One way to renovate a golf course, used successfully by some of Long Island’s top private clubs, is to invest huge sums of money, hire a major architect, bring in a crew and close the place for half a season until the work is done.
Then there is the way that the White Course at Nassau County’s Eisenhower Park is going about it: Work within the existing budget, assign the job to the current staff and complete the project without closing one of the Island’s busiest facilities for even half a day.
A facelift on the fly is taking place at Eisenhower White, giving the Robert Trent Jones course something of a British Open look with dramatically different sod-faced pot bunkers. Areas around the greens have been shaved — runoffs are in, rough is out — and about 100 trees have been felled to restore the appearance Jones intended when he built it in 1950.
“We’re trying to do something a little different,” said Tom Gordon, whose title of director of golf makes him the de facto superintendent of all seven county courses, including three at Eisenhower. “We got some aerial photos from the Department of Defense because they were from Mitchel Field back in the early 1950s. You look at it then and there were no trees on it. It was sort of a linksy-type course, as much as you could have it in the middle of the Island.
“That’s kind of what got into my head to do the pot bunkers,” he said while driving a cart toward the ninth green the other day.
Gordon is a self-avowed golf junkie who says that when he is not at work, he is playing the game or watching Golf Channel. He realizes that his staffers have the same mind set, and so do many of the people who play approximately 150,000 rounds a year on Eisenhower’s Red, White and Blue layouts. He thought everyone would enjoy a more professional tour look. The feedback has been positive, he said, as the front nine was done and the back nine begun.
All of the bunkers are being refurbished, although not all of them are of the deep-and-steep pot variety. “If we went with big pot bunkers in the fairway, we’d have seven-hour rounds,” he said.
There are just enough of them around the greens to make a visual impact. When a golfer gets into one of them, he or she is not looking at an expanse of sand but at a wall of turf. It is what viewers have become accustomed to seeing when the watch the British Open, which will be on TV next month.
“Our golfers will say, ‘Hey, I’ve played that shot,’ or ‘The bunker on [our No.] 15 is tougher than that one.’ ” Gordon said.
He recalls thinking about the project last fall and telling Vincent Cimino, superintendent of the White Course, “Let’s give it a try.” Cimino has suggested a few aesthetic touches of his own that have been incorporated on a course that hosts more than 300 rounds on a sunny day, as many as 150 when it rains.
Gordon said that Nassau parks commissioner Brian Nugent has been very supportive of the renovation. So have the workers — 16 full-timers and 53 seasonal employees for the seven courses — who see it as a creative challenge. For many of them, it has replaced the rush they used to get from preparing Eisenhower Red for the Champions Tour’s Commerce Bank Championship.
“I’m telling you, guys would rather do this than sit on a mower and mow,” Gordon said. “The mowing and maintenance have to get done, but they look forward to doing this.”
All of them are learning on the go. First, they used turf from other parts of the course to build the walls of the pot bunkers. Then Gordon got the idea of using strips of old playing fields at Mitchel Park. “It probably saved the county $15,000, just in debris removal,” he said, adding that he uses green spray paint to cover old out of bounds lines.
Proudly, he said, “Every year, there are 150,000 sets of eyes on these courses. What they see is a reflection of how we work.”
Justin Plank, Pine Ridge GC, ninth hole (par 4), 277 yards, driver
Anthony Dipilla, Brentwood CC, third hole, 155 yards, 4-hybrid
Carol Ferretti, Rolling Oaks GC, second hole, 93 yards, 8-iron
Rich Graffigino (of Oceanside), Villa Roma CC, Callicoon, N.Y., second hole, 142 yards, 7-iron
Sean Haselton, West Sayville GC, second hole, 177 yards, 8-iron
Janine Zlotolow, Smithtown Landing GC, second hole, 114 yards, 5-hybrid
Danny Farren, Willow Creek G&CC, fourth hole, 171 yards, 7-iron
Bob Hemberger, Bethpage Red, seventh hole, 155 yards, 5-iron
Marybeth Seeback, Heatherwood GC, 17th hole, 119 yards, 6-hybrid
Joseph Roselli, Pine Ridge GC, 17th hole, 145 yards, 8-iron
Don Wesied, Pine Ridge GC, seventh hole, 114 yards, 8-iron