Sebonack Golf Club finally brings U.S. Women's Open to Long Island

Na Yeon Choi, the 2012 U.S Woman's Open Na Yeon Choi, the 2012 U.S Woman's Open champion, practices a round of golf at the Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. (May 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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The time has come again to revisit American golf history, which was written mostly on Long Island. Dust off the cover, open the pages and write yet another new chapter, after all these years.

Long Island, where golf has been played since the early 1890s, finally is hosting the U.S. Women's Open.

The biggest event in women's golf at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton this week represents another first for a region in which the $2 Nassau, the idea of a golf clubhouse and the Walker Cup were born. For the first time, the Women's Open sets foot in the part of the world where Bobby Jones' career took off, the first incorporated golf club still stands (Shinnecock Hills, visible from Sebonack's eighth green) and the 1896 U.S. Open became the first of numerous major championships on local turf.

This is where the men's Open blossomed and boomed, with the U.S. Golf Association reaping historic benefits from running the event at Shinnecock in 1986. This is where history was made again with the Open coming to a municipal course, Bethpage Black, in 2002 and again in 2009. History is back at one of its favorite haunts, in a new way.

"Long Island has had a lot of terrific men's championships. It's very well known for that,'' said Michael Pascucci, the founder and owner of Sebonack and the son of a former caddie at Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Heights (site of the 1919 PGA Championship). "Women are a very big part of golf, but they've never been here. So this is an opportunity for us to see the best women in the world play golf on Long Island.''

It is not that there was a concerted effort to keep the Women's Open off the Island. Officials of the U.S. Golf Association were as surprised as anyone when they realized that their top women's tournament never had been held in Nassau, Suffolk or Queens. It just seems that no one ever got around to having it here.

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Women's golf on Long Island goes back just about as far as the men's game, which means it goes back as far as any place in the country. The first U.S. Women's Amateur was held in 1895 at the original Meadow Brook Club, near what is now the Meadowbrook Parkway. A society column in The New York Times reported that 13 players entered, adding, "Mrs. Charles S. Brown, whose husband plays at the Shinnecock Hills Club, in Southampton, L.I., made the best score and thus won the United States championship for lady golfers.''

The truth is, Mrs. Brown was herself a regular at Shinnecock and began a string of golfers from that club to win the first four Women's Amateur titles.

From 1977 to 1982, the LPGA Tour had a Long Island stop, with the WUI Classic held at Colonie Hill, North Hills and the new Meadow Brook Club.

Judy Rankin and Donna Caponi, two of the most distinguished players the LPGA ever has seen, were among the champions.

Still, women's golf then wasn't the international attraction that it is now. And anything that has "U.S. Open'' in the title is in a class by itself.

"It is the most rigorous, most difficult yet fair test in women's golf,'' said Ben Kimball of the USGA, director of the Women's Open. He added that, although Sebonack opened only seven years ago, "the golf course performs like a wily veteran.

"Being back in New York, a state known for having great golf fans, only makes us more excited about what is to come,'' Kimball said.

Sebonack is an amalgam of nature's hand, Pascucci's vision and the co-design of Jack Nicklaus, the most accomplished major champion of all time, and Tom Doak, leader of a new generation of course architects -- following the lead of Charles Blair Macdonald. The latter, considered the godfather of American golf course architecture, lived and is buried in Southampton, having designed the iconic National Golf Links of America, which stands opposite a thin row of trees from Sebonack.

Pascucci said the Sebonack course really always has been there; it just didn't have formal greens and tee boxes. In the same vein, you could say the U.S. Women's Open finally is coming home to a place it never has been.

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