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North Shore gets new lease on life from Zucker

There is a new outlook at North Shore Country Club. There is new hope, which came with a new owner. There are 23 new members and new plans for more growth. Even the venerable history is new.

Official records at the 97-year-old club in Glen Head have taken a mulligan. No more do they say that the architect was the esteemed A. W. Tillinghast, whose legacy includes Bethpage Black (we think). After further review, it turns out that North Shore actually was designed by Seth Raynor with help from his mentor Charles Blair Macdonald, the architect who has been called "the father of American golf."

This qualified as a surprise, but not a jolt for Donald Zucker, the Manhattan developer, philanthropist and golf enthusiast who rescued North Shore from debt by buying it for $12.5 million last November. "Maybe it's a benefit in the end. I'm treating it as a benefit," Zucker said in the pro shop on Friday morning. "I didn't go from the frying pan into the fire at all. I stayed in the frying pan. I think it's great."

North Shore's rewritten history is a story within the story of Zucker's purchase. "I was the only [potential] buyer, I think, who wanted to keep it as a golf course," he said.

A convert to golf in 1989 when his wife set him up for a casual round at North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue, Zucker was unfazed by the economy-related (and Madoff-related) struggles that have put several area clubs on the brink. One person familiar with his transaction said, "This was what every club dreams of. The place was doomed, absolutely doomed."

On the heels of the new hope came reports from golf architecture bloggers that Tillinghast didn't really design North Shore. Before the 2002 U.S. Open at the Black Course, there was a claim that Tillinghast wasn't the real architect there either. The son of late superintendent Joseph H. Burbeck said that his father had done most of the layout. There never was definitive proof either way, but officials at the state park consider it a closed case and say it's Tillinghast's work.

Zucker assigned Melville-based golf consultant Mark Hissey to investigate. Hissey visited the New York Historical Society and found North Shore's original board minutes. The golf club was founded by the Harmonie Club, a social organization of German Jewish immigrants, which bought the old Glenwood Country Club.

There was no mention of Tillinghast in the minutes, Hissey said. There was a record of $500 paid to Raynor in November 1914 for advisory work. "Two months later, they had an agreement with him to come on board and completely redo the course," he said.

So how did Tillinghast's name get so entrenched there? "Folklore," Hissey said, adding that no evidence exists that he even set foot on the property.

Zucker said, "My two favorite courses in the New York-Long Island area are National Golf Links of America and Fishers Island. They are both Seth Raynor courses. So it was easy to accept, let's put it that way."

The National, in Southampton, was founded and designed by Macdonald, who was tutoring Raynor. Zucker can see it from the neighboring Sebonack Golf Club, where he also is a member. He has hired Tom Doak, Sebonack's co-designer (with Jack Nicklaus), to update Raynor's layout at North Shore.

"He's not going to take a bulldozer and start all over again, but he is going to make suggestions," the owner said.

Zucker has reduced dues and insists he will make it work financially. The club will reach out to non-members, hosting clinics for public school students.

"I'm going to make this place available to the community in ways that they have not heard of before. This is not an elitist organization and it's not going to be," said Zucker.

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