Situated among the pristine parabolic dunes of Baiting Hollow, on the North Shore of Long Island, Friar’s Head is an exclusive golf-only establishment that was designed by the acclaimed architectural team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. Fresh from the astonishing success of Sand Hills, Coore and Crenshaw were first introduced to this 300-acre plus property in 1997 and immediately recognized the opportunity it afforded them to again create a modern golfing masterpiece. After many months spent considering various routings, and a two-year construction period, the course opened for play in 2002.
Unlike those endless rolling sand hills in Nebraska, this particular site featured both heaving dunes and a flatter tract of farming ground. Finding a way to link these contrasting landforms together was crucial to the course’s success. With great skill the design team was able to devise a routing scheme that switches effortlessly between the sand and softer ground, with minimal earthworks required to build the holes and, importantly, short walks between greens and tees. What gives the layout such an appealing, coherent feel is the strategic nature of the design and the bold jagged-edged bunkers, which are especially impressive when collapsing into the native sand. The green sites are also a key design feature, the greens varying greatly in terms of the nature of their contours and also the size of the putting area, from tiny postage stamps at the 16th and 17th to the half-acre target at the 10th.
For a visiting golfer, your first look at this course is almost overwhelming. The sight of glorious white sand, giant dune ridges and distant sea views all greet you from the clubhouse and whet the appetite for the prospects of the day’s golf ahead. Although much of the course is then arranged across the flatter lowlands, Coore and Crenshaw’s construction team was able to shape these areas so well that they almost match the golf available on the more dramatic terrain. The fairway bunkering on the longer transitional holes is particularly effective. As are the creative green complexes through the early stages of the back nine, such as the split-level target at the flat par five 11th, with its sunken back bowl.
Golf at Friar’s Head is all about the sand, however, and it’s the holes routed around the property’s most dominant ridge that steal most of the headlines. The opening hole is quite an introduction, the mid-length par four cut by sandy scrub and rising sharply into a blind putting surface that rests atop a 40-foot hill. The adjacent 9th is equally eye-catching as it tumbles down the bank and bends around a waste area toward a beautiful green site fashioned from a stretch of exposed sand. The back nine then starts with one of the most unique par threes in golf. Set amongst the dunes, the hole measures anything from 130 to 230 yards depending on tee location and where the flag is located on the enormous, partly hidden green.
Unquestionably the most outstanding section of the course, however, is the run home, starting with the brilliant par five 14th. Rising slowly through immense forested dunes, the hole is technically reachable in two shots but the putting surface is raised, heavily contoured and tucked dangerously beneath giant converging sand ridges. The next is equally spectacular. From an elevated tee this long par four turns through a natural valley before rising into a cool plateau green. Perched precariously above a deep hollow, the smaller tabletop green on the undulating 16th is another great target, as is the thumbnail-size green on the treacherous par three 17th, which is benched into a ridge and totally exposed to the elements. Like at Sand Hills, the round ends with a gorgeous short hole followed by a strong two-shotter, here the 18th fairway bends around the shoulder of a large hill before rolling up into a steeply pitched target positioned beneath the imposing clubhouse.
Although the entire layout here is first-class, the wild dune holes are simply breathtaking and the final five are as dramatic as any on the American East Coast. Coore and Crenshaw have built an awesome reputation over the past decade and Friar’s Head is further proof of both their talent for working with great golf land, but more importantly of their ability to shape disparate landforms into an exciting and cohesive golfing experience.