Michael Pascucci plowed through to build Sebonack Golf Club
Manhasset High School's football team in the early 1950s specialized in the power sweep. The ball was placed in the hands of running back Jim Brown, arguably the greatest player in history, and the responsibility for leading the way was in the hands of linemen such as 235-pound tackle Michael Pascucci.
''He made a funny noise when he ran. He made kind of a chugging sound,'' Pascucci recalled recently. ''Then he would key off on your block. If you put your helmet on the right side, he was going on the right side. But you had to keep moving because he would run right over you.''
To this day, nothing ever has run right over Pascucci, who never has had to be reminded to keep moving. He went from the brick business to car leasing and local cable television and was a success at every stop. When he bought 300 pristine acres on Peconic Bay in Southampton, the former tackle kept plowing ahead through the labyrinthine zoning process and built a stunning new course, Sebonack Golf Club, which was awarded the 2013 U.S. Women's Open almost the moment it opened.
David Fay, former executive director of the U.S. Golf Association, said Pascucci ''has to be one of the real saints in the game.'' Mike Davis, Fay's successor, said recently that Pascucci ''has just been dynamic.''
Brown, who still is a friend of his former lineman and has played a few times at Sebon- ack, said during a recent Long Island visit, ''It's a fantastic venue, and he's a great man. He's done a lot of wonderful things.''
This week is a particularly proud one for the 76-year-old who is conscientiously lighter than he was as a lineman, has been married to Jocelyn since 1957 ("I crashed a party at her house on New Year's Eve'' as a teenager, he said), is father to four and grandfather to 11, and is the founder and owner of a golf course the world is getting to see.
All of this from a guy who used to hate golf. His late father, Ralph, born in Naples, Italy, left school in the third grade so he could work in jobs that included caddying. ''He tried to teach me golf. I thought golf was a rich guys' sport, so I had no interest,'' Mike said.
The elder Pascucci was better at following his father's lead at striving than at golf. The elder Pascucci's break came when he was working on the Kings Point estate of Abraham Levitt. ''He saw my father working hard and said, 'How would you like to be a contractor?' " Pascucci said.
From there, the family's future took on the momentum of a Jim Brown power sweep.
After Michael graduated from Bucknell, his father helped him start his own construction company, which led him to starting a mortgage company.
"The way I always said it was, working with money is lighter than working with bricks,'' he said. ''Then I had the idea in the late 1970s that the efficient way to drive a car was a consumer lease.''
By the time he sold Oxford Resources Corp. in 1997, it was the largest independent car-leasing business in the country. Along the way, Pascucci became a board member and guiding force of Telecare (then known as ''TeLIcare''), the Rockville Centre Catholic Diocese's TV station. He decided to start Channel 55, a Long Island-based station that thrived in the era of cable distribution.
"It was like everything I start: It looks easy because I'm not in it,'' said Pascucci, who, by that time, had taken up golf at Nassau Country Club.
Spending winters in Florida, he played more. When he played at Wayne Huizenga's course, The Floridian, he knew he wanted to build his own. ''It had to be on Long Island. It had to be waterfront,'' he said, recalling that it took six years before he found the property on Sebonac Neck, without any guarantee he would be allowed to build a golf course there. ''I took the zoning risk. Three-hundred acres in Southampton, with a mile of beach? Worst case, I'd get my money back.''
Lucky for him, he has a winter neighbor in Florida who knows about building golf courses: Jack Nicklaus. Unlucky for Nicklaus, Pascucci insisted that Nicklaus share the job with Tom Doak, considered one of the visionaries among the current crop of course designers. Neither one, in fact, wanted any part of it. But Pascucci stayed with it and sold both on the collaboration.
"I said I want the tension of you two guys working together,'' Pascucci said. ''I've got one chance and I want the best 18 holes of golf that we're able to build.''
The USGA and many golf architecture experts consider Sebonack a worthy neighbor to Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America -- brand new, with a nice old look. Pascucci likes the fact that it is tough enough for a pro major championship and benign enough for a member's friendly rounds of golf.
"Golf should be fun. They leave here smiling,'' said the owner, the man with the biggest smile this week.