area -- think an overgrown ditch -- with about six different types of miserable lies. There's even a small water hazard farther ahead to complicate your escape.
If you manage to strike a drive for the ages, don't get too amped up on the approach. It's only a few paces from the back of the green to another mess. Flying the green could put you in the woods, and once you're there, the back-to-front tilt of the surface will do nothing but harm your scorecard.
2 Country Club Drive, Manorville 11949
Have thoughts and opinions on Pine Hills? Share them with other Golf On Long Island readers by posting in the comments section below.