If nationally renowned architect Keith Foster is successful in his restoration project at Sands Point Golf Club, no one ever will know that he did it.
The goal is to have people forget that bulldozers are here now, digging new bunkers, or that a 16-member crew is feverishly resurfacing greens and tees or that it all is being supervised by Foster, who has renovated major championship and PGA Tour courses and is booked for the next three years. The whole idea is to bring Sands Point back to the way original designer A.W. Tillinghast envisioned it in 1927.
"This kind of program allows me to do work on a very subtle, charming, understated golf course and put something back, which is so pure," Foster said, standing on the dirt near the new 15th tee.
He considers it a compliment to have been asked to bring out the Tillinghast legacy, mindful that the legendary architect made his mark early in the 20th Century with Bethpage Black (and Red), Winged Foot West and many other top-shelf courses. "For goodness sakes, my dog is named Tilly. I'm a huge, huge fan," Foster said. "Tillinghast was a connoisseur of wine and alcohol, of fine art and antiques. So he had a lot of varied interests. His work tended to be subtle and complex."
After Foster was approached about Sands Point, he walked the course a few times and recalls having said to himself, "You've got to be kidding me. This place is incredible. How in the world does nobody know of this place?"
Understatement is partly by design, partly by circumstance, at a club that still has only about 110 members. Sands Point has had its peaks and valleys and has had strong guiding hands when it needed them. Former club presidents include Averell Harriman, who later became New York's governor, and William Shea, better known for bringing National League baseball back to New York. The club's website features a video of then-member Perry Como giving a tour of the course on his TV show.
Head pro Rob Gick grew up nearby in Port Washington and recalls a time when Sands Point was considered one of the elite places to play. Over the years, piecemeal changes were made to the layout, and in recent seasons, Gick said, "It has been a 'nice' place to play. We want to raise that about eight levels."
So the membership hired Foster, who has done greens renovation work at Augusta National and has completed restorations at the Southern Hills and Colonial Country Clubs. His Long Island credits include Fresh Meadow and Garden City Country Club. He loves the simplicity of golf, having built a nine-hole course on his farm in Kentucky the old-fashioned way, with horse-drawn wood plows. He plays there with old-fashioned gutta-percha balls and smooth-faced irons. "We can play nine holes in 45 minutes," he said.
Looking around Sands Point, he was smiling, wide-eyed, effusive.
"We're going to take all the Tillinghast features that are inherently here and we're just going to embellish them: reintroduce a Tilly-style bunker, we're going to drop some trees, open up the vistas, we're going to go ahead and position the tees and bunkers correctly," he said. "And make the work look like I didn't do anything."