Matt Monaghan,19, from Coram, plays a round of golf at...

Matt Monaghan,19, from Coram, plays a round of golf at the Shelter Island Country Club, with a view of the clubhouse in the distance.The club, also known as Goat Hill, is a nearly private municipal golf course on Shelter Island. (May 18, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

At nine holes, it is the summer golf course of choice for most Shelter Islanders. The sign in front says Shelter Island Country Club, but locals use another name for it -- Goat Hill.

A lot of things make it unusual. The most obvious are the hills, including Goat Hill, which sits in the middle of the course.

Except for the greens at each hole, there is scarcely any flat surface on the course. "The course is hilly. The driving range should be, too," says club manager Charlie Beckwith.

Driving up and down the steep hills in a golf cart is a little like being in a small ship going through an ocean storm. And, at four strategic locations on the tiny course, black-and-orange checkered flags are needed to show golfers the general direction to hit their ball, since they can't see the hole.

Golfers ring the big brass bell on the fifth hole by the green when they finish play, so the next group knows it's safe to hit balls over the hill.

Goat Hill has only 156 members -- but sooner or later almost everyone in town ends up there, for parties or fundraisers or other social events. And, in winter, when the club is closed, its hills provide the best sledding on Shelter Island, says club president Betty Kontje.

Annual membership fees range from $150 for individuals to $700 for families, but most players -- thousands of them -- either show up in groups for fundraisers or just pay $15 ($18 on weekends) to play a round.

The golf club has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, and it brags of being the nation's oldest operating nine-hole golf course. The clubhouse building was brought to Shelter Island by barge, rolled up the hill over trees by a team of horses in 1897.

Kontje said she remembers going there with her father when she was younger, playing board games with a friend while her father played a round.

The 42-acre golf club was built in 1901 by the Shelter Island Heights Association and was sold to the town in 1978 for $275,000. It is operated by a not-for-profit board of trustees. Because the community -- Shelter Island Heights -- relies on a fragile aquifer, only the greens on the course are irrigated, and much of it will turn brown during a hot, dry summer.

Still, green or brown, the trustees run special tournaments every few weeks to bring in locals and off-islanders. Kontje said one of her favorites is Backwards Day, when players start at the hole and hit the ball back to the tee.

Phil Power, 62, of Shelter Island, now retired, is a volunteer fireman and worked on the North Ferry and South Ferry. He said it took his wife 15 years to persuade him to take up the game. "It's small. It's quiet . . . and you can see Connecticut and Noyack Bay on the other side," he said. "And I hit the most amazing shot here."

Power said he had just hit a ball perfectly, then watched as it flew over a hill, vanished toward the green, bounced up and flew over to the road and landed in the back of a passing pickup truck. "I thought I would have to buy a new [truck] bed, but he just kept on going," Power said. "It's not too often you get a truck-in-one."

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