Hay Harbor Club

2,843 yards, 114 Slope

The scorecard remained blank. In fact, I forgot about it altogether until that night when I emptied out my golf bag. I took one just before we teed off and had every intention of keeping score, but that all changed as we walked off the First tee into the fairway, the ocean just ahead. No one else was on the golf course except us. The shaggy fairways and down to earth conditions added to the fascination. The ocean was a little more cantankerous here than it was earlier in the day at Fishers. Waves were crashing, intent on leaving little doubt who did all that work to the rocky cliffy coast. With the wind a little stiff and a charming, deserted feel to the place, we hit our approaches to the green and the ocean grew closer with each step forward. It felt like golfing in an episode of “Lost,” which seemed even more the case when we came upon some U.S. Government property fences on one of the borders. I became immersed in the place. An interesting set of nine holes in a coastal basin that is wide open. The width gives the golfer freedom to lash away, yet the subtleties of the terrain and off fairway and greens do their work relentlessly if the golf ball dares approach those areas. There are some jagged bluffs on one side that some of the holes meander around and serve for most of the elevation changes while the bunkering is sparse yet well-placed.

There are more important things than score, most things really, and it seemed too burdensome during that round. There are few times one finds himself in such beauty and intrigue in near isolation. Taking in that setting was priority and while I knew my score was actually pretty good, I found the most satisfaction keeping that blank scorecard in my pocket and staying focused on moving that white ball about the coast.

The origins of Hay Harbor are murky but it predates the “big course” by almost twenty years, listed as opening in 1898. George Strath of Royal Troon fame was heavily involved in its original design and it appears there was some ongoing work after its opening. There is speculation Seth Raynor may have done work here but I could not find any substantiation of that. There have been some changes to the course throughout the years with a few iterations and changes to routing but seems to be largely intact from its original concept. Similar to Fishers Island and likely out of necessity, fairway irrigation and maintenance is basic but still plays as it should with the hills and contours. It adds to the classic charm of the place. The greens come in various shapes and use the terrain just as well as the fairways.

Hay Harbor seems intent on providing relaxation and joy to those who grace its fairways. The perfect host in such a dramatically halcyon setting.

The First is a 415 yard par 4. Leading down to the ocean, the fairway is generous with a sprinkling of smaller bunkers dotting the landscape. The green is offset and below the fairway, making for a lot of blind approaches. Some of the contours on the left will bounce the ball towards the green while those more towards the right will repel and of course those approaches to the left are more blind than the right. This little conundrum of a game takes place as the ocean glistens paces away.

The First
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking off to the right

The Second is a 358 yard par 4. There are quips that this is the most difficult golf hole on the island between either course but I’m not one to get into that discussion. It certainly asserts its identity early on that while the views and setting are appealing, the golf is just as substantial. Moving along the coast and climbing upwards, the fairway narrows before funneling to a mere path to the green on the left side. The further the tee shot, the smaller margin for error, yet a shorter approach is the trade off. The green is of moderate size so this so a more controlled approach is certainly valuable, especially since mostly all approaches will be blind to the uphill green. There is some left to right movement as well, making the right side a bit more preferred for the approach. It’s an undeniably good golf hole with outstanding views right on the coastline. More than that, the setting is the stuff that cleanses the soul.

The Second
Moving up the fairway
From the high right side towards the tee
The water as we climb upwards
The green in sight
Looking back

The Third is a 92 yard par 3. A drop shot shorter holes next. The green is large while bunkers swirl around it. The wind above the hills could complicate the shot and surprise the golfer’s calculations but otherwise it’s all before you, testing the acumen with the shorter clubs. The government fence is behind us, some what serious in its urging to keep away. I couldn’t figure out what it is with a cursory search. Definitely enough for Dharma Initiative vibes as far as I’m concerned.

The Third
Smoke monster probably on the other side

The Fourth is a 408 yard par 4. The attention to detail is evident with this tee shot, which vexes the golfer in deciding on a correct line. The fairway is below and runs at an angle from the tee with the hillside running right to left into it. Whether the road was there or not when the course was designed and/or built is irrelevant to us since it is here today, very much in play. The fairway moves straight to the green but the hillside and undulations rumple the surface on the way there.

The Fourth
Moving down the fairway
Short approach
Looking back

The Fifth is a 407 yard par 4. Heading back out to sea, the fairway now moves left to right. The green is up on the bluff ahead of us while the fairway narrows closer to the green. It’s a longer hole with the hills and wind likely blowing against. The green is on the smaller side as well yet most off green area is fine to work with other than the rear. The ocean beams in its glory just yonder.

The Fifth
From the left
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
From the rear

The Sixth is a 150 yard par 3. The bluff is used well with its tee and green locations. This gives us another drop shot but with more length and challenge. It is tougher to hold this green and the bunkering is deceptive in leading the golfer to believe the green is directly on the other side when in reality, there is a lot more room left before reaching it. Most shots bounding off the green on the far side have the potential to run pretty far into the native grass, so getting the right balance of flight for landing is vital.

The Sixth
Looking back at the left side of the green

The Seventh is a 305 yard par 4. The tee shot is actually back and to the left of the Sixth green, even though this photo was taken closer and more centered to the fairway. In the photo below, to the right is an extra green. It could be used for practice but also as an alternate green for the Fifth or Sixth yet I’m not sure of its purpose. In any event, there is some elasticity here for doing a few things. The course crosses over an old road that moves parallel with the coast. The road moves directly to the beach on the lower right side of the course and heads up the hill towards Oriental Avenue in the other direction, surely used way back when for transport from the lower to higher ground. The contour of it remains at the course, creating unique texture at some of the holes, most notably the Eighth. Here, the tee shot must sail over it to reach the fairway, which cants left to right. The green is smaller with some staggered bunkering leading up to it even though there is a path between them for those opting for the ground game, which may be advisable depending on the wind.

The Seventh
Short approach
Looking back towards the blue

The Eighth is a 322 yard par 4. The final push to the water one last time before heading back inland for good. The bunkers assert themselves a little more from the tee and again when the wind is up, can be of some concern. The golfer will need every last yard off the tee, for the approach must move over the old road and get to the green set below it all. It is blind for the most part but like the First, gives you some leeway in recovery without any bunkers to contend with. It’s a cool hole in how it plays, especially with the underused sunken green.

The Eighth
The bunkering at start of fairway
Approach shot territory
Short approach, the green is below
The green
The elevated road running through the course serving as the hurdle to the green
Looking inland across the course

The Ninth is a 386 yard par 4. The fairway reverse funnels from the start, meaning it widens as we head to the green. The green is set in a nook surrounded by bushy trees, a seeming shelter from the elements to some extent. A bit elevated from the fairway, the approach is likely longer than many will think.

The Ninth
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking back

The nine holes does well in meandering through the extraordinary blessed terrain. It’s an enjoyably spirited round where the golfer doesn’t worry about penalty strokes or finding his ball but rather, can concern himself with hitting his ball over and over until the round comes to an end. I would rank them 8, 2, 4, 5, 9, 6, 1, 7, 3.

Generally, Hay Harbor is a great nine hole course full of fun and beauty. The design is elastic enough to account for the wind that surely blows through frequently and relies on the native growth and a handful of bunkers for any slaps to the hand. At the forefront, however, is the terrain. While the fairways mostly suggest the ideal playing lines with their tilts and undulations, the greens are a lot more insistent. It accomplishes the difficult task nine-hole courses face; ensuring each hole stands out in terms of variety and playing structure while holding up to repeat play. I can only imagine Hay Harbor can be played endlessly to the delight of the golfer.