July 12, 2006
A Montauk Treasure
The South Fork is filled with numerous treasures and the Montauk Downs State Golf Course should surely be included in the bounty. Only 130 miles from busy Manhattan, it is situated in a state park that offers numerous amenities to those who visit.
The origins of the golf course date back to its development in 1927 by the famous golf architect and designer Robert Trent Jones. Born in 1906, Robert Trent Jones Sr. came to our hallowed shores from England with his parents, who settled in Rochester, New York. The youthful Robert was quickly drawn in by the challenging game of golf and its no surprise that he worked for a local club.
While attending college at Cornell, this creative student actually designed his own major, weaving classes like landscape architecture, surveying and economics into his pursuits. After graduation, he worked laboriously in Canada to form alliances with the best and brightest in the golf world. The Montauk design was one of his earliest.
After World War II, he landed what will always be considered his first biggest assignment and the Peachtree Golf Club of Atlanta, Georgia, was solidified with the legendary Bobby Jones.
Robert Trent Jones, no relation to Bobby Jones, has been considered a master of artistic landscaping while creating sand traps that pushed the limits of convention. He used water hazards quite liberally, always taking into account that golf cannot have true rewards without having arduous risks. Daring play became a part of his trademark and coaxed a new strain of players to become involved in the game.
Montauk Downs is part of Long Island's easternmost state parks. Native American translation of Montauk roughly translates to "hilly land." The clubhouse sits on the small hill as you enter from South Fairview Avenue and the course looks terrific, especially with all the rain we've had in recent weeks. In 1968 Robert Trent Jones Jr. updated the course, incorporating some of his own design features. The state took it over in 1980.
Because of its location, Montauk Downs always presents a new face on each round. Since it sits so near to the end of Long Island, the Atlantic Ocean has a way of perplexing even the most frequent golfer as the wind is always shifting direction. Each tee-off is surrounded with new adventures, thus keeping the course more intriguing to those who play. This is an added plus for those who perceive golf as a boring quest to move a small ball around a large location in a lengthy endeavor.
Without revealing too much about the actual playing course, the view at the seventh green from the right of the fairway displays a wide water hole directly in front of the green, bunkered on its immediate right with a deep, cliffy sand trap. It's a par five that has been home for many years to a returning family of red foxes that have discovered that digging deeply into the shelf has secured them with a protective home.
Personally, I think that the ninth hole, a #1 handicap is the most difficult as its design forces each player to directly face a non-relenting wind. You simply cannot be sure where your ball will end up as the prevailing wind strength seems to be in charge here. The signature hole is the 12th hole, a par three with its own set of winds that never appear to blow anyplace else except directly at the golfer. Yes, it's a tough par three.
The 13th hole (as seen in picture) has a big water trap to its right, while the sixteenth green is completely surrounded by sand holes and a large pond of water. The eighteenth hole is an exercise in beauty and design, bringing golfers back to a picturesque clubhouse.
Naturally, the course requires soft spikes for play and has such added attractions as golf clinics, lessons, practice putting greens, a driving range and an impressive pro shop. The course is nothing less than beautiful and continues to be well-maintained. Tranquility and serenity seem to envelop players as they begin their adventure on this historic course.
Other amenities are available for visitors, including a two-story high building with a restaurant that serves breakfast and lunch in a semi-formal type of atmosphere.
The club also includes the standard grill, lounge, showers and lockers, for those who play. A swimming pool is available, along with tennis courts, gratis of the park system.
Robert Trent Jones Sr., was a founding member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects who became a visionary and ended up as a symbol of golf in its finest form. In his long and exciting lifetime, he developed relationships and friendships with industrial giants and kings of countries. He never lost his focus about the way golf courses should be designed. He instilled these principles in his two sons, Rees and Bobby, Jr.
When Robert Trent Jones Sr. died in June of 2000, the golfing world lost a true treasure. Fortunately, that treasure lives on at Montauk Downs Golf Club.