Sebonack Golf Club ready to Open its doors to the world

The clubhouse at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. The clubhouse at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant, 2011

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Depending on the traffic, people arriving in shuttle buses and private cars for the U.S. Women's Open in Southampton this week could travel right through two of the most incomparable classic courses in America.

And they will end their ride on a third one.

That is the feeling of the U.S. Golf Association and other golf architecture experts who have praised Sebonack Golf Club, site of the Open, which begins with practice rounds Monday morning. Those who built and play at Sebonack know that it is quite different from its close neighbors, National Golf Links of America and Shinnecock Hills, yet they insist that it is worthy of being on the same block. "The hope is at the end of the week, the course will come out a winner, as well as create a champion," said Mark Hissey, who was project manager before Sebonack's opening in 2006 and is executive director of the Women's Open.

Looking out from the clubhouse Sunday, he added, "It is the golf course's debut to the world, to be honest."

Sebonack is ready.

The course appeared pristine Sunday, with championship officials surveying the greens and Cristie Kerr playing a practice round (about 90 LPGA players are expected to be practicing Monday). A hearty wind kept the air cool and gave the whiff of challenge that could be in store starting with the first round Thursday.

"We want to give them a good test, and I think we will," said Garret Bodington, the Sebonack superintendent who assisted Craig Currier for the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. He added that the course bounced back well from the recent eight inches of rain in eight days, and that it is gaining on the "firm and fast" ideal that the USGA wants.

"What we say is, when you're hosting a championship, what you're doing is preparing for a marathon. We try to plan for every scenario," said Bodington, who has 130 volunteers -- superintendents and staffers from courses all over Long Island, including National and Shinnecock.

He hopes they never have to call on the Catastrophic Bunker Washout unit or the Squeegee Team, but he scheduled a dry run Sunday night just in case. "I think the USGA is excited to be here," he said. "Not a lot of people get to play these conditions, and these women will really enjoy themselves."

Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, the high-profile co-designers, did not set out to build a championship course, per se. They did know they wanted their layout to hold its own with the famous clubs nearby.

"It would have been the easiest thing in the world to just dial something in because it's such a great piece of property. It was easier to screw this up than to get it right," said Hissey, who heard the discussions Doak and Nicklaus had about their geographical context.

Doak said: "The main difference is just that Sebonack has more waterfront property than either of the neighbors, and we figured on a routing for the course that touches the water three times. In that respect, you could make the argument that Sebonack was really the best piece of property of the three. But I think those other two are two of the 10 best courses in the world, and even in the best case, it will be years before Sebonack can be part of that conversation."

Nicklaus, praising the neighbors as "very respected golf courses," added: "I didn't have either one of them in mind when designing Sebonack. I think Sebonack is more of a modern golf course, lengthwise and so forth, only because it was designed with the present golf ball in mind."

Monday, the world will begin to see how Sebonack works out.

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