Every golf course revolves around the sun. It is the sun that makes the grass grow, evaporates the early morning dew and provides ambiance for golfers. At Long Island National Golf Club in Riverhead, the big ball in the sky also lights up the pro shop, powers the air conditioning, runs the irrigation system and charges the carts.
The course on Northville Turnpike is a Long Island pioneer in going solar. Most of the electricity that keeps the place running comes from the 22,000 square feet of solar paneling near the driving range and some other panels atop the maintenance barn.
“We’re producing enough to cover about 75 percent of our needs on average. We’re pleased with it, we really are. We’re definitely benefiting from some financial savings, that’s for sure,” said Frank Argento Jr., the club’s manager and a first-hand witness to its ambitious transformations.
The biggest was the one that Manhattan developer Donald Zucker undertook when he bought it for $6 million at a 2013 bankruptcy auction. He converted Long Island National from a struggling daily-fee public course into a private club, going against the grain at a time when private courses are struggling to stay open. This one now has a waiting list for membership.
Zucker is a relative newcomer to golf who, once he got a taste of the game, jumped in with both feet. He bought and restored North Shore Country Club in Glen Head, which was on the verge of extinction. When he looked at Long Island National, he saw promise that perhaps no one else did. He hired architect Tom Doak, who renovated North Shore, as an advisor. The course’s designer, Robert Trent Jones Jr., also came back to do some tweaking.
The club promoted its British Isles touches — undulating fairways, native grasses, challenging winds — and accentuated the fact it sits alongside Route 105, which offers direct access to the Hamptons. “We have 200 golf members, 190 of them are part-time residents or vacationers,” the manager said.
Zucker aimed for a members-friendly framework that includes a ban on outside golf outings and a policy of allowing only solo players or twosomes out in early mornings, giving golfers time to get in a quick nine or 18 and get home in time to spend most of the day with their families.
Going solar was an added touch, one that required approval from Riverhead Town and PSE&G. “It’s all Mr. Zucker’s idea. He’s on the forefront on things and he’s always looking to make a positive impact on the environment,” Argento said.
Solar panels are a sensitive subject for East End golfers, and generally not a happy one. Tallgrass, a highly regarded Gil Hanse course in Shoreham, closed in 2018 to make way for a 24.9-megawatt solar farm. The former Calverton Links is the site of a proposed 22.9-megawatt solar array.
But Long Island National officials believe their project is a positive representative for the golf industry. It shows that the game actually is a solid partner with the environment, despite some long-held opinions to the contrary.
The club contracted with SUNation to use a parcel near the front entrance. “That was land we couldn’t use for anything else,” Argento said of the work that was finished in 2017.
There was speculation when Zucker bought the course that he was going to plow it up and build on it. But he said from the beginning that he would maintain it for golf. He and his staff still are bullish on a sport that follows the sun.
“It can be an escape from your real world,” Argento said, inside a clubhouse powered mainly by rays. “It can be an opportunity to unplug.”
“Slowly but surely…” superintendent Andy Wilson said of Bethpage State Park’s return to normal in the aftermath of the PGA Championship in May.
This past week, the full length of No. 1 on the Red Course was reopened. Wilson said it will take numerous re-seedings and aeration sessions to fully restore it, but it is playable.
He added that the firm removing gravel from pathways on the Yellow just finished this week. No. 1 tee there is being rebuilt on the site of the PGA’s driving range bleachers. The ground is still extremely hard on 10 Yellow, which was where the bus terminal was.
All told, some areas of the property will be sodded, just to get through the rest of the season. “It’s like in a restaurant — you might prefer to give people filet mignon, but they might just want to have a quick hamburger and get going,” he said.
Bottom line, he is more certain by the day that Bethpage’s turf is much better off for having had the tournament in May rather than in August, when the PGA had traditionally been held before this year.
Daniel Brady, Pine Ridge GC, seventh hole, 124 yards, pitching wedge
Mike Napodano, Spring Lake GC, third hole, 178 yards, 7-iron
Larry Lowig, Bethpage Yellow, fourth hole, 141 yards, 7-iron
Howard Allen, Pine Hollow CC, 11th hole, 122 yards, 8-iron
Varda Geller, Pine Hollow CC, second hole, 143 yards, 5-wood
Mark Spielberger, Pine Hollow CC, 11th hole, 185 yards, 3-wood
Sandra Layne, Pine Hollow CC, fourth hole, 140 yards, 4-hybrid
Franklin Hyman, Pine Hollow CC, second hole, 175 yards, 4-iron
David Werfel, Cold Spring CC, 11th hole, 125 yards, 9-iron
Mike Langer, Cold Spring CC, third hole, 137 yards, 8-iron
John Rago, Sumpwams Creek GC, sixth hole, 110 yards, 6-iron