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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Sandy Pond is perfect homespun golf

Only about 10 minutes from Friar's Head, one of the most exclusive clubs anywhere, there is Sandy Pond Golf Course, a place so open and inviting that it has a slot for golfers to deposit $11 for green fees on the honor system when no one is in the pro shop.

Sandy Pond doesn't have big yardage; its nine par-3 holes total 1070 yards on a former sand pit in Riverhead. But it can hold its own in longevity. While other courses have come and gone, and some are fighting to stay alive, Sandy Pond is going strong in its 40th year.

"It's so quaint that a lot of people, especially older people, say, 'This reminds me of something from when I was young,' " said Harry Milleisen, a retired Laurel postal worker who bought Sandy Pond with his brother Gary five years ago and rents the property from the Bucholtz family.

Gary, retired from teaching at Central Islip High School, said, "When we first got here, we had big ideas: Hot dog stand, miniature golf, driving range. Then we realized the more you get into it, the more problems you have. We kept it simple."

Their course, next to the driveway filled with bulldozers for Brice Bucholtz's Riverhead Cement Block Company, is proof that there is room for everybody in Long Island golf. An area that hosts U.S. Opens and has venerable clubs also has a place for a course at which the pro shop is a former stable (you still can see parts of the horses' name plates: Red Star, Baby Doll, King Billy).

Someone keeps stocking the course's three ponds with fish, the Audubon Society has designated Sandy Pond as a Bluebird Trail. It is not unusual to come across a foreign visitor, staying in the Hamptons and looking for a good place for a child to learn golf. Just down the road from Baiting Hollow, with its Robert Trent Jones course, and maybe a half-hour from the National Golf Links of America, designed by Hall of Famer Charles Blair Macdonald, there is a place for a layout crafted by Ed Bucholtz, cement impresario who figured he had to do something with the pit once the sand ran out.

"I just kind of took a pencil and paper and did a little sketching," said Bucholtz, who will turn 86 next week. "I covered it with topsoil and irrigation and it more or less took care of itself."

Bucholtz had been a golf enthusiast in the late 1960s, especially after he supplied the sand for what is now Hampton Hills only to have the owners run out of money. They let him play a lot of golf for free. He eventually leased the golf operation to a man who talked the Milleisens into buying it. Bucholtz doesn't play golf any more because he can't walk nine holes and Sandy Pond doesn't have electric carts. But he still is on the grounds most days, playing three-on-three tennis.

The Milleisens started playing golf at Sandy Pond, Harry said, because they are "muscle-bound old football players" who don't play regulation courses. They still play with their two other brothers once a week. The course managers cut the greens themselves, using a riding mower that is a hand-me-down from Shinnecock Hills.

Sandy Pond isn't Shinnecock Hills, but it's still golf. And it does have members, mostly seniors who pay a flat fee and go out year-round.

"By the time they're done, it works out that they have played for about a nickel a round," Gary said, adding with a grin, "which is about what we make."

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