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Golf World article on new East end clubs: Friar's Head, Bridge, Sebonack, etc.


Jimmy Muratt:
Here's an article from Peter Finch of Golf World regarding some of the new big money clubs on the East end of Long Island.  There is some good background of the clubs and the owners......

By Peter Finch
Golf World

"Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Out on the East End of Long Island, the coming U.S. Open is a cause for real excitement among golfers. Area clubs are expecting extra-heavy guest traffic for the week, a few have set up special Open-themed competitions, and a handful are sending members over to the event to help out. When the USGA asked for 75 volunteers from Southampton GC to act as marshals on the first hole at Shinnecock Hills GC, 175 members rushed in to sign up, says Tom Holdsworth, head pro at Southampton. "Everybody wanted in on it. They can't wait."

Yet for all the local excitement, a number of the area's golfers will be experiencing a different sort of emotion as the Open comes to Shinnecock this summer: envy.

The Hamptons, remember, is one of the most moneyed places on earth. Along this 30-mile stretch of towns you'll find sprawling summer palaces for the likes of Steven Spielberg, Mort Zuckerman, Martha Stewart, and Ronald Perelman. For every one of them, there are countless others you've never heard of who are even richer. In the Village of Southampton, summer rentals start at around $20,000 a month but if you want something "nice," though not on the ocean, you're looking at more like $50,000 a month, says Nancy Hardy, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Songwriter Denise Rich recently rented out her seven-bedroom home for the summer, fetching more than $500,000. It's not on the ocean, but it does have a helipad, which has become de rigueur as Hamptons traffic has gotten ever more congested in recent years.

Suffice it to say that this crowd is not used to being denied. Ever. Under any circumstance. So for many of them, the Open's return is an unsubtle reminder that they are not members of the area's single most desirable golf club, Shinnecock. Nor are they members of its two other old-school clubs, National Golf Links of America and the Maidstone Club, founded in 1904 and 1891, respectively. These three are full. If you want to join, you will need connections, and you'll need to be patient, as it takes some five to seven years to get in. "People pretty much have to die for there to be openings," says one Shinnecock member. "I think there were half a dozen last year, at most."

Luckily for Hamptons golfers with oversized checkbooks, three high-end golf clubs that might consider them as members have opened in recent years, and a fourth is on the way. There's the East Hampton GC, the Bridge in Bridgehampton, Friar's Head in nearby Baiting Hollow and the yet-to-be-built Sebonack GC, a club that will feature the first design collaboration of Tom Doak and Jack Nicklaus. Sebonack hasn't announced an initiation fee yet, but if it's anything like the others - and there's no reason to think it won't be - it will cost in excess of $250,000 to join. The Bridge's price tag is actually more than double that, extreme even by Hamptons standards.

The model for these new courses, in many respects, is the Atlantic GC, a Rees Jones design that sprang up 12 years ago in Bridgehampton. With a then-astronomical initiation fee of $100,000, it was viewed by many as a nouveau club for riche hackers. But since then it has managed to achieve a level of acceptance some might have thought impossible. Today it has a number of good players, its membership is full and there is said to be a long list of people wishing to get in, which is more than you can say about a lot of clubs.

This is partly because Atlantic is so determined to seem like it is not nouveau - that it has been here forever, like, oh, Shinnecock. "We keep working on it," says Atlantic's head pro, Rick Hartmann. "We changed all the tees not long ago, making them square. Now they look older, more traditional. And we reworked all the bunkers on No. 13. Rees wanted them to look a little older, a little deeper, make them fit into the East End look a little better. They're the same kind of bunkers Shinnecock has."

Nobody seriously expects Atlantic and the latest newcomers to challenge Shinnecock's supremacy. With its legendary course, renowned clubhouse and blue-blooded membership, "Shinnecock is the king and will always remain the king," says one member of the East Hampton GC. Yet as these new clubs mature and begin to jockey for members - not to mention position in the Hamptons pecking order - it ought to be pretty entertaining. Sniffs one member of the National: "They're paying all this money and they're going to end up at the social equivalent of the Southampton GC. When it comes to this new breed of clubs, I keep going back to that old Dorothy Parker quote: 'If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people He gave it to.' "

East Hampton GC is positioning itself as the friendly club of the Hamptons. Every time a car drives up, a valet pops out and begins what general manager Tom Barnard calls "a heavy meet-and-greet." The valet welcomes the member or guest by name, escorts him into the clubhouse to change his shoes, takes his bag over to the range and introduces him to his caddie. "Members should always feel like they belong to a special, special club," says Barnard, who used to be GM at Sherwood CC near Los Angeles. "I don't know any club that has worked so hard on hospitality."

East Hampton's course is an attractive if slightly disjointed Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design. The front nine is short (3,000 yards) and tight and plays to a par 35, with three par 3s. The back nine is more wide open, with more of a "Shinnecock feel," in Barnard's words. The course has some very pretty holes, though there are a few rough spots. Notable is the par-5 seventh hole, which is great to look at so long as you don't look to the right. Just behind a row of trees you'll see the sprawling East Hampton dump and recycling center. It could be worse. Says Barnard: "We no longer have an open pit where people throw garbage, but a much more sensible contained waste area that has cut down on the smell tremendously."

The word among Hamptons golfers is that the owners are well short of their financial projections and desperate for members. Nonsense, says Barnard. Though East Hampton struggled a bit after its official opening in 2001, attracting only 45 members that year, he assures that it's on fine footing now. "We've actually turned down a few people for various reasons, after doing some research on them and deciding they wouldn't fit in." He says 105 people have put up the $260,000 to join, out of a potential 250. (The price includes limited golf course access for a spouse, incidentally. Annual dues are in "the teens.") Barnard won't name names, but the membership is known to include quite a few media heavyweights. NBC Universal president Jeffrey Zucker belongs, as does BBDO worldwide chairman Phil Dusenberry and Court TV chairman Henry Schleif. They've hired a big name for a pro, too. He is Tony Sessa, who spends his winters as the co-head professional at Augusta National.


Jimmy Muratt:
page 2....

The drive from East Hampton GC over to the Bridge ought to take about 20 minutes at the most. It's only 10 miles, most of them on a highway. But Hamptons traffic being what it is, you can count on at least 40 minutes. Even on a weekday afternoon in mid-May, Highway 27 is so choked with cars you'll be unable to move much faster than 10 miles per hour.

Sure, it's crowded out here, you may find yourself thinking. But how many of these drivers can afford to pay $525,000 for a golf club membership? That's what it takes to join the Bridge, the most expensive club in the Hamptons and one of the most expensive in the world.

The Bridge sits on the former Bridgehampton Raceway, a 520-acre race-car track that course developer Bob Rubin, a racing nut, has owned since the early 1980s. "Why does it cost so much to join?" he asks. "I like to say that half of it is for the course I built and the other half is for the course I didn't build." Most of the land remains wide open - a rare thing in the increasingly jam-packed Hamptons. "You don't see any homes out there on the course," says Rubin, a 50-year-old former commodities and currency trader. "To find that kind of scale and that kind of tranquility, that's what you're paying for."

The rap on Rubin is that he's not a "golf guy." He took up the game just five years ago and carries a 20-handicap. Before opening the Bridge he was as a member of Southampton GC, which, while a fine Seth Raynor design, is known as a "locals" club. Like nearby Noyac GC, it lacks the cachet of a Shinnecock, National or Maidstone.

Say what you will about Rubin, you have to give him this much: He aims high. Obviously inspired by the Atlantic's success, Rubin hired Rees Jones to design the Bridge and brought in Jeff Warne, the Atlantic's director of instruction, as his head pro. Apart from the tranquility, the course's strongest selling point is its incredible views. You can see parts of the Long Island Sound on 14 of its 18 holes. And with a greenkeeping crew of more than 20, it is in impeccable condition. As one local pro puts it, "The more money you pay to belong, the less grass you have to hit off of. It's actually kind of ridiculous how much mowing they do out there."

Rubin's goal is to have 150 members at the Bridge. So far, he has only 59. Part of the problem, he acknowledges, is that he still has no clubhouse. Members are expected to cough up half a million dollars to join his club, plus $20,000 in annual dues, and they still have to change their shoes in a trailer by the driving range. The plan is to break ground on a clubhouse this summer and have it ready by next spring. Designed by architect Roger Ferris, the Bridge's clubhouse will be a sleek, modern building that already has some Hamptonites holding their noses. "I saw the model," says a member of one local club. "It looked like some kind of spaceship - a UFO!"

But Rubin is unfazed. "I've sold eight memberships this year, and it's not even half over," he says. "This is heavy mating season right now. I wouldn't be surprised if I had 10 by the Open."

If Rubin is not "a golf guy," his antithesis is Ken Bakst, the owner of Friar's Head. Bakst, a former member of Atlantic GC, is a real estate developer and an accomplished amateur golfer. He played on the Stanford golf team in the late 1970s-early 1980s, won the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 1997 and got to compete in the '98 Masters. (He went 82-78, missing the cut.)

Bakst is not what you would call easy going. Serious and intensely private, "he's a hard one," says a friend. He is often described as the club's "dictator." Members are reluctant to give out even the most basic information about their club - roughly how many people belong, for instance - because, as one says, "Kenny doesn't like to talk about those things." After being interviewed by Golf World, one Friar's Head member called back asking not to be quoted. Reminded that we already had agreed not to mention his name, he said, "Yeah, but I'm worried that he'll be able to identify me by some of the things I said." All positive things, incidentally.

No one disputes that Bakst has built a beautiful golf course on a sensational piece of land. Like East Hampton, it's a Coore and Crenshaw design, this one running among the dunes and potato fields of Long Island's North Shore with sweeping views of the Sound and Connecticut in the distance. Bakst's aim was to create something with a historical feel. "What we were trying to accomplish is more aligned with what was done 80 years ago, architecturally," he says. Not only did it have to look natural, it had to make you think. Thus the smart play on every hole isn't just bombing it down the sprinkler line. You have to pick your spots and expect the unexpected every now and then, like a bunker in the middle of the fairway or the occasional blind shot. "It's like an architectural time machine," says one member. "It's almost like Seth Raynor or C.B. Macdonald designed it."

To make peace with environmentalists who opposed development of the land, Bakst agreed to limit construction of homes on the property to 69, down from an original plan of up to 333. "It's doubtful that many, if any, of those homes will get built," Bakst says. The word is that he has sold more than 100 memberships at around $235,000 a piece, though Bakst won't comment on either of those figures.

Over at the new Sebonack GC, developer Mike Pascucci is downright voluble by comparison. He figures his his club, set on 300 highly scenic acres just around the corner from Shinnecock, is going to cost about $100 million to build. The land alone cost him $46 million. (By contrast Bob Rubin spent "only" $25 million to build the Bridge.) Yet says he honestly doesn't know how much he's going to charge for his memberships. He's going to focus on building a great course and worry about selling memberships later. "My motive isn't profit," insists Pascucci, a former auto-finance executive and owner of Long Island TV station WLNY (Channel 55). "Ideally, I'd like to break even, but I'm not letting money dictate what we do."

Both Nicklaus and Doak were interested in doing the design, Pascucci says, and they agreed to a collaboration in April. There are some unknowns, he adds, including who's doing exactly what on the project. Both designers have come up with routings, and in each case 15 holes are slated to have water views or will be right on the water. "It's amazing to be out there, to have these golf holes on the water. You just don't see that on the East Coast," says Pascucci, who belongs to five golf clubs, including Deepdale GC and Nassau CC on Long Island. He hopes to have the course open for play by August 2005. Considering its location - right next to Shinnecock and the National - you might imagine Sebonack's owner viewing his club as a rival to its famous neighbors. Not so, says Pascucci. "Shinnecock is a top, world-leading golf club, and so is the National. We don't expect to go hole-by-hole, match play, with them or anybody else. We're just trying to build the best course we can."

Anyway, it's not as if Shinnecock and the National are worried about the competition - from Sebonack or any other club. However great the new courses may be, says one Shinnecock member, "it's going to take 100 years before anyone views them as equals."

June 11, 2004

I didn't know you could see Long Island Sound on 14 holes of The Bridge (in Bridgehampton)!!??  Perhaps he means Peconic Bay?

All that money and secrecy, seems a little over the top to me even if it is to play the giants like Shinny and National.


Good to see that East Hampton GC has "actually turned down members for various reasons". :)  My kind of place.   :)  

For what it's worth, the $250,000+ payments at these clubs plus Nantucket GC, etc. aren't an initiation fee in the traditional sense.  That is, they are supposed to be transferable at "the going rate" either back to the club or to a new member - sort of a speculative equity semi-investment.  Of course, if the club is a bust then the going rate becomes zero.  However, the guys who got involved with Nantucket at the earliest stages are sitting on a nice capital gain should they ever decide to resign or they involuntarily transfer title to their estate.

A traditional initiation fee is literally that - it's paid to the club (usually earmarked for capital expenditures) and there's no repurchase, transfer, etc. - it's gone.  It's also not a "bond" - also a traditional new-member payment which is usually an interest-free loan to the club and is supposed to be redeemable (but not transferable).  The club is not "selling" a membership a la The Bridge et al.  Initiation fees seem to average about $50,000 these days and the highest I've heard of in that regard is $75,000 (but my data points are pretty limited and don't include southern California).

Since I can't afford either of the above, I can't speak to any more details than that.

Also, while I wouldn't call the description of Ken Bakst a full blown hatchet job, he's sure never come off that way to me in the limited amount of time I've spent in his company.  Perhaps the editor cut out all the nice things about Ken due to space constraints.  Or perhaps the nice things weren't consistent with the slightly negative BIAS of the article.

With all due respect to Atlantic, Easthampton and The Bridge (I've played the first two and toured the last in a cart), it sounds like Ken Bakst may be on the verge of doing something very important for golf - much like Sand Hills is shaping up to be.

Besides, there's a plenty of good things to say about AGC, EGC and TB - even if they don't appeal to most of the folks at GCA.

Of course, a positive article like that 1) isn't interesting to the great masses that now follow golf and 2) isn't about the star of this week's show.


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