How do you play a par-6 hole? First, drive to Riverhead. Next, don't become so overwhelmed that you make a 7 or 8. "If you can't reach the green in three or four, don't overdo it," said Eileen McCaffrey, head pro at The Links at Cherry Creek, the public course that is beginning its 15th year with Long Island's only par 6.
No. 18 is the signature hole, starting near Reeves Avenue and finishing near the clubhouse 644 yards away (612 from the white tees). "Hit your best club, the best distance you can hit it," McCaffrey said. "Sometimes golfers get up there and hit their longest club, but they don't hit their 3-wood well. They might hit 5-wood or hybrid better."
So use your best club, not the supposedly longest one. And don't be alarmed that it might take five strokes to get there, as McCaffrey tells her students. "Some of them get overwhelmed, but they do get excited about it. It's a challenge," she said.
General manager Peter Quaresima said, "People said when we opened up - and you still hear it - that the par 6 is a gimmick. But not really. We keep track. We get a lot of eagles, but for the most part, people walk off that hole with a par or bogey."
And they get to say they played a par 6.
The funny thing is, that iconic hole, promoted on Cherry Creek's scorecard and website, might not even be the course's greatest distinction. Nor is the fact it is one of the few Long Island courses with a female head pro, what with McCaffrey having chosen golf after a previous career with Met Life. What really might set the place apart is that, in an era of golf cutbacks, Cherry Creek doubled in size. The Links opened on Memorial Day Weekend, 1996, and spawned a second course, The Woods at Cherry Creek, just across the street in 2002.
"Rounds are down all over the Northeast, but when the weather is good, and even though there is a saturation of golf courses on Long Island, people do have an interest in the game," Quaresima said. "We feel confident that both courses are in it for the long haul."
The Links is more open and longer (6,567 yards from the white tees) with high rough. The Woods is classic parkland: scenic, tight and shorter (6,229 yards). "When people come here and want to play 36, we always tell them to play The Woods first," the general manager said in the pro shop at The Links, "because if you play here and then go across the street, you could get claustrophobic."
Both are owned and were built by the same partners: Charles Jurgens, whose Long Island course designs include Indian Hills, Heatherwood, Spring Lake and Swan Lake; and Vincent Sasso of DeLea Sod Farms. The Links was busy with outings and daily-fee golf, so the two men bought property across Reeves Avenue and built another 18 - just before a boom in new golf facilities. Some of those places are struggling and one of them closed, but Cherry Creek intends to stay the course, or more precisely, courses.
What most visitors want to know is why The Links ends with a 6. Quaresima said there are various stories but the one that has the most traction is this: The clubhouse site was fixed, the 18th green needed to be nearby, and there would have been too much wasted street-front property if they had built a standard par 5. So they designed one big, long hole with two gullies on the left to discourage any golfers from cutting either of two corners.
"I think they thought it was something that would stand out. It was another way to advertise," Quaresima said. "It still works."