Golf fans on Long Island probably will be asking, “What is the Northern Trust?” Golf fans everywhere else likely will be asking “What is Glen Oaks?”
Answers to both will become clear next month, organizers believe, when one of the oldest and biggest events on the PGA Tour comes to one of the Island’s most eye-catching courses.
The sight of the place is what will make Northern Trust’s and the club’s names quickly recognizable, people connected with both said yesterday on the grounds in Old Westbury. While members played on the facility’s three nines, workers were building grandstands, skyboxes and restaurant pavilions for the event to be held Aug. 22-27.
“Most golf courses are going ‘rugged’ now, with more natural areas, ” Glen Oaks head pro Tim Shifflett said. “This is manicured. It’s green grass, it’s white big bunkers, it’s great views. It’s a look the average person really hasn’t gotten a chance to see very often.”
There is a temptation to compare the style to Augusta National, which is not entirely fair. That is the highest possible standard. Still, Glen Oaks superintendent Craig Currier used to work at Augusta and he took great care in sprucing up the 46-year-old course on Post Road. The hope is that the distinctive look will attract spectators to a tournament that had sparse crowds at Bethpage Black last year, when it was known as the Barclays.
Title changes always represent problems for tournament officials. This event has had numerous names and various homes since it debuted 50 years ago as the Westchester Classic. It currently goes to several clubs on a rotating basis. This year it was supposed to go to Liberty National in Jersey City, but that course is being prepared for the Presidents Cup in September. So Glen Oaks volunteered for a one-time guest-host gig.
“The place is perfect and the folks have been really easy to deal with,” said Spencer Randle, project manager for Shaffer Sports, the company building the infrastructure. “We’re all from down South and this gets us out of Alabama for the summer. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
Summers can be hard on New York-area courses, too. “We’ve got five weeks. It’s getting close,” Currier said when he was asked if the course is ready. The man who prepared Bethpage Black for two U.S. Opens was touring the layout with a grass expert, Rick DeLea of DeLea Sod Farms (which handles the field at Yankee Stadium).
“It’s not like we ruined any holes or anything. For the minor city that they’re building, it has been pretty low impact, if you ask me,” Currier said. “Now we just need good weather. It’s all weather.”
It also is a question of “whether” — whether the public will turn out. Glen Oaks is hilly enough so that, as Shifflett pointed out, some vantage points will offer views of numerous holes.
No matter what they call it or where they play it, the tournament draws what many consider the best and deepest field of the season. It is the first leg of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs ($10 million first prize for the eventual playoff winner) and only the top 125 players on the tour’s money list are eligible.
“The experience here is much different than Bethpage,” said Peter Mele, the tournament’s executive director, after having brought a TV crew around the course for footage. “There is not a blade of tall fescue here. Everything is landscaped. It’s going to be an easy course to get around on.
“And I think the back nine will give some birdies,” Mele said. “We want a lot of noise out there.”
Barbara Busch, Hamlet G&CC, fourth hole, 116 yards, 6-iron
Frank Russell, Southward Ho CC, fourth hole, 127 yards, 8-iron
Steven Hollmand, Spring Lake GC, sixth hole, 153 yards, 7-iron
Catherine Hatton, E. Donald Conroy GC, third hole, 101 yards, lob wedge
Michael Mirman, Cantiague Park, ninth hole, 182 yards, 6-iron
Bob Tedesco, Willow Creek G&CC, 16th hole, 150 yards, 6-iron