Tom Doak had to please many factions in designing Sebonack Golf Club
The phrase "you can't please everybody'' does not enter a golf course architect's job description. At least it didn't for Tom Doak at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton. The entire mission statement was to please everybody, from top pros to high handicappers.
Owner Michael Pascucci wanted it to be a challenge for tour pros, who are his friends, and still fun for his members.
When Doak and collaborator Jack Nicklaus were done, Doak still wasn't sure.
"At first, I worried the course was too difficult for average players. But the two people who convinced me it was OK were the wives of two of my clients, Barbara Zucker and Josie Robertson,'' he said. "If they can play it and enjoy it, the rest of us ought to be OK.''
At the U.S. Women's Open this week, the best women golfers in the world will see how much they like it and how difficult it is for them.
Doak, an internationally respected architect whom Pascucci described as "a genius at routing,'' is as interested as anyone to see how it works out. He is confident the golfers and the course will be OK.
"We made it challenging but playable the same way everyone has done it in the past, from St. Andrews to Pebble Beach to Augusta -- by providing plenty of short grass to play on, but concentrating the difficulty of the course up near the greens, at a scale where all the golfers have a chance to tackle it,'' he said. "There aren't any huge carries to be made or any narrow clearings to get through, but the course rewards position as much as any course I know. You're better off missing the green by 20 yards on the proper side of the hole than being 20 feet above the hole on the wrong side.
"Sebonack is a challenge for everybody. Recovery play around the greens is exceptionally difficult than most of the LPGA players have ever seen, except for maybe Oakmont. But that's true for the men as well. If you're missing greens in the wrong spot, Sebonack will beat you up."
Doak lives in Michigan but has roots here. He was born in New York and went to Cornell. He made a name for himself, a controversial one at that, before he ever built his first course. Having traveled as a caddie and golf architecture student, he published a no-holds-barred critique, "Confidential Guide to Golf Courses,'' that is a cult classic.
Three years ago, he updated the classic Seth Raynor layout at North Shore Country Club in Glen Head. He has working relationships with Garden City Golf Club and other facilities. Sebonack is the job with the highest and most unusual profile.
Routing a course is much like hitting a golf shot. It is basically a solo endeavor. But Pascucci insisted he wanted the combined skills and creative tension of a Doak-Nicklaus team effort.
"I think that both Jack and I understood from the beginning that if the collaboration was to be a success, it was going to be up to everyone else to tell us,'' Doak said. "We're both used to making the final decisions, so it's one of the only projects we'll ever build where not every hole is exactly what we would have done on our own.
"I think the biggest challenge was getting all of the creative people who work for us to take two steps back down the chain of command, and get them to understand that a piece of work they thought was really good might not appeal to me and Jack and Michael.''
So far, it has appealed to golfers, all kinds of them.