“Besides its sporting requirements, I believe that a truly great golf course must either enhance the natural habitat or create a new environmentally sound one. The more we harmonize natural surroundings into a golf course, the more aesthetic and memorable it will be.”
– Michael Hurdzan, course architect
Located in Port Washington, and opened for play in 1998, Harbor Links is a great design by Michael Hurdzan, who’s most well known as being the architect of Erin Hills – home of the 2017 US Open. The site was a former sand mine that was utilized from the 1860’s through the 1990’s and what was left behind after over a century of excavation had led to one of the more unique settings you’ll find for a public golf course on Long Island. Part 2 of my review takes a look at interesting holes on the course.
Utilizing four sets of tees, the par 72 course can stretch out to a maximum of 6,938 yards or play as short as 4,966 yards from the red tees. Both nines are a standard par 36 with two par 5s and two par 3s aside. The routing on the front nine takes you through the southern half of the property with plenty of elevation changes and directional changes as no two consecutive holes play in the same direction. The back nine is similar in that respect as well but occupies the northern half of the property whereby a few of the holes, such as the aptly named “Arizona” 12th, make you feel as though you are playing in the southwestern US rather than on Long Island. A 250+ foot bluff surrounds the western and northern sides of the course and give the effect of playing in a canyon and/or a natural stadium of sorts. Harbor Links is a visually appealing course that offers a unique challenge and a myriad of strategic options as the golfer will encounter blind shots, split fairways, gnarly rough and difficult greens, especially when the course is playing firm and fast.
The greens have a lot of movement to them and depending on where the holes are cut, you may not see a straight putt all day. The grounds crew has a tendency to get carried away with some hole locations. On my last two visits, I witnessed two good looking putts lip out and end up off the green.
While not a true links course by any stretch of the imagination, an extensive tree removal program over the past decade have opened up playing corridors and now allow for wind to become more of a factor than in the past.
Behind Bethpage Black and Red, I would say that Harbor Links is the 3rd best public golf course in Nassau County. Unfortunately there is not much competition in the area as the public golf options in Nassau leave a lot to be desired.
While your author does believe that this is one of the finer public layouts on the island, there is plenty of room for improvement from a managerial/operational perspective. For a course that dubs itself as “Long Islands premiere daily fee public golf course” and charges as much as $130 for a round, I expect more than just an interesting layout. First and foremost, the pace of play is a major issue at Harbor Links and the problems start before you get to the first tee as 30 minute delays are fairly common on weekends. Since golfers are asked to show up 1 hour before their tee time, you can be left standing there for 90 minutes before hitting your opening tee shot. Typically you can kill time on the putting green and range but it’s worth noting that the putting green has no holes cut and is only open to 1 group at a time (the group on deck to tee off) for about five minutes. As for the range, it’s mats only even though there is a large swath of grass cut to fairway length in front of the mats that is off limits. This may sound like nitpicking, but for $100+ one would expect better practice facilities, especially when considering that there’s plenty of time to utilize them before teeing off.
Back to the issue of pace of play, the course needs to employ a marshal or two on the course to keep things moving as all it takes is one slow group to ruin the day for everyone behind them. Furthermore, due to poor drainage, there is a cart path only rule in effect for a few days after any rainfall which grinds things to a halt, especially on the 6th hole where your ball can be on the fairway and still require a 100 yard walk from the cart to get to it (and uphill, to boot!). My last round there took 5 ½ hours!! Adding in the 90 minutes prior to teeing off, that’s 7 hours spent at the course. Wasn’t it Jack Nicklaus who said that golf is dying because it takes too long and is too expensive? Well, look no further than Harbor Links for a perfect example of that.
It’s riding only on the weekends but I do think that allowing walkers could actually speed up the pace of play. Considering that I walked Bethpage Black in less than 4 ½ hours last week, there’s no reason why rounds should take over 5 hours here. As for the carts, they are battery powered and offer GPS. However, unbelievably, I had my cart die on the 13th hole for three consecutive rounds last year. Yes, you read that correctly.
Apologies for that digression but I believe that the overall experience and value are just as important as anything else when offering a review of a course. One would be less bothered by these issues at a $25 muni but that’s not the case here.
Back to the course itself. As holes are constantly changing direction and elevation, no two holes play the same and each offers a unique challenge which keeps things interesting. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse than a monotonous course where one can’t remember specific holes on a course after a round. Thankfully, that is not the case here.
The par-5 1st hole is a gentle start to your round and is probably the most boring hole on the course. However, it’s a gentle start which is nice and the course certainly improves from here on out.
As for the conditions, I played here last week and the course was in superb condition. The greens were rolling fast and true and all fairways and tee boxes were what you would expect. The rough, as always, is a big challenge here and if you are really off line, you’ll encounter the native grasses and fescue which only make matters worse for you.
Early in the season the conditions aren’t ideal but that’s not abnormal after the winters we can have here on Long Island. However, as other courses do, management needs to alert the public when they are aerating the greens and offer a discount. Instead, they keep it a secret and still charge the full greens fee which rubs many the wrong way. It would also be nice to see off-season rates in the early spring and late fall when course conditions are less than ideal.
For a few final thoughts, the course itself is one of the better ones that you’ll find on the island aside from the opening hole, there are no bland holes. My only gripes have to do with the management here and the expensive greens fees. If you can, try playing in the middle of the week when the rates are more reasonable and the pace of play is less of an issue. You won’t be disappointed.
Check out Part 2 of the Harbor Links Review, here.
Photo/Image Credit: http://www.harborlinks.com