Long Island, New York golf: A private club playground stocked with fine public courses too

MONTAUK, N.Y. -- Battling the notoriously awful summer traffic through the Hamptons of Long Island can be a painful crawl, especially for golfers.

Driving through golf's greatest gold mine of private clubs, with access to none of them, adds to the torture. Don't bother checking the GPS to see where Shinnecock Hills Golf Course , Maidstone , Sebonack Golf Club or the National Golf Links of America are located. Trespassing is a federal crime.

The rest of us have to seek out other places to play. Even if they aren't as swanky, the public courses of Long Island are quite an impressive collection. Golfweek ranks four of them among the top 15 public golf courses in New York . Drawbacks to planning a golf trip to Long Island include long drives between tee times and no true golf resort, but the rewards are obvious: a legendary U.S. Open venue accessible to all, a former PGA Championship host, intriguing variety and incredible affordability, especially considering how close you are to New York City.

The Bethpage State Park experience

Red or Black?

It's a game of roulette at the five-course Bethpage State Park. If you can't get on the awe-inspiring Bethpage Black , Bethpage Red (ranked 12th in the state by Golfweek) is no consolation prize. Bethpage Black's U.S. Opens in 2002 and 2009 were so wildly successful that the PGA of America wants in on the action, scheduling the 2019 PGA Championship and 2024 Ryder Cup at the famed muni in Farmingdale.

Getting a tee time through the state's phone-in reservation system can be as hard as winning the lottery. Check-in is just as bureaucratic, where players line up inside the clubhouse to get a wristband and receipt. I learned the hard way that if you lose either of them, it's back in line you go.

The sign at the first tee reads: "Warning -- The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers." It sets the tone for playing this pristine A.W. Tillinghast design dating to 1936. (Rees Jones updated the Black in 1997-98).

A parade of elevated greens makes the par-71 Black play much longer than the yardage: 6,684 yards from the whites and 7,468 yards from the blues. Breaking 90 should be the goal of every golfer, no matter how low his or her handicap. To be honest, punishment never felt so good.

More 'muni' golf at Montauk Downs, Eisenhower Park

In the U.S., only Cape Cod is closer to Ireland than Montauk, the tiny town on the eastern tip of Long Island. It's an arduous journey from the Big Apple to get there, but every golfer should make the effort to find Montauk Downs. Those who don't miss out on so much, the gorgeous beach and luxury of Gurney's Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, magical seafood and sunsets at Inlet Seafood, and even more state park muni magic on a 6,988-yard classic that dates to 1927.

Montauk Downs State Park , redesigned in 1968 by Robert Trent Jones Sr. and more recently modernized by Rees Jones, provides a round free from the shackles of society. No houses. No noise. No worries. When the crosswinds off of the Atlantic Ocean, Lake Montauk and Fort Pond Bay converge overhead, Montauk Downs (ranked 13th in the state by Golfweek) feels especially rugged and remote. The only thing missing is an ocean view.

Closer to civilization, the Red Course at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow has a tournament history not quite as prestigious as Bethpage Black but close. The Red, designed in 1914 by Devereux Emmet, remains the most celebrated of the three 18-hole munis run by Nassau County at Eisenhower Park. It hosted the 1926 PGA Championship won by Walter Hagen and last held the Champions Tour's Commerce Bank Championship in 2008. Loren Roberts, the winner that year, praised the Red, telling Newsday the course is "the deal of the century" when he learned about the fees.

(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article included Tallgrass Golf Course, which closed to become a solar farm at the end of 2016.)

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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No, it's not Bethpage. But with its isolation along Long Island's eastern shores, Montauk Downs is a wonderfully remote place to enjoy the game.
The Black Course at Bethpage State Park has a championship pedigree like no other municipal golf course in the country. Sheer length, bold bunkering and burly rough challenge anybody lucky enough to nab a tee time.
The Blue Course is generally considered the third-toughest golf course at Bethpage State Park, but get through the front nine okay and you can have a great day.
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Long Island, New York golf: A private club playground stocked with fine public courses too
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