Stroke of genius: Playing the Legends of Golf final round at par-3 course

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Honorary starter Jack Nicklaus of the United States

Honorary starter Jack Nicklaus of the United States tees off to start the first round of the 2013 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (April 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Mark Herrmann Newsday columnist Mark Herrmann

Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988, and has been Newsday’s national golf writer since

You might never look at a par-3 course the same way again, which is the whole idea. The fact that the Legends of Golf, the granddaddy of senior tour events, will hold its final round on a short track in the Ozarks next week has brought new stature to the course business' little guys.

"I think it's a fantastic idea," said Ken Weinstein, a former Wall Street executive who is in his third year of running Sandy Pond Golf Course, a nine-hole, par-3 layout in Riverhead. "Look, there is a niche for par-3 golf courses. It's a great alternative. You can have the golf experience and you can be in and out in an hour-and-a-half.

"What else can you do for 10 or 12 dollars?"

Ed McCarthy, the director of golf at Sumpwams Creek in Babylon, said, "I think it's outstanding. I think people are going to see how beneficial a par-3 course is."

The purse in the newly renamed Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf will be $2.75 million. The field will be priceless, with the expected participation of Jack Nicklaus (who designed the Top of the Rock course on which it will be played), Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, in Missouri to announce the first tournament on a par-3 course, called it "groundbreaking," adding that he hopes it will inspire people to play and build par-3 courses. He cited backing from Ted Bishop and Mike Davis, respective heads of the PGA of America and the U.S. Golf Association.

"We're at an important juncture in the evolution of our game," Nicklaus said on a conference call. "It is time we need to embrace innovation, new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking that inspires people to get off the couch and play this great game."

Holding a tournament -- and not just any tournament, but the one that began in 1978 and spawned the Champions Tour -- at the Top of the Rock gives credibility to every par-3 course. The biggest names in golf believe it will persuade skeptics who don't consider par-3 play to be "real" golf.

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It sure seems real to Weinstein and his business partner Chris Wahlers, who operate the pro shop, plant and cut the grass, construct tee boxes and clean the restrooms. It's real for his golfers, too.

"You're hitting off a tee, you're chipping and putting. The place is not easy. We have some carries over water," Weinstein said.

He was bitten by the golf bug as a 9-year-old in Nassau County, having played at Bethpage and Eisenhower and Cantiague Parks. He is only joking when he says "a bout of temporary insanity" caused him to buy the Sandy Pond course. He loved sprucing the place up and he loves seeing beginners come out, even though during Memorial Day weekend, he had to tell at least 10 players not to drag their push carts across the green. He likes to remind people that it is a place for experienced golfers to work on their iron play, too.

McCarthy, who has been at Sumpwams Creek for 15 years, said many of his players tell him how much it helps when they play Bergen Point or Pine Hills or any other regulation course. He believes the real beauty of his place, along with the shape of the course and its new clubhouse, is the array of people it attracts: 150 members in the women's league, 90 in the men's league, a vibrant youth program and a multigenerational big turnout every Father's Day.

"Some of the men play until the snow flies," he said. "We have one foursome: 93 years old, 89, 87 and a young one, 81. They play four times a week."


The East Islip Athletics 12th Annual Redmen Golf Outing will be July 10 at Timber Point Golf Course, Great River. Sal J. Ciampi and Tommy Ruttura will be the honorees. Email . . . Nassau Community College will hold its outing July 14 at Wheatley Hills Golf Club, East Williston, honoring wrestling coach Paul Schmidt. Visit

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