One man's passion rescues a golf course

From left, head pro Ronnie Wright, owner Tariq

From left, head pro Ronnie Wright, owner Tariq Khan, and course superintendent Greg Kolodinsky pose for a portrait on 7th green of the golf course at South Bay Country Club, formerly Middle Bay Country Club, in Oceanside on May 22, 2013. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

Mark Herrmann

Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,

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After superstorm Sandy devastated Middle Bay Country Club's greens and ruined its finances, Tariq Khan, like his fellow club members, was resigned to finding a new place to play golf. It turned out that the new place was right under his feet.

Khan, a Hewlett Harbor resident who owns five 7-Eleven stores on Long Island and has been honored for his involvement in numerous charities, rescued Middle Bay from bankruptcy and has given it a start toward a new life with a new name, South Bay Country Club. To use a golf term, it is a Mulligan, a complete do-over after a bad shot.

"I've always said one day I may go south and buy a golf course," he said recently as he stood on the restored seventh green, near the course's signature waterfront eighth hole. "I never thought it would fall right in my backyard."

Middle Bay withstood more than $3.5 million in damage from the storm-the mowers and other pieces of equipment were wiped out, the clubhouse/catering facility was flooded and many holes were covered with debris. The grass on greens and fairways was burned out by salt water.

Insurance covered about two-thirds of the costs for repairs, but the club could not make up the shortfall. Many members did not renew this year, having to rebuild their own homes. The club filed bankruptcy earlier this year and the lease was put up for auction. Khan was persuaded to bid by his friend Doug Mauch, the former head pro at Wheatley Hills Golf Club, whom he knew through Island Harvest.

Neither Khan nor another bidder, a group led by longtime Middle Bay assistant pro Ron Wright, won the March auction. But Khan kept negotiating and secured a deal in early April.

Now, in late May, the grass is strikingly green, even as the clubhouse is still in the early stages of renovation. The course is expected to officially open next week.

People in the neighborhood have been dropping by, Khan said, just to see what is going on. Some of them want to play, some are encouraged by the 30 full-time jobs that will be restored and others see it as a symbol of hope.

"A lot of them had never put a foot into this golf course. They live in the community and they say, 'I'm so pleased to hear what you're doing.' They compliment us that we came to rescue the club because they feared it would be just another development that would devalue their property. They are very, very pleased," he said.

As an avid golfer, Khan knows the razor-thin profit margins for courses these days. But he always has embraced challenges. "He came from Pakistan with $300 to his name," said his friend Danny Frank, a public relations specialist who met when both were working on business initiatives. He has heard of how Khan began by selling insurance then bought an independent convenience store. He bought five 7-Eleven stores and spent 10 years as chairman of the national 7-Eleven franchisees association.

Frank accompanied Khan to New York City Hall in 2008 when the latter was recognized as a leader among Pakistani Americans. Khan also has been saluted for his philanthropy by Long Island and San Diego chapters of the Muscular Dystrophy Association as well as Island Harvest and Independent Group Home Living.

"You have to have passion," Khan said at the course, where he spends many hours. He said he does not get tired. "When you're in the 24-hour convenience business . . ."

He admired the passion in Wright, his former rival bidder, and hired him as director of golf. Khan convinced a few fellow members to become partners. "I told them, 'You won't regret it," he said. He doesn't know what the final tab will be, only that they have spent more than $1 million on equipment alone.

Looking out on the panoramic eighth hole, Khan said, "When you are standing here in June, July or August and that wind is coming off the ocean, you are saying, 'Man, what a beautiful place to be.'"