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America's Golf Gateway

Some of the country's first courses were built at the turn of the twentieth century on long island, and one of them, Shinnecock, will host this year's U.S. Open tournament
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Alec Baldwin, May/June 2004

(continued from page 2)

Macdonald imported to National his versions of the Road Hole at St. Andrews, the Redan at North Berwick and the Alps hole at Prestwick. Another hole at National, the eighth, is known as Bottle and was modeled after a similar par 4 at Sunningdale outside of London. A series of fairway bunkers cut across on a sharp angle, the closest being on the left side, the farthest being in about the middle, creating a split fairway. Good players try to hit over the bunkers to the left side of the fairway for the best approach to the green. Lesser players can hit up the right side of the fairway, but will face a more difficult shot to the green, which is guarded with severe bunkering. For a 400-yard hole, it's menacing.

The clubhouse at the National, all dark wood, leather and of another time, serves a famous lobster lunch and has a full-size statue of Macdonald in the library. Lore has it that Macdonald had the statue commissioned and then billed the membership. When a member thought a windmill would look nice on the hill above the 16th green, Macdonald had one built and billed the member. Macdonald was not short on either brilliance or foresight or gall, and those qualities served him well in creating a course and a club that is a seminal experience for every first-time player.

Twenty-five miles to the east, you,ll find the alluring links of the Maidstone Club. Shinnecock, National and Maidstone are looked upon as The Triumvirate by those who get precious invitations to play them, and no tour of east end golf clubs would be complete without a round at this East Hampton gem. Maidstone has had many variations of a golf course dating back to the mid-1890s. Another Scotch Willie, this one Willie Park Jr.' had a hand in the original 18-hole course and the present one, which touches the Atlantic with two of the best short par 3s in the game and the sweeping par-4 ninth. The latter hole raises the spirits, and can greatly raise your score on a windy day.

If the courses of The Triumvirate conjure up thoughts of desire and envy, the Black Course at Bethpage State Park can conjure up another thought—fear. The Black Course was the site of the 2002 U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods, the only player to break par for 72 holes. It is the quintessential parkland golf course, rolling through endless acres of prime woodland, and is the alpha male of an amazing five-course complex that surely has become the symbol of American public golf. It doesn't take connections and a seven-figure salary to get a tee time on the Black. You can do it by telephone reservation or the die-hard method—sleeping overnight in the parking lot.

The Black is the last great work of architect A. W. Tillinghast, who designed three courses at Bethpage in the 1930s as part of a public works project. The Black opened in 1936 and was immediately proclaimed one of the toughest courses in the United States, and certainly one of the longest. The course's penal greenside bunkering was suggestive of the iconic Pine Valley in New Jersey, but then, "Tillie" was a close friend of Pine Valley designer George Crump.

"The Black is an incredible place," says Davis Love III, who parked his lavish recreational vehicle on the property during the 2002 Open. "To think that it is a public golf course, and costs just thirty bucks to play, is just awesome. And I don't know that I have ever putted on better greens in my life. Just the whole experience of being there was terrific." All the best players will be there again for the 2009 Open. The USGA, with record-breaking crowds and revenues and rave reviews from players, couldn't pass up bringing the national championship back. The Black, as always, lies in wait.

But there's more. Long Island virtually spills over at its coasts with great golf courses. Piping Rock, The Creek, Meadow Brook, Rockaway Hunt, Deepdale, Inwood, Westhampton, Fresh Meadows—these are names that ring loudly across the golf landscape, yet are just a few of the more than 130 courses on the island. All the great designers have left their marks on Long Island, and all the great players have walked its fairways.

"The quality of the courses is fantastic," says Jimmy Dunne. "The quality of the experience is sensational. It's that X factor. It's the whole feeling of playing golf here, knowing that you are playing courses that have great history, great players. The whole ambience thing. It doesn't get any better."

Jeff Williams is a sportswriter for Newsday on Long Island.

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