Sebonack Golf Club opened its tees for play in May 2006 and is the result of collaboration between Tom Doak and Jack Nicklaus. Sebonack is carved through 300 prime acres of ultra-exclusive terrain in the Hamptons area of Southampton, New York.
According to Bloomberg: “The newest golf course in the Hamptons may already be No. 1 in at least one category: price. Sebonack Golf Club costs what might be a world- highest $650,000 for a membership that ensures accommodations at one of 15 four-bedroom ‘cottages’ being built around the course. It's $500,000 just for golf. The new club sits between 95-year-old National Golf Links of America and four-time U.S. Open host Shinnecock Hills Golf Club at the eastern end of Long Island. Other neighbours include Atlantic Golf Club and The Bridge, both in Bridgehampton. Membership in those clubs – by invitation only – tops out at $575,000.”
Naturally you’ll need to befriend one of Sebonack’s wealthy members to tee it up here where you’ll find holes with panoramic views of Long Island’s Great Peconic Bay and Cold Spring Pond. In classic Doak style, Sebonack fits the undulating land like a glove, where the fairways sweep past huge bunkers and waste dunes.
Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak have vastly differing design styles and we wonder how these two great architects managed to produce such a natural and unique golf course.
In 2013, Sebonack Golf Club hosted the US Women's Open, the first time the Major was played on Long Island. It resulted in a South Korean one, two, three, with Inbee Park claiming her third Major of the 2013 season. I.K. Kim finished four shots behind with So Yeon Ryu three shots further adrift. Only these three Koreans managed to better the tournament par.
When people discuss Sebonack the discussion can only commence with these two words -- Michael Pascucci. It was Pascucci's vision as owner and founder that top tier golf was built on eastern Long Island and doing so immediately next to two of the biggest giants in all the game -- Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America. Moving the project along was no small feat and deserves major plaudits. Just getting the right property alone took six years.
Then going through the endless rounds of plan reviews and myriad of needed approvals that would have stopped just about anyone else. But Pascucci persisted -- and succeeded. One can only imagine if such old time clubs as Shinnecock NGLA would have ever been completed if facing today's array of environmental reviews and assortment of local government sign-offs.
Initially, Pascucci was going to have just Jack Nicklaus design the course since the two are most familiar with one another through Pascucci's membership at The Bear's Club in Florida. After getting word from his son about the effort Tom Doak had created at Pacific Dunes -- Pascucci reached out to Doak and wanted to gauge his interest for the design. The catch was neither man would do the design solo -- it would be a joint effort. Now, given the egos of the respective parties, the idea of "blending" specific philosophies into one of the very last available parcels of land in eastern Long island for a golf club development was likely to be a major challenge but the end result clearly speak for itself.
Sebonack starts near the water and then moves interior for much of the outward half. The benign opening hole belies what you face at holes #2 and #3. The former is a world class two-shot hole that generally plays into the prevailing wind. The tee shot must avoid trees that hover near the tee and a series of bunkers in the drive zone. The putting surface is simply top notch with a devious false front that's eager to capture the half-hearted approach.
The 3rd plays back the other way and is a test of driving and with the approach. You hit downhill and then follow with an uphill approach to a green superbly placed on a diagonal with a massive deep frontal bunker.
The mixture of holes is of a high level. The long par-3 4th is followed by a quality short par-4. The details are constantly included throughout the outward side and it pays to have quality approaches because the contoured greens do not suffer fools gladly.
The inward half plays to a par-37 and begins with two stellar par-4 holes. The 10th plays 413 yards and features a green that's elevated with plenty of contour. The long par-4 11th that follows is a stout par-4 -- turning left in the drive zone and mandating two well-executed shots.
The strength of Sebonack rests on a constant changing of situations faced throughout the round. There's no easy to discern predictability and with the varying winds that generally blow one has to be able to play the fullest range of shots to succeed.
The ending par-5 is something Mr. Pascucci wanted to have. Both Nicklaus and Doak were intent on a long par-4 but the resourceful owner wisely knew a concluding par-5 would be the best way to end the round. The hole runs parallel to the Peconic and can be reached with two strong shots.
So where does Sebonack rate given the ultra high bar that is Long Island golf? In my mind, the course blends a wide range of different hole types. The turf quality is also second to none and when the weather cooperates the time spent on property is clearly what Mr. Pascucci envisioned for his members and their guests. Sebonack had a high bar to meet given the pedigree of its nearby neighbors. The Nicklaus / Doak partnership managed to clearly produce a layout that takes the strengths of each architect and merges them into a final product where high quality shotmaking is front and center in concert with the beauty of the Long Island landscape. Credit Michael Pascucci with an end product that delivers on all fronts.
M. James Ward
Sebonack is a golf course that both lives up to the potential of this unique site and the pedigree of its designers. Although it is a new course, having opened in 2006, I believe it instantly has one of the best starts in golf; rivaling Merion and Prestwick with opening holes that get the juices flowing. Like these two grande dames, the first hole at Sebonack is a very short par four, at 337 yards. Like at Merion, it is a dog-leg right and it is set so that as you walk toward the green, the bay starts to become visible in front of you. I personally like a short starting hole, which gives the opportunity to start your round with a birdie or par. Don't be fooled by the short yardage on the card into thinking it is a complete lay-up hole, however. The real fun starts when you take out the flat stick. The first green is wild and crazy with wicked undulations. Walking up to putt on the first green is like getting hit in the face with a wet dish rag. It hurts. Never-the-less, the green shocks you into the round and unmistakably lets you know that you are in for a unique round of golf.
The second hole is the best on the course in my view, and one of the best in the world. It is the number one handicap hole and plays 414 yards with an uphill second shot. The prevailing wind is in your face, so it plays longer than the card. You have to hit your tee shot through two large American elms that frame the fairway about 100 yards off the tee box. The shot plays down a hill into a valley that is covered with sand and bunkers. It requires a well struck ball to find the middle of the fairway, but the hole has classic risk-reward characteristics that rewards a well-played shot hit between the bunkers with a favorable kick forward.
The fifth hole is noteworthy as a short, down-hill par four with great risk-reward characteristics. It reminds me of the world-class seventeenth at The National. According to our host, this was a hole Nicklaus was responsible for and Jack feels it is similar to the 12th hole at The Old Course at St. Andrews. The hole is only 360 yards and plays downhill, with a pot bunker in the middle of the fairway, so you have to choose to either lay-up or go left or right and are duly penalized or rewarded.
The routing at Sebonack is interesting. The whole property gently slopes downhill toward the bay. The first three holes play near the water, then the character of the course changes as you go in-land into a forested area. Several holes are then in a sandy/scrubby area. Once you get back to the green at the eleventh hole you are back near the water for two holes, then the course goes back in-land. There is a great vista that unfolds before you when you are finished playing the 17th hole. You walk through a clearing out onto a high bluff overlooking Peconic bay. The 18th plays immediately next to the bay on your left the entire way home.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs