SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – This was the land forsaken by Charles Blair Macdonald.
Here were 300 acres hard by Long Island’s Great Peconic Bay and Cold Spring Pond, beautiful property, and Macdonald, a driving force in the creation of the United States Golf Association, decided he wanted a tract a little farther inland, where he built National Golf Links of America in 1908.
Nearly 100 years later, Sebonack Golf Club opened next door to National Golf Links, a creation authored by four-time U.S. Open champion Jack Nicklaus and course architect Tom Doak – an unlikely design team put together by developer Michael Pascucci, who had purchased Macdonald’s leftovers for $42 million.
A member at The Bear’s Club, Nicklaus’ private course in Jupiter, Fla., Pascucci wanted only the best with that kind of hefty investment in real estate.
But after having played Doak’s Pacific Dunes course at Bandon Dunes, he also knew what kind of a golf course he wanted to see built on the undulating property. He put the two together, not exactly oil and water, but close.
“I said I want the tension of you two guys working together,” Pascucci said recently. “I’ve got one chance, and I want the best 18 holes of golf that we're able to build.
“What I hoped to have was Tom’s minimalist approach to the site combined with Jack’s strategy as the greatest golfer ever,” Pascucci added.
And that’s what he got.
The result of the unusual collaboration was a natural-looking links style course that features wide, undulating playing areas, waste dunes, rough-hewn expansive bunkers and large greens with plenty of challenging movement. In short, it is infused with elements particular to each designer.
Nicklaus said the routing of the course is predominantly the work of Doak, but the tee-to-green strategy shows more of his influence. He figures he moved perhaps as many as half of the bunkers into more strategic locations. Doak designed the greens. Nicklaus liked them, but softened them.
“The look is more Tom’s, and the golf is a combination of both of us,” Nicklaus said. “My idea was to have good, playable golf. Tom will throw bunkers in different places for the aesthetics, so that’s the look. I think the combination turned out well. I learned a lot from this golf course; it’s given me another dimension on how to do golf courses.”
“One thing I’ve learned from Jack is that nothing gets by him,” Doak, who walked with Paula Creamer during Tuesday’s practice round, said recently. “If a mound is different, he notices it. We really did have to work together as a team and come to a consensus on what we were doing. It’s a blend of our two thoughts.”
Sebonack measures up to 7,534 yards, par 72, from the championship tees, but the configuration for this week’s Women’s Open, the first in the greater New York area since 1987, is 6,796 yards.
Nicklaus said the greens almost certainly would be the greatest challenge to the 156 women in the field. “The ladies will definitely be tested with their putting,” he said.
“I would say the greens will be right up there in toughness,” said 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champion Cristie Kerr. “They've got to be kind of careful with how fast they make them because of their slopes. You are going to have some players who've never played in an Open before, and they are seeing this course for the first time. They are going to be taking their time out there.
“It’s definitely everything it’s hyped up to be," Kerr added.
Creamer, the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion, enjoyed getting inside Doak’s head on the philosophy of some of the holes. What she learned was eye-opening.
“You know, this golf course is not necessarily about all the good spots. You need to know where you shouldn't be and you need to know where the safe spots are. You can be very aggressive, and you can be very conservative at times,” Creamer said. “Picking his brain on where really to miss was stuff that my caddie Colin [Cann] and I just asked him constantly. … Because there are so many different ways to get the ball within the hole … especially some of the shots coming in on the par‑4s.
“I mean, 11 and 14, those are two great par‑4s that I really just kind of dissected with him. To hear the fact that it took 18, 17, and 11, six to seven minutes to actually design, I was thinking, ‘What?’ Seven minutes to design three holes? He said, ‘Yeah, it was perfect. This layout, this layout, and this layout.’ It was pretty neat to pick the brain in that sense, but how he designed it is what I learned from.”
And what about those greens?
“I didn't give him too much grief about [them],” Creamer said. “But he laughed. He definitely kind of chuckled about it.”
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.