Bridgehampton, N.Y. – It’s a quiet Thursday morning in late May at Atlantic Golf Club on the eastern end of Long Island. Despite chamber-of-commerce conditions – bright sunshine with a gentle breeze – the Rees Jones-designed facility is devoid of play. A handful of members are on property, but the start of the summer season – Memorial Day to Labor Day -- remains two weeks away.
Just the same there is a buzz and it has nothing to do with Atlantic hosting the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur in late September. One of the club’s iconic figures has made a rare visit.
Sitting in a deserted dining room with a couple of visitors, 83-year-old Lowell Schulman stirs a fresh-brewed cup
of coffee. These days, the club founder doesn’t often make the two-hour-plus trek from his Purchase, N.Y., residence. Yet his ‘regal’ presence is immediately recognized by the small and loyal staff.
Whether it’s the waiter, general manager, superintendent, locker room attendant, head chef, club pro or office clerks, all manage to stop by and exchange pleasantries. And despite the infrequent visits, Schulman knows everyone by name.
“Hi Allison,” says Schulman, stopping in mid-thought to acknowledge an Atlantic staffer.
“Hi Shelly. How are you?” Schulman asks another employee. “You are looking great,” the employee tells Schulman.
When head chef George Ryan drops by, Schulman gets up for a quick photo. “The best chef anywhere,” says Schulman.
Head pro Rick Hartmann, who has been at Atlantic since 1996, asks how the visit is going. Hartmann had just advanced out of U.S. Open local qualifying the day before and Schulman offers congratulations to the 51-year-old.
“Lowell’s passion in this place is amazing,” says Hartmann, who made the cut in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. “What he’s done to create this [club] is quite something.”
Just off the main dining room in the clubhouse a portrait of Schulman hangs proudly on the wall, a gift by the membership on Aug. 19, 1995 for his dedicated service.
Around Atlantic, Schulman is revered like a saint, whether it's the professional staff or members.
“He created Atlantic with the membership in mind,” says Dennis Suskind, a longtime Southampton resident and an original Atlantic member, who is the general chairman for the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur. “A lot of members couldn’t do what he did even if they wanted to. He did it. He did it for the love of golf.”
In a way, it was a love affair that drew Schulman to the property that became Atlantic Golf Club. During a trip to the East End in August of 1988 with his then-fiancé Dianne, Schulman was marveling at the beauty of the area.
“Dianne asked why don’t we spend some more time out here,” said Schulman. “Well, I’m a golfer and there are just a couple of clubs out here. It’s a long process [to get into them].
“She said, ‘You’re a builder,’ which I was, ‘so why don’t you build one.”
Schulman happened to be one of the most successful real-estate developers in Westchester. He created the Platinum Mile office buildings along the I-287 corridor and in the 1960s, developed Brae Burn Country Club in Purchase around a residential community. During that project, Schulman had hired the architect and was involved in most of the business transactions.
He also knew that getting into Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America or Maidstone – three of the most prestigious clubs not only in Long Island but the country – was going to be a difficult proposition.
So he took his fiancé up on the challenge and immediately called a local real estate agent and inquired about East End property. He needed something large enough to build a golf course.
The next day Schulman visited four sites and at the last spot, he found the ideal locale. A 205-acre potato farm owned by Francesco Galesi had the perfect topography for a golf course. When the glaciers receded millions of years ago from Ice Age, they left a small finger in eastern Long Island. The land adjacent to this farm was flat, but Galesi’s property had free-flowing hills, dales and ravines. The spot, which was interestingly called Breeze Hill, was screaming for a golf course.
After months of negotiating and bureaucratic paperwork, Schulman finally had the deed for the property which cost $7.5 million.
Seeing the work that Rees Jones had done in renovating The Country Club near Boston for the 1988 U.S. Open, Schulman contacted the Montclair, N.J.-based architect. Reaching him in a San Francisco hotel room, Schulman discussed his plans. Jones was intrigued, not only by the project but the chance to design a course in this location.
The last course built on the East End was Noyac Golf Club (Sag Harbor) in 1963. Interesting enough, after Atlantic opened three other high-end clubs have been created in this region: Friar’s Head, owned by former Atlantic member and 1997 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Ken Bakst; Sebonac, recently named the site for the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open, and The Bridge, which will be the second stroke-play qualifying course for the 2010 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
That original conversation took place on a Wednesday. Three days later, Schulman and Jones were standing on property discussing ideas.
Despite several setbacks based on environmental concerns – about 30-35 acres of the property were designated as wetlands and could not be touched – Jones finally came up with a routing that pleased everyone.
“My zeal for the project drove me to do the very best that I could on every single aspect because it wasn’t a business deal,” said Schulman, a longtime USGA Museum Committee member who received his Ike Grainger Award last September during the Walker Cup at Merion for 25 years of volunteer service to the Association. “I just did it. And each member who joined became a partner. It was never meant to be anything else but that.
“It was an act of love. It was really a joy. I built 26 office buildings in Westchester … and building this club gave me far more joy.”
A few tweaks here and there over the early years – one change was not having the ninth hole come back to the clubhouse; another was shaping teeing grounds to the traditional rectangular look – and Atlantic has evolved into one of the premier courses in the Metropolitan area. Golf Digest named the facility its national Best New Private Course for 1992 and five years after its opening, the USGA Senior Amateur was conducted at Atlantic.
While Schulman has long since relinquished his duties of overseeing the club’s day-to-day operations, he, nevertheless, is proud of his legacy. He also is happy to be the club’s first Senior Club Champion (1993). “After that, I went downhill,” he says with a smile.
Once a high-single-digit handicapper, Schulman did shoot 79-76 to earn medalist honors at the age of 50 during qualifying for the club championship at his main club, Old Oaks in Purchase. He still plays three times a week and prefers to walk.
But Schulman’s love of the game far exceeds the golf course.
Once he attracted the golf bug in his mid-20s – he caddied as a youngster at Winged Foot but never played – Schulman started getting into collecting golf memorabilia. It started with silver and glass items and evolved to ceramics. He has bequeathed his entire golf ceramic collection to the USGA Museum and they are proudly displayed in the foyer of the Administration Building.
Now, Schulman has discovered golf art.
“Collecting is sort of like being an addict,” he said. “You need your fix in something.”
Schulman’s benevolence has also carried over to supporting grass-roots programs like the Metropolitan Golf Association Foundation. The MGA, the Met PGA and Met Golf Writers Association have all honored him with distinguished service awards.
Yet Schulman, who authored “Miracle on Breeze Hill: The Making of Atlantic Golf Club,” has never sought headlines for his charitable giving, just like he never built Atlantic for a revenue stream.
That passion shows with a loyal staff – superintendant Bob Ranum has been there since the opening; others have been employed almost as long – and a spirited membership. All of that can be traced to Schulman’s vision.
“The reason [Lowell Schulman] is beloved by people is that he has had a very positive effect on their lives,” says Suskind. “He did it without profit motivation. If it would have started out that way, it would have ended really quickly”
David Shefter is a USGA communications staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.