Bridgehampton, N.Y. – As a successful developer of commercial real estate, Lowell Schulman understands the need to clear bureaucratic hurdles in order to complete projects.
But as Schulman discovered in creating Atlantic Golf Club, putting up office buildings in Westchester County (N.Y.) is a little different than trying to create a high-end private club in the ultra-conservative East End region of Long Island.
While there’s no shortage of cash in the Hamptons, the tight-knit community is extremely frugal when it comes to development, specifically as it relates to the environment.
After all, the three classic clubs in the area – Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America and Maidstone – never faced such restrictions when they were created at the end of the 19th century.
Times have certainly changed in 100 years.
So when Schulman found the ideal 205-acre property for his future golf course, he admitted to being naive to wetlands statutes.
The Equinox Farm, which had been owned by Francesco Galesi, featured several kettle ponds that were formed from receding glaciers millions of years ago. Within these ponds were natural wetlands that included two endangered species, the Northern Harrier (a bird of prey) and the tiger salamander.
In short, Schulman, who hired his own team of environmentalists, including an ornithologist, had to carefully pick his battles. Course architect Rees Jones had to scrap several early routings.
“We had to familiarize ourselves with the wetland procedures, which we weren’t truly knowledgeable about,” said Schulman, whose club will host the 30th U.S. Mid-Amateur Sept. 25-30. “At that point, we switched from being golf course-oriented to where we were environmentally focused. Everything we did thereafter was to maximize the environmental protection and still make a great golf course.”
The pockets of wetlands, which occupy about 30 acres of the property, could not be touched. According to environmental law, the routing could not stray within 200 feet of any wetlands. Jones, in fact, originally wanted to have a par 3 go right into the wetlands, but was forced to alter his plans.
The original 18th hole was going to wrap closely around a huge wetlands pocket, with the green site adjacent to a pond that borders the property. Schulman envisioned a finishing hole like Pebble Beach, minus the bordering ocean. The proposed hole exists today (it is No. 13), but with an entirely different look. Schulman was able to get permission to have a forced carry off the tee over a small wetlands pocket.
“To me it worked out well because that’s like your centerpiece to the table,” said Atlantic superintendent Bob Ranum, who has been at the club since its opening in 1992. “The main wetland we have is a big kettle pond.”
Added Schulman, now 83: “It was difficult because the architect’s intent is to make the golf course and make it great. Rees Jones did an absolute turnaround and made the golf course better.”
Shortly after its opening, Golf Digest selected Atlantic as its Best New Private Course for 1992. The club went on to host the 1997 USGA Senior Amateur and gets a second national championship this fall.
The club continues to adhere to environmental standards. The course has 65 acres of unmaintained fescue roughs that, outside of an occasional mowing, are left untouched by the maintenance staff. By late summer and fall, those grasses turn brown and offer a nice juxtaposition to the green fairways, tees and putting surfaces.
Plenty of wildlife co-exists on the property with the golfers. Fox, Canadian geese, pheasant, deer and even snapping turtles can be seen. Ranum said he has yet to see one of the endangered tiger salamanders.
Because of the winds that permeate the region – the club was built on what is known as Breeze Hill – Ranum constantly monitors the moisture in the turf. Computerized weather stations provide updates so his staff doesn’t overwater.
“Our type of course is firm and fast,” said Schulman, who captured the inaugural senior club championship at Atlantic in 1993. “It’s a little bit like the links courses in Great Britain. Brown for us is good. We like brown. It’s healthy and the course plays really fast.”
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.