Long Island can be confusing and intimidating for out-of-towners. Of course, the best place to relax and let troubles melt away is on the golf course. The following guide is intended to help visitors on Long Island find their bearings and get to the first tee.
Whether you’re on Long Island for business, pleasure, a brief visit with family or friends, or a stopover on a route leading elsewhere, while here, you have the opportunity to play golf at a wide variety of courses. No, Long Island will never be a golf “man-cation” destination like Myrtle Beach, and no, Nassau County will never be uttered in the same sentence (except this one) as Pebble Beach and the Monterey Peninsula. But with more than 65 golf courses open to all comers, including the most popular public facility in the country, Long Island can certainly entertain even the most ardent players and groups.
Primarily a working New York City suburb, Long Island doubles as a home to courses ranging from oceanside pitch-and-putts to land-locked nine-holers, and from privately operated daily-fee clubs to state-operated golf behemoths. Long Island golf begins at the Queens border at nine-hole North Woodmere Park and ends at, well, “The End” (Montauk Downs). Somewhere within the dense villages, quiet pines, rural farmland and scenic shores in between, you’ll find a layout that suits your game.
LONG ISLAND IS...
Stretching east from Manhattan, Long Island is a 100-mile-long finger of suburbia that closely resembles a fish floating in water. Chop off the head and set aside – that’s Brooklyn and Queens, each one a borough of New York City and part of the Island only in the physical sense. Long Island – the body and tail of the floating fish – is comprised of Nassau and Suffolk counties. Nassau is smaller, more densely populated, closer to New York City and home to (most of) Bethpage State Park. Suffolk is larger and shifts from suburban to rural to glitzy as you travel farther east. The Island is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the south and the Long Island Sound to the north.
WHERE ARE THE COURSES?
You’re never far from a golf course on Long Island. Close your eyes and point to a random spot on a map – chances are you’ve landed within 10 minutes from some type of public facility. But Long Island covers a lot of ground, and for visiting tourists and business folks, some areas are too far to reach when time and transportation are limited.
The following is a very broad directional overview for golf orientation purposes:
- Central Nassau: Home of the Island’s largest and most popular (a.k.a crowded) golf facilities – Bethpage State Park and Eisenhower Park. The two parks total eight golf courses.
- North Shore Nassau: North of the Long Island Expressway, you’ll find the Island’s densest collection of historic private golf clubs. Public golfers are served by a smaller selection of quality 18-hole courses and a few nine-hole executives.
- South Shore Nassau: Most of the courses here are nine-hole munis, but almost all of them are on or near the water and provide excellent — sometimes breathtaking — views. (Pictured right: #2 at the nine-hole Merrick Road Park Golf Course.)
- Western Suffolk (county line to Sagtikos/Sunken Meadow Parkway): For 18 holes, you’ll need to head to either of the two shores. Inland you’ll find a couple of nine-hole options.
- Central Suffolk (Sagtikos to William Floyd Parkway): The largest region offers the widest array of courses. Whatever your preference, you’ll find it. Traveling east through this area, you’ll find the Island becomes more rural in nature, and courses are more spread out.
- East End (Manorville, Riverhead and the Forks): Many courses here are found clustered in or around Riverhead. In terms of public golf, the North and South Forks are very similar – there are some nine-hole layouts along the way, but you’ll have to travel to the tips of the Island to play 18 (though it’s worth the added travel and summer traffic).
For an interactive map of Long Island's public courses, with links to detailed course descriptions, click here.
And for a list of courses by county, click here.
WHAT TYPES OF COURSES WILL I FIND? WHAT’S THE TYPICAL STYLE?
One of the beauties of Long Island golf is that the courses don’t follow a particular style or design. Excuse the cliché, but there is a course for everyone. There are wind-swept, links-inspired layouts, and narrow courses slicing through pine forest; long layouts that favor the powerful driver, and short ones that reward the accurate shotmaker; decades-old parkland courses with rich history, and decade-old daily-fee facilities with faces fit for a travel brochure.
(Pictured right: The 11th at Tallgrass Golf Course, an example of a links-inspired design.)
Common styles can be found if you look at courses in a particular area. South Shore courses are generally wide open and at the mercy of bay and ocean winds. Head east toward the pine forests of central Suffolk and you’ll find courses that squeeze between trees and force you to either find the fairways or spend the round punching out from underbrush.
HOW DO I GET TO THE COURSES?
It’s no secret that Long Island is heavily car-dependent. Though the Long Island Railroad serves commuters in almost every corner of the Island, it is very limited when it comes to intra-Island travel, and thus of very little use to visiting golfers. Unless you’ve arranged for a ride, have courtesy transportation provided by your hotel or don’t mind paying local cab companies to drop you off at the course (and pick you back up), you’re going to need a car. Enterprise, Avis and other rental car companies are scattered all across Long Island. Zipcar is also a popular option, especially for those staying in Manhattan.
Got a car? Good. Now it’s time to familiarize yourself with the Long Island Expressway, which runs west to east down the center of the Island and forms a sort of asphalt transportation spine. Most locals know how far west or east a destination is based on the LIE exit number (Queens-Nassau border is around exit 32; Nassau-Suffolk border is near exit 48; Expressway ends at exit 73). Many Island courses are no more than 10-15 minutes from the LIE. Other major roads that parallel the LIE are the Northern State Parkway, Southern State Parkway and Sunrise Highway (Route 27). With only a couple of exceptions, every public course on the Island is located within a short jaunt from these west-east roadways.
(Pictured left: The Town of Oyster Bay Golf Course in Woodbury is a Tom Fazio design located near the Nassau-Suffolk border and three major highways.)
For information on driving times to area courses, see below in the “Where to Stay?” section.
HOW MUCH DOES GOLF COST ON LONG ISLAND?
During the summer season and at peak playing times (weekend mornings), 18-hole rounds typically cost anywhere from $50 to $90 with carts. Knock off a few Lincolns for weekday and afternoon rounds, and a couple more for twilight rates. Rounds topping $100 are rare on the Island, but they’re out there. Still a tremendous bargain for all players when compared to other world-class courses, Bethpage Black, at $150 on weekend mornings, is now the most expensive round on the Island for visitors from outside New York State. (NYS residents pay half that amount.) Very few other courses follow the Black into triple digits.
(Willow Creek Golf & Country Club -- its 18th green pictured above -- is one course that approaches the $100 mark at peak times.)
If you’re here and on a budget, you can play during twilight times, walk the courses or find a nearby nine-hole layout. Mid-afternoon rounds at top courses can cost anywhere from $30 to $50. Even some of the most expensive courses can be played with a cart for well under $50 during twilight hours (typically beginning around 3 or 4 p.m.).
WHEN IS THE GOLF SEASON ON LONG ISLAND?
For the most cold-hardy Long Islanders, golf is a year-round sport. Provided there’s no snow on the ground and temperatures haven’t plunged far below freezing, most golf courses are open for play in the winter months. Of course, visitors will likely not be toting their clubs to the northeast in February. Nearly all seasonal courses reopen for business by mid-April. Fairways and greens start to regain their vibrancy around this time and, with a little help from The Masters, begin to lure warm-season golfers back onto the course. Rounds remain comfortable in September as summer turns to fall. October golf might require an extra layer or two, but nothing you can’t easily shed when the sun is out. By November you’re at nature’s mercy. To date, the coldest round us year-round golfers have ever played was a week before Thanksgiving.
WHERE SHOULD I STAY?
The reason for your trip will ultimately determine where you stay and how much you can play. But if your plans are flexible and include a lot of free time for golf, you can easily position yourself in a location close to many courses that allows for easy navigation around the Island.
Popular chain hotels are usually found in clusters. From west to east, here are the areas with the widest selection of lodging accommodations:
- Carle Place/Westbury: The central “Hub” of Nassau County, this area is convenient to Eisenhower Park, about 10-15 minutes from Bethpage, and surrounded by shopping and restaurants.
- Plainview/Farmingdale/Melville: Straddling the Nassau-Suffolk border, many hotels are available on or near the Route 110 corridor, minutes from the clubhouse at Bethpage.
- Commack/Hauppauge: Several hotels are located right off the LIE, and the nearby Sagtikos Parkway provides easy north-south access to courses along the shores and other major parkways and routes.
- MacArthur Airport: Even if you’re not utilizing the Ronkonkoma airport during your stay, you can use one of the many hotels that surround it as a convenient starting point for sampling the golf options in central Suffolk County.
- Riverhead: Suffolk’s county seat is an ideal home base for golfing on or near the Forks, especially in the summer when the area is swarmed by weekenders, wine tasters and other tourists. For weekend stays in peak season, you might need to book far in advance.
Once you reach the Forks, the landscape changes. High-speed roadways shrink to slower two- and four-lane routes as hotel chains give way to beach houses, oceanside resorts, spas, bed-and-breakfasts, etc. On the South Fork you’ll find the Hamptons, home of internationally renowned private clubs and a summer playground for celebs, socialites and partygoers. Beyond the Hamptons is Montauk, a low-key tourist destination with a highly rated state-park course (Montauk Downs, pictured left). The North Fork is Long Island’s Wine Country. These areas are wonderful destinations for vacations, weekend trips, dipping a toe into the Hamptons scene or sipping wine flights at local vineyards. But since the Forks are fairly isolated from the rest of the Island (especially Montauk) – and chances are you don’t have access to Shinnecock Hills or the National Golf Links – golf options are limited.
Stay & Play packages are available at some hotels. Riverhead’s Hilton Garden Inn, for instance, offers discounts at the Great Rock Golf Club (pictured). Farther west, it's hard to top the convenience of the Hyatt Regency in Hauppauge, which is located on the same site as Wind Watch Golf & Country Club.
If you’re staying in Manhattan, you can get close to many courses on the Island by using the Long Island Railroad out of New York’s Penn Station, but you’ll need car transportation to actually reach the clubhouse.
Drive times depend on your location and the time of day. There’s a big difference between driving to your 7:30 a.m. tee time on a Saturday and your 9:00 a.m. tee time on a Tuesday. Someone with a room at a MacArthur Airport area hotel and an early tee time at Bethpage Red should be able to get to the clubhouse in 30 minutes on a Saturday morning, but double the expected travel time on a weekday morning. Even visitors driving out from Manhattan can reach courses with ease on weekend mornings, though the return trip and weekday commutes will likely be harrowing experiences.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CAMPING OUT FOR A TEE TIME ON THE BLACK COURSE?
Sleeping out in the Bethpage parking lot is almost a rite of passage for local and visiting golfers; many have done it, and plenty have detailed their experiences and offered their advice. Since we’ve never gone through the process, we recommend checking in with other locals and visitors who have. Visit the links below for a sampling of the car-line info that's out there:
HOW ELSE CAN I GET ON THE BLACK COURSE?
Anybody can book a round on the Black Course through the park’s telephone reservation system. That doesn’t mean a tee time will be available, however. In-state visitors have a leg up on golfers arriving from outside New York – NYS residents can book a tee time seven days in advance; out-of-staters, only two days out.
But that information is irrelevant until you register with the park’s automated reservation system. In order to make a tee time, golfers must first register by faxing a copy of their driver’s license or non-driver ID card along with their name, date of birth, license/ID identification number, expiration date, contact number and e-mail address in writing to the park office. Once in the system, golfers will be assigned a registration number (driver’s license number for NYS residents) that will be used to access the tee-time system. At that point, you’ll have the ability to make a tee time – if you can find one. Good luck!
If you happen to be playing alone or as a twosome, chances are you will be able to show up in the morning and tee off on the Black after only a reasonable wait. The hype tends to obscure the reality of getting onto the Black Course. The fact of the matter is that in the dozens of times we’ve showed up at the clubhouse to check in or walk onto one of the other courses, there have always been times available on the Black for singles and twosomes. For a full group though, it might be best to camp out and enjoy the unique experience.
Click here for full details on the tee-time reservation system.
[NOTE: This information also applies for tee-time registration at Montauk Downs State Park and Sunken Meadow State Park.]
CAN I PLAY THE BLACK COURSE EVEN THOUGH I’M A HIGH HANDICAPPER?
The now-famous sign behind the first tee can be very intimidating, but the “people’s golf course” isn’t solely for people with low handicaps. Anybody can play, and as long as individuals and groups of any skill level maintain the appropriate pace and play from the correct tees, there shouldn’t be any problems. But if you’re a high-handicapper playing the back tees for fun or waiting for the green to clear from 230 yards with an impossible angle in the rough, chances are you’ll really rile up the masses. Understand going in that even on your best day, the Black will beat you down, especially if you’re not accustomed to such a grueling walk. (Remember, no carts.) While most of Nassau County is flat as a pancake, Bethpage – especially the Black Course – is not.
I’M A GOLF HISTORY BUFF. WHERE SHOULD I PLAY?
Long Island’s rich golf history isn’t confined to courses locked behind the gates of private clubs. History buffs could fill a few days on municipal courses alone. Bethpage, most of which was constructed as a Depression Era public-works project and designed by A.W. Tillinghast, is a smorgasbord in itself. A few miles west, Eisenhower Park’s Red Course – a Devereux Emmet design – is the sole survivor from the short-lived Salisbury Golf Club. Walter Hagen won the 1926 PGA Championship on what was known at the time as Salisbury’s #4 course.
The “Gibraltar” par-3 (left) on Timber Point’s Blue Course was once the 15th hole of one of the country’s most exclusive clubs. Though the club’s private Roaring Twenties heyday is long gone, the majestic hole and remnants of the original Timber Point layout live on beside Great South Bay as a fun, alluring draw for public golfers. Back west along the bay in Nassau, another ultra-exclusive playground for the privileged, the Lido Golf Club, didn’t make it beyond World War II. But the Town of Hempstead muni that exists today pays tribute to the C.B. Macdonald original with its double-fairway 16th, which is modeled after the old course’s “Channel” #4. The property isn’t the same (the original was located next door, where Long Beach HS and MS stand today, and stretched south to the ocean), but history and Macdonald fans might still enjoy a visit, if only for the exhilarating views of Reynolds Channel.
Replicas can also be found at Hauppauge’s Stonebridge Golf Links, a complete redesign of a former country club that now features architectural shout-outs to the works of Seth Raynor, C.B. Macdonald and Charles Banks. Here you’ll come across a number of designs and green contours not often found on Long Island’s public courses, including a Redan (#4), Biarritz (#7, pictured right) and Hog’s Back (#16).
For more, click the links above to peruse detailed course descriptions, and also check out William Quirin's "America's Linksland: A Century of Long Island Golf."
DO I NEED TEE TIMES IN ADVANCE?
Most 18-hole courses allow players to reserve tee times on their websites up to 7-14 days in advance. A few might require a phone call. Some won’t allow singles to make a reservation. If you plan on playing one of Long Island’s municipal courses (which includes any of the five courses at Bethpage State Park), the window of time available to make advance reservations is much smaller, if there’s even a window at all.
You’ll want to have a tee time in advance if you’re shooting to play in the morning or at Bethpage. Keep in mind that if you make a reservation at any Bethpage course, you’ll need to arrive one hour prior or risk having your tee time given away. At many courses, crowds thin by early afternoon and walk-ups can go out at their leisure. There are some, however, that fill up quick and force walk-ups to wait around for an opening.
Some courses fill tee times via third-party websites. A bargain might pop up on occasion, so it’s worth a quick search.
WHERE CAN I PRACTICE BETWEEN ROUNDS?
Driving ranges aren’t hard to find. Most courses have one (only a couple are grass), and a few also feature practice bunkers and a short-game area.
You can choose from a number of independent ranges, some of which also include short-game areas and miniature golf (hey, it worked for Happy Gilmore). For a list of practice ranges on the Island, check out this Newsday directory and Golf On Long Island’s list of Off-Course Destinations.
[Note: The Newsday list fails to include several popular practice ranges, including the 100-stall Spring Rock Golf Center in New Hyde Park.]
WHAT’S THE TYPICAL PACE OF PLAY?
Generally speaking, Long Island’s public tracks are no better or worse at getting groups around the course in timely fashion than any other. Some move at a steady pace with occasional waits, others are blazing fast, and a handful – especially in Nassau – are notorious for long afternoon slogs. In our combined decades of golf at all possible start times, we’ve seen everything from 5-1/2-hour, 18-hole crawls, to 90-minute waits at nine-hole courses (very rare nowadays), to gorgeous July afternoons on renowned courses without another soul in sight. If you absolutely must get around in 4 to 4-1/2 hours, as a general guide, think E and E – go East or go Early.
SOME COURSES HAVE CAUGHT MY EYE, BUT I WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THEM. WHERE CAN I FIND DETAILED COURSE INFO?
Unfortunately, the majority of Long Island courses do a less than adequate job in showing off their goods. The saying goes, “Show, don’t tell,” but many area courses haven’t gotten the memo. Visit course websites for info, but in most cases you won’t find much beyond yardages, rates, some general descriptions and maybe a scorecard. In fact, you can use two hands to count the total number of courses that pair detailed hole diagrams or images on their websites with any descriptive commentary.
(Pictured right: A look back at the finishing hole at Bethpage Black.)
This is one of the main reasons Golf On Long Island was established in 2008, to provide all golfers with as much information as possible about local courses. For detailed information about layouts, conditions, great holes and other relevant notes on the area’s public courses, refer to the list of “flyovers” in this page’s left sidebar.
And to ask specific questions that haven’t been answered above, send an e-mail to Phil@GolfOnLongIsland.com or post your question on Golf On Long Island’s Facebook page.
Golf On Long Island is supported in part by several sponsor courses and facilities. For further information on these courses, click the banners below to be directed to their websites, or click the links in the left sidebar to see the Great Rock and Timber Point flyovers.