SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Long Island businessman Michael Pascucci acquired 330 acres of pristine waterfront property in the Hamptons and decided to build a golf club, he pulled off a couple of major coups.
First, he managed to get two of today’s leading designers with differing architectural philosophies – Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak – to collaborate on the project.
Secondly, he convinced then-USGA Executive Director David B. Fay and then-Senior Director of Rules and Competitions Mike Davis that his fledgling Sebonack Golf Club was worthy to host a national championship.
The ultimate result was the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open coming to golf-rich Long Island for the first time in its 68-year history.
Neighboring a pair of America’s greatest layouts – four-time U.S. Open site and founding USGA Member Club Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and The National Golf Links of America (1922 and 2013 Walker Cup) – Sebonack Golf Club, which opened in 2006, will host the 2013 championship on June 27-30.
“Sebonack Golf club is finding itself as a newcomer to the USGA championship schedule this summer, but I expect to find that the course performs like a wily veteran,” said Ben Kimball, the USGA’s director of the U.S. Women’s Open, at media day on May 20 for the 2013 championship.
Pascucci, the founder and owner of Long Island’s WLNY-TV (Channel 55), first got the idea to build a golf course on Long Island in 1995, the same year Shinnecock Hills hosted its third U.S. Open. He found the perfect site a stone’s throw from National Golf Links.
“The golf course was really here,” said Pascucci of the property. “It just didn’t have greens and tee boxes and a couple of bunkers that have been cut out.”
Getting Nicklaus, an 18-time major champion, and Doak, a highly respected architect who had just created Pacific Dunes at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon, to collaborate required a politician’s touch. Each has very different opinions on course architecture, but Pascucci also realized he couldn’t foul up a wonderful natural canvas.
Pascucci approached his friend Nicklaus first. On a suggestion by Sebonack Executive Director Mark Hissey, he visited Bandon Dunes, where Doak’s Pacific Dunes, a world-class seaside links-style course, would host the 2006 Curtis Cup Match.
“It was kind of like buying insurance from both of them,” said Pascucci. “They were sensitive to the fact they wanted to do the very best work they could. After all, we were next door to two very fine golf courses.”
Pascucci had a few charges for his architects. He wanted a course that offered generous fairways, good strategy and good greens. He didn’t want cliffs, ravines or forced carries. He also wanted players to have the option of running shots on the ground to every green.
The finished product was a spectacular links-style course that looked as if it had been there for 50 years.
And it didn’t take long for word to leak about the venue and location, which piqued the USGA’s interest. Fay and Davis both made visits and agreed that the course could host a national championship. They decided on the Women’s Open, which had only been previously conducted in New York State on four other occasions at two clubs: Winged Foot in Mamaroneck (1957, 1972) and the Country Club of Rochester (1953, 1973).
“We’ve had a lot of PGA Tour players come here and play … but we’ve never really had the top women come here and play,” said Pascucci. “Long Island has had a lot of terrific men’s championships. But women are a very big part of golf [in this area]. This is an opportunity for us to see the best women in the world to come play golf on Long Island.”
Defending champion Na Yeon Choi, who shot a remarkable third-round 65 en route to winning at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis., last July, played a pair of practice rounds prior to media day. And despite weather that was more conducive for a British Women’s Open – wind, rain and temperatures in the 50s – Choi came away impressed with the layout.
“The course is very beautiful,” said Choi, who gleaned knowledge from club caddie David Linquist and Pascucci during her 2½-day stay. “The fairways are pretty generous, but second shots to the green and [shots] around the green are pretty difficult. I actually spent more time chipping and putting.”
Sebonack will measure 6,796 yards and play to a par of 72 during championship week. The first nine is just under 500 yards shorter due to the fact that the second nine features three par 5s, including the stunning 523-yard finishing hole that runs parallel to Peconic Bay and can be reached in two to create possible final-round drama.
“There’s a great balance of holes on both nines with risk/reward lurking around every corner,” said Kimball. “We looked at every hole to see how we can make them more challenging yet [also] keeping in mind the architectural features that Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Doak implemented.”
What players can expect is fast and firm conditions, thanks to the sandy soil that Sebonack was built upon, and green speeds in the 11½ to 12 feet range on the Stimpmeter.
“We envision the players will worry more about what the ball does after it hits the ground than when it is in the air,” said Kimball.
The championship routing also has been slightly altered, with players starting on what is normally the club’s second hole. The club’s first hole will be the ninth hole. Nothing was changed to the second nine. Kimball also said rough will be eliminated between fairways and bunkers, requiring competitors to control tee shots better. Closely mown areas will also be featured around many of the putting surfaces.
“It’s a test of golf to identify the best golfer,” said Pascucci. “The greens are going to be hard to hit unless you have the best angle in. I believe the best chipper of the golf ball is going to win this championship.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.