An introduction to Long Island
Long Island may be popular because of the Hamptons, but there is so much more to see and do here. New York City has the vibrant buzz of city-life, whilst Long Island contrasts this perfectly. And let’s be honest, there are some pretty epic golf courses in Long Island too!
At 118 miles long, it stretches east from Brooklyn and Queens and is made up of two counties, Nassau and Suffolk county. Neither Brooklyn or Queens are officially part of Long Island, but most people know where they are so it helps to draw a line from here!
So why is Long Island so famous? Well primarily, the way it caters for so many tastes. Clearly we will come on to the golf courses, but the first thing you will notice is just how many parks and beaches there are. This couldn’t be more opposite to New York just down the coast.
For lovers of nature, there is a litany of public parks, gorgeous beaches and some awesome hiking routes.
Those who enjoy their history will be able to explore castles, lighthouses and gold coast mansions. Believe it or not, there are even some classy vineyards worth touring.
In regards to the most popular spots, the Fire Island Lighthouse is arguably the main attraction. It is on a long and thin barrier island, located within Robert Moses State Park and has stunning panoramic views. On a clear day, you can see right down to Manhattan.
It pains me to say it, but the Hamptons are definitely worth visiting. Yes, this is the weekend getaway for the rich and famous. But that aside, there are some great shopping and dining establishments. It is also home to one of the best beaches on Long Island, Coopers Beach.
Now let’s start discovering the best golf courses on Long Island.
The best golf courses on Long Island
1. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
One of the five founding members of the USGA, Shinnecock Hills oozes rich tradition and timeless class.
It is also widely accepted it was one of the first authentic US golf courses. Albeit rudimentary in style, the original 12-holes opened in 1891 designed by Willie Davis, the Scottish professional at the time.
Since then, some of the greatest names in U.S. golf course architecture have laid their marker on Shinnecock Hills’ routing.
First up was Charles Macdonald and Seth Raynor, followed shortly thereafter by William Flynn and Howard Toomey. Although it must be said Dick Wilson was a big influence on the final design.
The land upon which it sits is truly special and seems primed to have only ever housed a golf course. There are gently rolling sandhills which court the fairways as they make their way round the property. The circuitous routing means you are being constantly challenged by different wind directions.
There are some classic template holes, including the 7th a Redan, and the 17th hole, a superb par-3 Eden.
Worth a special mention are the timeless greens. They are firm and fast with many featuring steep drop offs requiring absolute precision in your approach play.
Strangely, there was a long period when Shinnecock Hills flew under the radar. Yes it hosted its first U.S. Open in 1896 but it had to wait 90 years before hosting its second. Since then there have been plenty more including a Walker Cup and many amateur championships.
2. National Golf Links of America
Located on Peconic Bay in the town of Southampton, is another of the great classic golf courses in the U.S. We’re talking about the National Golf Links of America, also considered one of the greatest golf courses in the world.
The course came to life in 1908, under the stewardship of Charles B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor. This is the duo who also had a significant influence on the iconic Shinnecock Hills Golf Club.
Coincidentally, the two aforementioned courses appear joined at the hip. The fairways on the outer extremities of the 253-acre plot, literally run alongside Shinnecock Hills’ outer-most fairways.
After many years studying the best golf courses in the British Isles, Macdonald gleaned the best elements of what he saw to help craft the routing. Therefore National Golf Links of America is essentially crafted from some of the greatest qualities, from some of the finest golf courses across the Atlantic.
For example, the Road hole and the Eden are both borrowed from St Andrews. Sahara is inspired by Sandwich in Kent, the Redan from North Berwick and the Alps from Prestwick.
The course is immensely playable. Where Shinnecock Hills will test every facet of your game, National Golf Links of America is arguably more enjoyable and less penal. There is no repetition and it comes as no surprise many of the greatest architects have visited here to study greatness.
The club is strictly private, so ensure any invitation is heeded without question.
3. Friar’s Head
Located in Riverhead, overlooking Long Island Sound, is one of the newest courses on Long Island, Friar’s Head.
This was a ramshackle site, a former farmland of around 350-acres featuring wild sand dunes and pine woodland. It had the potential to house a world-class golf course. It also, however, had the potential of housing a complete dog-track.
To avoid the latter (which spoiler alert they did) they called upon two of the finest architectural minds of the time, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw.
The duo were hot off the back of having completed the outstanding Sand Hills in Nebraska, another site dominated by endemic sand dunes. Word has it they took over a year to map out the perfect routing for Friar’s Head.
There is a seamless blending of holes, which weave back and forth from the flatter farmland to the more impressive dunes. Many of the holes are surrounded by fescue and sands adding to the rustic look.
Everything about this place is immense. The green complexes are on another level of good, many of which are vast in size. Likewise the bunkers, which vary in size, but give the impression they have always existed there. The attention to detail is on another level.
The clubhouse is sensational and the club has some of the best practice facilities you’ll find anywhere. Without doubt one of the best golf courses on Long Island, New York.
4. Fishers Island Club
A course as hard to get to, as it is to get on, Fishers Island Club is very happy keeping itself out of the spotlight.
The club is located on a narrow island, which actually just sits off the Connecticut coastline. It is accessed by ferry from New London but the island itself is technically in the state of New York.
Founded in 1927, the club called upon one of the great architectural minds of the time Seth Raynor to devise the routing. In more recent times, it has had Gil Hanse advising on renovations.
Raynor had a special plot of land to play with, rustic and yet serene. From every hole he was able to ensure views of both Fisher Island and Block Island Sounds.
The layout is links in style, and is largely reminiscent of some of the finest links courses in the British Isles. So much so the irrigation is set to only water greens and tee boxes, giving a far more authentic look during some of the hotter months.
Elevated and well-defended plateau-like greens are the main feature. So much so, if you want to score well, your approach play needs to be spot on. There are cavernous, scorecard-wrecking bunkers protecting many greens which must be avoided at all costs.
From the back tees the course measures just under 6,700 yards, so length is not the challenge. Keeping it in play to avoid the penal rough and hitting the dancefloor is the way forward.
A delightful course and well deserving of being so highly ranked.
Maidstone is located in East Hampton, with a number of holes literally hugging the Atlantic Ocean.
The club has been here since well before the start of the 20th century, with a more rudimentary 9-hole layout for members of the club to enjoy. But it was in the 1920s with the availability of new sandy land, that things really started.
Willie Park Jr. and his younger brother John devised the layout through salt ponds and marshland. Part of the brilliance in their execution is the variety of holes. They have been designed in a way which constantly shifts direction, requiring adjustment and thought.
The southern stretch of holes are dominated by large sand dunes, which to some extent protect from the prevailing winds. But those winds can also determine whether Maidstone shows its teeth or not.
More recently, the club engaged the services of Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw to completely renovate and reinvigorate the course.
Since this project was completed, it is unanimously accepted Maidstone has stepped up a level in its end product. It more than holds its spot in the ‘best of’ rankings.
6. Bethpage (Black)
So this is a course which some feel will be undeserving of its lofty position in the ‘best golf courses on Long Island’ list. And they may be right.
At the heart of the debate is how the Black course at Bethpage has become so preoccupied with protecting par. To the point where its essence and core have been lost.
But where are my manners? Let’s start at the beginning, going back to the start of the 20th century.
The land at the time was owned by the Yoakum family and was leased to the Lenox Hills Corporation. They used the property to build the Lenox Hills Country Club. Some years later in the early 1930s, the land was acquired by Bethpage Park Authority to build what is now known as Bethpage State Park.
A.W.Tillinghast, one of the most celebrated golf course architects of the time, was commissioned to oversee the build of three 18-hole courses. These were the Black, Blue and Red. Part of the commission was to also renovate the Lenox Hills course which became the Green course.
Some years later, a fifth 18-hole course was created by Alfred Tull, called the Yellow course. But it is the Black course, lurking ominously in the background, which stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Before we circle back to the controversy alluded to before, there are many things to be celebrated. The Black Course was the first publicly operated course to host a U.S. Open Championship, and to this day it has hosted multiple major championships. It is also incredibly good value with a midweek twilight tee time well under $100.
But the negative voices claim the course has lost its soul. The ‘Open doctor’ Rees Jones, an architect who has over the years renovated many U.S. Open courses, has arguably gone too far here.
The fairways have been narrowed to such a degree the average golfer would stand no chance of regularly hitting the fairway. The rough is penal, wrist-breakingly so. The greens are unforgiving. You get the point.
So much so, many argue the original Tillinghast design has long been lost.
Either way, this is a fine course and one which I believe deserves its position in this list. If for no other reason than the fact it is so accessible compared to the others on here!
7. Sebonack Golf Club
For many golf courses, to be nestled between National Golf Links of America and Shinnecock Hills, might be the beginning of the end. Ignore competing with them, how do you possibly even stand on the same pedestal as them.
But Sebonack, which opened in 2006, manages to confidently stand up there. It is a superb creation from two of golf’s finest architectural minds, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak.
The land is a sensational plot, adjacent to the Peconic River of which there are many views from the course. Just like National Golf Links of America, it feels like this land was primed for a golf course.
What was arguably more surprising is the fact both Nicklaus and Doak, two architects with very different approaches to their trade, managed to unite and excel in creating Sebonack.
In typical Doak fashion, the routing fits the site’s natural topography like a glove. Alongside this, Nicklaus was able to add more strategic recommendations to increase the challenge.
There is a delightful mixture of holes which due to the varying nature of the routing, ensures you’ll need every shot in the bag. You can be sure the wind will also play a role at some point.
To say this club is exclusive is an understatement. It’s rumored you’ll need to part with a cool $650,000 to be a member here.
8. Garden City Golf Club
So let’s get the contentious part out the way first, so we can actually focus on the golf. Garden City Golf Club is a men’s only club. Yes, we’re in the 21st century and it’s men only.
There is no excuse and anyone who tries to hide behind ‘legacy’ or ‘history’ are deluding themselves. I’m fascinated by history, but some things are best left there. I have no doubt some will disagree, but I know my morals are in the right place.
Right, now let’s move on. What can’t be denied is the fact that this is a phenomenal golf course.
The club came into existence in 1896, with Devereux Emmet designing the course which opened for play a year later. At the time this was the perfect rural location, located well away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Yet today, the roles have reversed and it is one of the few green spaces in the vast urban sprawl.
It was in the 1920s when Walter Travis came onboard and made some pretty significant modifications. So much so, it is these improvements which many argue elevated the course into the gem it is today.
The land is relatively flat but the routing keeps things interesting moving in various directions. This is proper old-school in character, so much so you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Surrey, England, playing a traditional heathland course.
The fairways often play firm and the greens often slope away from you. The key to enjoying your round is simply to avoid the fescue rough, which is easier said than done. Angles into the greens can also make or break a good score.
Oh, and don’t forget your jacket if you do get an invite. If not, you’ll be having a sandwich in the car park.
9. Piping Rock Golf Club
he last of our best golf courses on Long Island list, Piping Rock is located close to the village of Matinecock in Nassau County. This is a classic and timeless Charles Macdonald and Seth Raynor project.
The course opened for play in 1911, shortly after Macdonald had completed National Golf Links of America up the road toward Southampton.
At the time, polo was the main recreational activity at Piping Rock. Subsequently Macdonald’s routing had to circumnavigate the large polo field, something which clearly irritated Macdonald at the time.
Despite that oddity, the layout at Piping Rock is divine. There are many of the template holes you would expect to find in a Macdonald/Raynor project including Alps, Redan, Biarritz, Road, Short etc.
Despite being located on a vast plot of land, from the back tees the course stretches to under 6,900 yards. There is the space for it to be extended, but it’s kept as it was designed. The course is immensely playable and fun, and the conditioning is always second to none.
What is the best golf course on Long Island?
The best golf course on Long Island is Shinnecock Hills, towards Southampton on the eastern side of the island. The course was initially designed by Willie Park in 1896, with subsequent design modifications coming from Charles Macdonald and Seth Raynor, followed by William Flynn and Howard Toomey some years later.
How many golf courses are there on Long Island?
Long Island is home to around 140 public and private golf courses stretching right across the island.