Appeared in Winter 2011 LINKS
Until recently, the list of candidates to host the U.S. Open has been ridiculously short, containing only the names of venerable old clubs, most of them private and dating back nearly a century.
But lately the U.S. Golf Association has been eager to take its grandest event to newer venues. In 2015 the U.S. Open will go to Chambers Bay, located near Tacoma, Washington, and two years later to Erin Hills, northwest of Milwaukee—both are less than 10 years old.
Should this experiment fare better than the last time the USGA took the Open to new courses—between 1965 and 1976, it was played at Bellerive, Champions and Atlanta Athletic Club, all one-and-done sites—Sebonack Golf Club hopefully will merit serious consideration as one of the new-breed layouts good enough to host the national championship.
It already is the site of the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open, the first time that championship will go to golf-rich Long Island, which has held 27 USGA championships, including eight U.S. Opens.
The Sebonack course, which opened in 2006, is remarkable for many reasons, foremost among them the simple availability of a 300-acre parcel of rugged, rolling woodland along Great Peconic Bay that Michael Pascucci bought from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers for $46 million. Even more incredibly, the land sat next to the National Golf Links of America and less than a mile from Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, two of the most distinguished addresses in American golf.
Still, no one who has played Sebonack questions its place in this august company, either geographically or from a golf-design standpoint. “The day Sebonack opened, it looked and played as if it had been there for decades,” says Jack Nicklaus, who designed the 7,534-yard course with Tom Doak, forming one of golf’s least likely teams.
“I was intrigued beyond belief that the two of them were working together,” says Mike Davis, the USGA’s Senior Director of Rules and Competitions. “Let’s face it: They have very different design philosophies. It’s fascinating that Mike Pascucci could bring them together.”
On a site with numerous humps, bumps and elevation changes, the course moves both among the trees and over open land resembling linksland. On the latter, Nicklaus and Doak created instant classics like the 474-yard 2nd, which embodies all of Sebonack’s signature features: views of the bay, a very wide and well-contoured fairway framed from the tee by a pair of trees, canny bunkering, and an elevated, fiercely sloped green set in the dunes.
The Women’s Open will be an important test to determine Sebonack’s future as a tournament site. Davis and Pascucci are friends, but they have not discussed anything beyond 2013. In the modern Open, the worthiness of the course is just one measuring stick for choosing a site. Sebonack’s parcel is not as big as that of nearby Shinnecock, which also has transportation advantages: a train station and parking across the street.
But the course itself would need few tweaks, and Davis is excited about the upcoming Women’s Open. “We know there’s going to be wind,” he says, “that the course is going to be fast because it’s built on sand, and that there’s a lot of undulations to the greens. Sometimes you have a wait-and-see attitude. But they did such a good job of designing it, we know it will be a marvelous test.”