The Unheralded Beauty of Montauk Downs

Montauk Downs
Montauk Downs. Photo: Barbara Lassen

The East End is known for having some of the most beautiful golf courses in the country, but unless you’re willing to drop big bucks on a membership or just one round at a private club, your options to play 18 holes at a reasonable price are limited.

In fact, Montauk Downs, a state park and golf course, is the only 18-hole publicly-owned course in East Hampton Town.

This summer, Montauk Downs celebrates its 90th anniversary as a golf course. Originally designed by Captain H.C. Tippett and opened for play in 1927, the course was redesigned in 1968 by Robert Trent Jones, an accomplished golf course architect who modeled over 400 courses in 35 different countries. A redesign by Jones’s son Rees just over a decade ago elevated Montauk Downs to hidden gem status.

When you walk out of the pro shop and look over at the course, vibrant shades of green fill your vision and force you to pause in appreciation of the sloping expanse.

But golfers beware–the course’s beauty draws you in just as fast as its bunkers and rough can swallow you whole.

“The golf course looks fairly simplistic in its layout, but it’s extremely difficult,” says golf pro Kevin Smith, who has worked at the course for 28 years. “You’ve got small, elevated greens that are well bunkered, you’ve got the wind coming from all directions. It’s a golf course that’s aesthetically beautiful and challenging in its nature.”

It’s unlikely that golfers could find a better public course for a more affordable price and still get treated like private club members.

“Montauk Downs is one of the best golf courses in the world,” Smith says. “We feel that this facility being public, that every person that plays it is treated like a member because there really is no difference between a private club member and public course player. People are people.”

Make no mistake, Montauk Downs is a championship course. It hosted the Lincoln Pro Am on June 12, which featured certified pros in the Metropolitan PGA from across Long Island. Although the course plays host to high-quality competition, the average golfer shouldn’t be intimidated.

Montauk Downs
Photo: Barbara Lassen

“The course is difficult, but the regular, intermediate golfer can definitely play it and have an enjoyable time,” says golf course superintendent Charlie Reidlinger. “The lower handicap will have quite a test from the back tees.”

Reidlinger previously worked at Bethpage State Park, the undisputed king of public golf on Long Island, before coming to Montauk in 2002. At Bethpage, he served as the superintendent of the Red Course and assistant superintendent of the famous Black Course, which has hosted two U.S. Open Championships.

“I would say that this is a notch below the Black Course and in line with the Red Course, maybe a little bit more difficult,” Reidlinger says of Montauk Downs. “It’s definitely a championship course.”

Montauk Downs isn’t just a course to check off your bucket list—if you’re on the East End, you’ll find yourself drawn back to the course’s hallowed grounds.

“What’s so great about the golf course is that you can play it almost every day and every day it will play differently,” Reidlinger says. “With the wind coming off of the water, your club selection will be pretty much changing every day.”

The course hosts weekly leagues for men and women, offers lesson packages, and runs a junior program through the Town of East Hampton. Montauk Downs State Park also features six tennis courts, two swimming pools, a catering facility and grill room that serves breakfast and lunch.

Swing by Montauk Downs State Park to play the course or just look around. For info on course reservations, call Kevin Smith at 631-668-1100. Visit their website here.

Montauk Downs
Photo: Barbara Lassen

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