Sebonack Golf Club

Sebonack Golf Club
Southampton, New York, USA

7534 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE ARCHITECT: Jack Nicklaus & Tom Doak (2006)
LAST PLAYED: May 24, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 81 (+9)

– Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. 2017: #59
– Golf Digest Best New Private Course 2007
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2020-21: #39
– Golfweek Best Modern Courses USA 2019: #6
– Top 100 Golf Courses of the USA 2020: #66

“Two heads are sometimes better than one. And then again, sometimes they’re not.”
– Jack Nicklaus, Co-Designer, speaking at June 2004 press conference for the groundbreaking of Sebonack Golf Club (Quote taken from the book “Sebonack”, written by Brad Klein & Carol Haralson)

Long Island native Michael Pascucci is the visionary behind the ultra-exclusive Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, New York. Pascucci started out in the mortgage finance business and built his fortune after launching WLNY-TV, the first and only television broadcaster on Long Island.

Pascucci was an avid golfer who vacationed often in Florida. After buying a vacation home in the sunshine state, he became neighbours with the great Jack Nicklaus, eventually signing up as a founding member at the Bear’s Club. It was around this time that Pascucci started to dream of opening his own high-end club back home and after a multi-year search for ideal land, he came across a 298 acre parcel on Peconic Bay that used to be part of the Bayberry Estate, owned by Charles and Pauline Sabin, one of the more wealthy and socially prominent couples in New York back in the early 20th century.

The fact that this land was adjacent to both Shinnecock Hills GC and the National Golf Links of America furthered the notion that the site was ideal for golf and Pascucci, after consulting with his family, would cut a cheque for the healthy sum of $46 million to acquire the land.

Nicklaus had done several preliminary routings to help Pascucci in the permitting process and certainly couldn’t be faulted for thinking that the Sebonack design job would be his. However, Sebonack project manager Mark Hissey lobbied hard to get Tom Doak involved and Pascucci was sold after making subsequent visits to the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw masterpiece, Sand Hills GC and to Doak’s Pacific Dunes on the Oregon coast.

Nicklaus and Doak would need convincing but both ultimately decided that this unconventional pairing, while not ideal to either individual party, was more preferable than not being involved at all. After working out details on how the partnership would work, the first shovel went into the sandy soil in June 2004.

Sebonack was finally a reality.

Interestingly enough, Nicklaus would go along with using a Doak routing for Sebonack, with Nicklaus supposedly providing the majority of tee to green strategies while Doak concentrated on the greens and the overall aesthetic look of the course.

With two huge names involved, you knew that there would be some fireworks when egos collided but despite the strained relationship, Sebonack is a surprisingly cohesive design that should stand the test of time.

Highlights include the gentle par four opener with the greensite offset well to the right to take advantage of the spectacular background provided by Peconic Bay.

The long par four second hole qualifies as my favourite on the course. The tee shot on this 474 yard beauty is framed by large elm trees on both sides and features a wonderfully natural greensite set into a large dune. The green also has a significant false front and I have to imagine many first putts roll right off the green if you’re unlucky enough to be above the hole. Interestingly enough, I made my only birdie of the day here at the 2nd, a rare feat according to my playing partners.

The third hole, a par four measuring 442 yards uphill gives the second a run for its money. The green is perched well uphill with the gorgeous clubhouse looming large in the background and a massive bunker is a dominant feature front left.

The 250 yard par three fourth ends a very difficult starting stretch and the 355 yard fifth offers a bit of a respite, with most players hoping to get a chance to make birdie. However, positioning off the tee is of utmost importance, as shots hit toward the meat of the fairway down the right side will be left with a most awkward wedge approach to the smallest green on the course and one that slopes sharply away from the player. Tee shots flirting with the bunkers on the left will be left with an ideal angle. A very clever and engaging golf hole.

The sixth, a 418 yard par four, features an uphill tee shot and one of my favourite greensites at Sebonack. The 490 yard par four seventh goes right back down the hill and the midlength par three eighth hole favours a draw and requires a carry over a reservoir pond.

The ninth is a gorgeous piece of business, a 549 yard par five that serves as an homage of sorts to Bethpage Black’s wonderful, meandering 4th. There is incredible drama here all the way to the green, which accepts both aerial and running approaches.

The tenth, a 413 yard uphill par four, moves to the highest point on the property before sending you back down toward Peconic Bay on the spectacular 496 yard par four 11th. The 12th is the shortest hole on the course but with the gorgeous backdrop and the devilish bunkers in front and off to the left, there is enough visual stimulation to stir even the most focused player out of their rhythm.

The long par five 13th is a true risk/reward type hole, with many options available on the second shot while the 465 yard par four 14th has the most controversial green on the golf course, one that is being softened before the 2013 U.S. Women’s Open at the club.

The lovely walk back toward the bay starts at the 661 yard monster at the 15th, another strong par five. The par four 16th has been changed quite a bit since the club opened and still isn’t particularly memorable but the par three 17th brings you quickly back to life with its angled green fitting in beautifully with the large dune on the right.

The 18th, a 570 yard par five, is a visual stunner. With the towering flagpole at the neighbouring National Golf Links of America offering a natural aiming point, the elevated tee shot needs to avoid Peconic Bay, which runs hard down the entire left side of the hole. Nicklaus and Doak both lobbied for a long, tough par four finisher but Mr. Pascucci’s wish for a dramatic par five closer would ultimately be granted and most agree that it’s a fitting conclusion to a wonderful golf experience.

That said, Sebonack is relatively unique in having a true 19th hole, a 182 yard par three that can be used to settle bets or perhaps persuade you into playing a second round.

There is no question that Sebonack is a stern test of golf, especially when the wind is up, as it usually is on that area of Long Island. However, it’s playable for golfers of any level, with plenty of width off the tee and greens that can equally reward aerial or bounced in approach shots.

The routing is very strong and I have to imagine it’s similar to Pebble Beach in how you loop back toward the water a couple of times during the round before reaching the crescendo at the 18th. Many of the tees are free flowing and almost directly adjacent to the previous green, similar to Doak’s celebrated work at Ballyneal. The land tumbles and rolls beautifully but Sebonack offers a wonderful walk, one that I enjoyed immensely.

Initiation fees have been reported to be as much as one million dollars at Sebonack and the playing conditions reflect that, although the green speeds weren’t anywhere near as intimidating as those at Oakmont, just for the sake of comparison. The aesthetics are a major highlight, with ragged-edged bunkering that Doak is famous for, offering visual stimulation on the inland holes that match the gorgeous vistas provided on the holes near the bay. Credit must also go to Nicklaus for deferring to Doak on the look, although you can definitely argue that Jack has embraced the more rustic look in some of his recent work, most notably at Dismal River in Mullen, Nebraska.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the truly spectacular clubhouse, easily one of the classiest I’ve seen in all my travels.

I really enjoyed my day at Sebonack – I only wish we didn’t have a thick fog that marred the landscape for much of our round but there was no disguising the immense quality of the design, one that definitely deserves its lofty position in the top 100 of American courses. It’s one of the most exclusive clubs in the world so my chances of returning might be slim but I truly hope I get the chance to drive through those gates again sometime in the future.

As indicated above, we played the first half of the round in a dense fog so I decided to leave my camera in the car while playing the course. I did eventually get the opportunity to take a number of photographs from the clubhouse roof after the completion of our round, with many of those shots displayed here.

That said, most of the hole photographs are courtesy of Brian Sheehy, a fellow GCA’er who was gracious enough to allow me to post some of them here. Thank you once again Brian for your generosity!

The elegant entrance features ironwork from the Bayberry mansion that was built in 1919 on the Sebonack site
The beautiful clubhouse at Sebonack
Tee shot on the par four 1st Hole
Landing area on the 1st as seen from the clubhouse, with the National Golf Links of America in the background
Approach shot into the 1st, as seen from near the clubhouse
Behind the 1st green looking back toward the fairway
The par four 2nd hole
A view of the stunning 2nd hole from the clubhouse roof
Approach shot from the left side of the 2nd hole
The 2nd green
Tee shot on the par four 3rd hole
The approach into the 3rd
Looking back down the fairway from behind the 3rd green
Free-flowing tees are a highlight at Sebonack, as seen here on the par three 4th
Zoomed in look at the tee shot on the par four 5th hole
The approach into the 5th
Looking back down the fairway from the 5th green
A blind tee shot awaits at the par four 6th
The approach into the beautiful greensite at the 6th
Looking back down the 6th from behind the green
The par four 7th tee
The second shot on the long par four 7th
The interesting contours of the 7th green
The water reservoir comes into play on the par three 8th
The first par five of the day at the 9th
Zoomed in look at the tee shot on the lovely 9th
Approach shot into the 9th
The uphill par four 10th
Another look at the 10th tee shot, taken from the clubhouse roof
The approach into the 10th
Greenside at the 10th
The beguiling par four 11th
The stunning approach into the 11th
Yours truly, standing in the 11th fairway
A closer look at the approach into the par four 11th
The picturesque short par three 12th
Greenside on the 12th
The tee shot on the excellent par five 13th
The approach from the right side of the 13th hole
A less intimidating approach but a more difficult angle awaits on the left side of the 13th
The tee shot on the par four 14th
From the landing area on the 14th fairway
The controversial contours of the 14th green
Another look at the bold contouring on the 14th green
The 15th tee
The approach shot into #15
Looking back down the fairway from behind the 15th green
The par four 16th hole
The second shot into the 16th
A shot from behind the 16th green
A great vista awaits as you approach the 17th tee
The par three 17th hole
Greenside on the 17th
The spectacular par five finishing hole at Sebonack
The second shot on the 18th hole
Just off to the right of the green on the 18th
A gorgeous late day shot looking back down the 18th from behind

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