SOUTH SETAUKET, New York – When plans first were announced more than three years ago to close the popular Heatherwood par-3 golf course and plow under a portion of the property to make way for a townhome development, there was a roar of disapproval from many golfers in Suffolk County, Long Island, not to mention a group of environmental activists. But the new nine-hole Spy Ring Golf Club that is scheduled to open in May of 2024 is a work of natural art that is sure to earn approval from Long Island golfers and environmentalists.
The high-end townhome development that now occupies the middle of the old Heatherwood Golf Course property already has more than 70 percent occupancy in a complex with 200 townhomes, a residential clubhouse, a pool and a two-acre park in the middle of the housing area.
Development of the golf course has taken longer than expected. The original plan called for an opening in September of 2023, but it was pushed back by construction delays and the time required for fairways and greens to grow in on the par-36 layout that measures 3,105 yards from the Master tees, 2,834 yards from the Mid tees and 2,323 yards from the Forward tees.
The name of the course pays homage to the Spy Ring that existed in the local area during the time of General George Washington in the Revolutionary War. As a result, the Three Village Historical Society has been very supportive in terms of sponsoring events, and the local community has been very accepting of changes and improvements to the property.
The new course bears little resemblance to the old par-60 layout that included six par-four holes along with 12 par-three holes. The old course was lined with dense tree stands on both sides of every fairway. Now, the perimeter of the property still has plenty of trees, but most of the trees in the middle, many of which were diseased, have been cleared to make way for a layout that is open and pleasing to the eye. The first two holes are par-fours near the clubhouse that are fairly straightforward. But starting with the par-five No. 3 hole, the course opens up with wide fairways, massive fairway bunkers and rolling terrain that presents significant elevation changes.
Architect Tyler Rae, golf professional Jimmi Conway and Chris Capece, who is president of the Heatherwood organization, combined to lay out the course. But the large, rolling greens and strategically located bunkers were designed by Rae. The greens are especially intriguing because of mounds, backstops and undulations that offer a tremendous amount of variety in terms of pin locations on each hole.
The 185-yard par-three No. 5 hole is especially challenging along with the 145-yard par-three No. 7. The 330-yard No. 6 is a short par-four, but it plays from an elevated tee to the driving area and then climbs back uphill to the green. The 515-yard par-five No. 9 finishing hole is especially eye-catching from the tee as the fairway bends to the left around a large stand of trees and then dips into a deep swale before climbing again to an elevated green with partially blind pin locations.
The majority of golfers will find the course very enjoyable in terms of the manageable distance of the holes and the number of open shots. But it’s the aesthetic value of the way each hole is designed that makes the course most appealing. When the old par-three Heatherwood course was plowed under, it was hard to imagine that the new venue would be far more beautiful and unique than the old design, but that is what architect Rae has achieved.