Golf On Long Island's "Origins" series explores the history and development of those local golf courses whose backstory is a bit more unique than most. Stay tuned for more as the season progresses.
After a generation of stagnant growth on the Long Island golf landscape, the golf boom of the 1960s dotted the local area with a variety of new clubs and courses. Within this sudden rush of course-building was the rapid spread of practical, publicly accessible golf facilities. Many of today's county-run municipal courses and daily-fee layouts emerged during this period, built on vacant or acquired land in the late-'60s and early '70s to serve the growing communities quickly filling space across Nassau and Suffolk.
In stark contrast to these modest golf outposts were a few ambitious yet ultimately short-lived spectacles, complete with big-name backing or A-list attractions on top of a general air of sophistication. Charter Oaks, dubbed a "superclub" for wealthy businessmen upon its conception in 1969, filed for bankruptcy before it ever opened on a converted Muttontown estate. Ken Venturi was to be golf pro and director. He was gone by the time Charter Oaks opened instead as a family-oriented club that fizzled out a decade later under the name Fox Run.
Farther east, in 1971, Colonie Hill transformed a wooded tract on one of Long Island's highest points into a sprawling complex featuring a massive catering facility, a small hotel and an 18-hole golf course. It didn't take long before the venue became synonymous with glitz and glamour, with an opulent ballroom capable of holding 5,000-seat black-tie affairs. Colonie Hill found itself among the Island's leading wedding and special-event venues and a favorite facility for political dinners and rallies, especially among Nassau and Suffolk Republicans.
With so many seats to fill year-round, Colonie Hill needed attractions beyond filet mignon and luxurious china glistening under sparkling chandeliers. Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio raised money for charity playing in events. Wayne Newton and Tom Jones sang. The course became a stop on the pro tour in 1977, attracting the LPGA with its huge facility, and the leading players with an uncommonly high purse, for a tournament dubbed the Long Island Charity Classic. Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Jr. played in the pro-am, then teamed up to perform a comedy routine on the eve of the competition. With their pitching days behind them, Whitey Ford and Ralph Branca swatted golf balls in the pro-am, as well. So did Rod Gilbert and Denis Potvin. The list went on.
Behind the scenes, though, the facility buckled under the weight of financial burden, nearly from the beginning. Newsday outlined Colonie Hill's struggles in a 1988 obituary on the complex, which offered hints that, in anticipation of legalized gambling, the facility was originally intended to be a casino. Without it, the revenue streams were limited. The catering hall closed on New Year's Eve 1986, per Newsday, and was demolished the following year, while the golf course was eventually left neglected and overgrown.
Developers soon announced plans for a new 10-story hotel on the site, in addition to a reconstructed golf course with townhouses clustered inside the layout. Course designer Joe Lee, whose work can be found throughout Florida and the Southeast, was hired to transform Colonie Hill's 18 into Wind Watch. Lee remodeled and rerouted holes, eliminated others, and altered the character of the course by adding several water hazards to what had previously been a dry back-and-forth layout.
Later in the 1990s, architect Stephen Kay modified the Lee design to make room for the long-delayed residential phase of the development, to be built in the center of the course. Kay's most recognizable contribution is the current 18th, a 90-degree dogleg par-4 climbing uphill to a triple-tiered green.
In 2011, the Holiday Organization sold then-titled Hamlet Wind Watch to ClubCorp, which dropped the Hamlet name from both Wind Watch and sister course Willow Creek in Mount Sinai. The holes were reordered to their current position the following year.
For more on Wind Watch, check out the course flyover.
[PICTURED -- ABOVE LEFT: An ad in the 8/16/1973 edition of The Bethpage Tribune publicizes one of Colonie Hill's many celebrity outings for charity, this one featuring a dinner with Bob Hope. (Courtesy: NYS Historic Newspapers); ABOVE RIGHT: The par-3 sixth (formerly #15) plays over one of the ponds introduced when Joe Lee redesigned Colonie Hill into today's Wind Watch.]