MONTAUK DOWNS STATE PARK
South Fairview Avenue, Montauk; 631-668-5000. Yardage: 6,762. Par: 72. Slope: 139. Architect: Robert Trent Jones, 1968. Greens Fees: $30$36.
T&L Golf Rating:**** 1/2
On Long Island, great public golf often seems to rise from the ruins of a rich man's dream. In the 1920s, Carl Fisher, the master promoter who turned mangrove swamps into Miami Beach, began developing nine thousand acres at the eastern tip of the South Fork (see map) as a posh resort and embarkation point for ocean liners. He got as far as opening a golf links and a hotel when the stock market crashed in 1929. In reverse order, the hotel eventually went condo, the state took over, and in the mid-sixties Jones was hired to rebuild the course. With its many stands of mature trees, Montauk Downs is not a classic links, but that doesn't deter the stiff breeze sweeping in from Block Island Sound and the Atlantic. Montauk is a schlepp even from the Hamptons, let alone from Bethpage Park or Manhattan, but you won't be disappointed. The rolling terrain is beautiful, and the deep bunkers, thick rough and greenside water (on seven, thirteen and sixteen) demand focus and judgment. The short par-three second is a charmer. It rises so steeply from the white tees that you feel like a kid straining to see if your parents have hidden a present for you on the top shelf of their bedroom closet. What Jones has left for you is a tricky up-and-down.
HARBOR LINKS GOLF COURSE
One Fairway Drive, Port Washington; 516-767-4816. Yardage: 6,927. Par: 72. Slope: 129. Architects: Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, 1998. Greens Fees: $65$80; less for North Hempstead residents.
T&L Golf Rating: ****
In its former life as a sand mine, this once-unprepossessing site filled countless barges with sand to make the concrete that built innumerable New York skyscrapers, including the World Trade Center. It lies at the base of a high, encircling bluff, the top of which was the sand pit's summit when the mine was new. Opened in 1998, Harbor Links has a gnarly beauty that, like other Hurdzan-Fry layouts, looks spookily ancient and undisturbed. The views from the elevated tees are strategically enticing and often magical. On the tantalizing par-four fifth, dubbed "Imagination," do you take the curving low road, which bends out of sight, or the plateau high road, with its seeming sliver of a landing area?The next hole, a straight par five nestled under the bluff, offers another bifurcated route but hides nothing. Each path looks so enticing you want to play the hole twice. The wow factor builds on the back nine, with a canyon of chalky dunes. Whatever your handicap, play the eighteenth from the back tee. You'll be staring down the barrel of a 455-yard dogleg par four into a narrow valley with blocking trees left, water right and pinching fairway bunkers beyond the turn.
LONG ISLAND NATIONAL GOLF CLUB
1793 Northville Turnpike, Riverhead; 631-727-4653. Yardage: 6,838. Par: 71. Slope: 129. Architect: Robert Trent Jones Jr., 1999. Greens Fees: $90$125.
T&L Golf Rating: ****
From this former potato field at the fork of the whale's tail, it's about 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to Scotland. But you can be forgiven if you feel as if you're already there. When the sun is low, the intricate contours of mound, swale, heath and fescue present a master's thesis on the sensuousness of the colors green and brown. The course encourages the bump-and-run and offers old-country earmarks such as a double green, a double fairway and wind. Three ponds on the back nine and a central copse of framing trees offset the openness and add shot-making challenges. There are no houses or high-tension wires to spoil the view, and each hole has a distinctive character with many unforgettable features. On the par-five fourth the fairway suddenly ceases, then resumes sixty yards later and forty feet lower after tumbling down a shaggy slope—a case of fairwayus interruptus.
OYSTER BAY TOWN GOLF COURSE
Southwoods Road, Woodbury; 516-677-5960. Yardage: 6,350. Par: 70. Slope: 134. Architect: Tom Fazio, 1989. Greens Fees: $36$67; less for residents and members; cash only.
T&L Golf Rating: ****
Long Island's twin traditions of grandeur—private and public—meet on this hilly, gorgeously wooded site. In 1918, banker and U.S. treasury secretary Andrew Mellon bought the property as a wedding gift for his daughter and threw in a thirty-eight-room Italianate mansion so they wouldn't have to sleep in a tent. The town of Oyster Bay purchased the estate in 1970 and, when it commissioned a golf course eighteen years later, decided to go first-class. The Fazio fluidity is in full bloom. He did a brilliant job not only fitting the course into 122 acres but also giving each hole a private feel, retaining the natural beauty of the land and making a rather short track quite challenging and memorable. You might not pull out your driver on the front nine, but the tight fairways, flowing contours and multitiered greens keep it lively. The fourth is a great hole, a dogleg par four that teases your depth perception off the tee, then demands a long uphill approach to a partially hidden (and three-tiered) green; coming up short lands you in a bank of rising mounds, leaving a possibly blind chip from a teetering lie. Great finishing holes include a long lusty eighteenth that tapers to an undulating green in a secluded glade. You almost expect a centaur with pipes of Pan to part the branches and escort you back to the clubhouse, the old wedding-gift mansion a few yards away.