Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since 2002.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — There is enough atmosphere, history and promise at Cold Spring Country Club to make a prospective golf redeveloper and re-designer look at it and say, “Yes sir!” By the time in 2019 the club marks the 100th anniversary of the ceremonial first shot, the place could very well be in the hands of the greatest golfer of all time.
Jack Nicklaus acknowledged at the Masters this week, as Newsday reported, that his group is involved in an ongoing deal for the club adjacent to Oheka Castle, both of which were established by financier and philanthropist Otto Herman Kahn.
The proposed transaction, in which Nicklaus’ organization is partnered with developer Stanley Gale, includes plans for condos that will bear the Nicklaus brand. The castle, which is the second largest private residence ever built in the U.S. (after the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.), would become the new golf clubhouse.
But all of it revolves around golf. The game has been intrinsic to the property since Kahn struck the first ball there in 1919. Having been denied membership to another club because he was Jewish, according to Metropolitan Golf Association records, Kahn decided to build a course of his own. He hired famed architect Seth Raynor to design 18 holes inspired by some of the great holes in the British Isles. Club lore contends that Kahn watched the best golfers play, then insisted that bunkers be placed where they normally hit their shots.
Members of the old Willowbrook Country Club bought the course in 1946, and decided against buying the castle on the advice of an engineering consultant, according to Metropolitan PGA records. The layout was redesigned by Robert Trent Jones in 1968. In 2009, officials of Oheka and Cold Spring thawed their relationship by reaching agreement to allow castle guests to play the course.
If the proposed deal goes through, it will be thoroughly redesigned again by Nicklaus, who said he will treat it “as a raw piece of property.” In a letter to members, club president Marvin Adler said the course will close on Oct. 2 of this year and reopen sometime between the fall of 2017 and the spring of 2018. The letter also indicated that the revised course would be known as The Jack Nicklaus Golf Club of New York.
It will be on fertile golf ground. Among the club’s former pros are Al Brosch, a 10-time Long Island Open champion; Ted Kroll, a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour and Austin Straub, who played the tour and qualified for four U.S. Opens. John Kennedy was the pro for nine years before becoming the nationally honored head pro at Westchester Country Club. Jim Weiss was a student member and club champion who became the current director of golf.
The sport has no name bigger than that of the man who wants to put his imprint on the course. Nicklaus was at Augusta this week, serving as honorary starter and celebrating the 30th anniversary of his memorable 1986 Masters championship — one that lives in Verne Lundquist’s memorable call of the pivotal birdie on No. 17: “Yes sir!” He explained why he is not one to simply sit back and savor his own past.
“Most people work all their life to retire to play golf. I’ve said I played golf all my life to retire to work,” Nicklaus said. “We didn’t have a golf course contract in the United States since probably 2006. We’ve got seven or eight this year . . . It’s fun to look at the opportunity. I love to be able to create.”