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Saturday, May 11, 2013

For Shot-Makers Only: Willow Creek

Willow Creek
One of the best parts of my job is discovering new--to me--golf courses. It's particularly enjoyable when my assignment takes me to a fun, challenging, shot-maker's course like Willow Creek in Mt. Sinai on New York's Long Island. I recently played the Stephen Kay design for the first time and look forward to a return visit soon.

With acres of sand and oceans of water in play, Willow Creek demands accurate ball placement off the tee. Length is good, but not essential, and I could easily envision playing a round without a driver. In fact, on holes where you might want to let the big dog hunt like the 555-yard ninth or 526-yard fifteenth, you could end up with a big number if you try to over-power the hole off the tee. Water comes into play on 12 holes and every single one is heavily bunkered--most from tee to green.

Even where fairways are wide, it pays to consider your second shot before whaling away from the tee box. Greens are huge and heavily contoured, so the angle of attack is key. They also run fast, something you might not expect from a daily fee course. Approaching from the wrong place, even from a perfect lie in the fairway, can make it impossible to get close to the pin.

Kay makes excellent use of fairway bunkering on both short and long holes. The tone is set at the first hole, a 324-yard tester with a tiny landing area between bunkers at about 200 yards off the tee. The 302-yard seventh hole has a fairway split by a bunker that stretches from the 200- to 240-yard mark as does the 367-yard tenth hole. If you don't have pinpoint accuracy or a tour-level sand game, laying back is a wise move.

There are five par threes with lengths ranging from 130 to 197 yards. The greens are expansive  though, so double check the distance before you pull a club. Wind will always come into play, too, as will the extreme contouring. Even a hole as seemingly benign as the signature sixteenth, 150 yards over water to a green the size of Rhode Island, can turn into a four-putt disaster if your tee shot ends up in the wrong place.

Willow Creek measures 6,611 from the tips or a more enjoyable 6,311 from the blue tees. There are two other sets of tees on the par 71 track. Rating and slope from the blues is 71.3/131. The course is operated by Club Corp and has a congenial, helpful staff. Conditioning is good, greens run moderately fast and very true, and pace of play was quite acceptable the day I was there. It's a daily fee facility with rates starting at $30. It is a great golf value at more than twice that.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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