Considering that North Shore Country Club was doomed at this time last year, before Donald Zucker bought and revived it, 2010 was a fresh start. And when members return for the 2011 season, they will see that the course has a new finish, too.
As much as Zucker instantly loved the classic Seth Raynor layout, he wanted to change it at least a little.
"I've had the opportunity to play the greatest golf courses in the world and I know what a good golf course is, and I knew this course needed help," said Zucker, a developer, philanthropist and golf nut.
He was especially unsatisfied with the nondescript par-4 18th hole. So he hired Tom Doak, one of this generation's master architects, to strike a delicate balance: preserving the feel of a course that is nearly 100 years old while doing something bold - beginning with the ending.
"I want to make it as good as it can be," Zucker said. "I believe Tom is the best and I really wanted him to do it, and now that I have seen the results of what he has done, I'm tickled pink."
Doak knows Long Island, having consulted on restorations for several venerable clubs and designed (with Jack Nicklaus) Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, where Zucker is a member. He also knows Raynor's legacy, having worked on some of the legend's original designs and having built the acclaimed Old Macdonald course in Oregon, in homage to Raynor's mentor, Charles Blair Macdonald.
At the private club on Shore Road in Glen Head, though, there was more history than property. So Doak's solution was to turn things around. The first tee is where the 18th green used to be, and vice versa. The new 18th hole encompasses the old first and second holes and now is a memorable, scenic, challenging 600-yard par 5.
"I thought this course had some really interesting features, some really cool greens, some really neat pieces of topography, like the ravine you play over on 16," Doak said the other day, standing near the new first green. "But I never thought it fit together very well."
The challenge was in the fact North Shore was established in 1914, before a boom in golf equipment technology (much like the boom in the early 2000s). Doak has found that pre-World War I courses are much different from those opened in the 1920s, when golfers began hitting the ball farther.
"This course was laid out thinking people were going to drive it 200 yards. Whatever cool features there were, they tried to put them about 200 yards off the tee," he said. "So in the last 50 years, you've been driving so far past them that they weren't even in play. The only way we found to get some of those features back was to reverse a couple holes."
Doak described the new first hole as a medium par 4, the second is a potentially drivable short par 4. The new 17th is what he calls "a really cool short par 3." There also is a new No. 7.
"We're doing a lot of work here, but essentially we have left 13 holes alone," Doak said. "Because so much of that old golf course is still in play, all the new stuff is built to look like the old golf course. It's built to look like Seth Raynor built it."
Of course, when Zucker spent $12.5 million last November to rescue North Shore from being plowed under, most people thought A.W. Tillinghast had built it. They weren't aware that Doak had written in his famous (now out-of-print) book "Confidential Guide to Golf Courses" that he discerned years ago from the greens and bunkering that it wasn't Tillinghast's work.
Zucker was undaunted when researchers announced that North Shore was done by Raynor with help from Macdonald. He is excited about its future, including the 10 single-digit handicappers who recently signed up for membership.
"I have a goal here to be on the list of the top 100 courses in the country and I'm going to achieve it," Zucker said. "I'm in the real estate business. I build and I always try to be different. That has always been my mantra, to be different from the next guy."
Toward that goal, he is adding an extensive short game practice area and a state-of-the-art fitness facility.
He also revealed that the revised course will have a Doak-built 19th hole. He wouldn't say what it will be like, leaving that for golfers to discover in the spring.