Feature Interview with Jeff Warne – pg ii

21. Tell us more about the process.

Gregg would often point out to me how certain tees stood out across the landscape. His vision was to eliminate that look and have the tees fit seamlessly into the land with as minimal visual impact as possible. This was achieved by lowering virtually every tee and moving them closer to the previous green, which combined with my efforts to make the course more walkable and have more angled tee shots, provided a synergy which really gained momentum.

Another major job Gregg spearheaded was eliminating the faux dunes which ran down the left side of both the par 5 9th and par 5 18th, encircling the green on the 9th leaving the player to walk up a steep bank to proceed to the 10th tee, which was hideously elevated and an electric green towering eyesore from the clubhouse.

The first cut though the faux dunes left of 18 and … there’s the water!

Around the 18th hole, the faux dunes were 10-15 feet high and blocked views across the property, hole #10 and the Peconic Bay. The dunes on 9 blocked views down #3 and #4 fairways, and #6 green. Ironically, these dunes were artificial and were built in the area that had previously been the flattish infield area of the race track. Gregg approached me about the work and told me he was pretty sure if we nuked the fake dunes that the water views would abound, and that certainly there would be incredible views across the property. I often wondered why with a course with such wonderful water views, we wouldn’t enjoy it from the 18th, but I simply couldn’t imagine undertaking such a large earthworking project. Sure enough, he was 100% right and it opened spectacular views across the property to the water as you complete your round.

Old 18 green, as seen from the right.

New 18 green, as seen from the right!

The same process was repeated eliminating the surrounding faux dunes around the 9th green.

The 9th green is now visible from the clubhouse.

Old 18 second shot – note the faux dunes left.

New 18 – second shot.

Old 18 tee shot – 100 yards from 17 green and required a downhill then uphill walk.

New 18th tee – steps from 17 green.

The 18th plays much better now with an angled tee shot to a potential speed slot across a sandy/native waste area (it’s about a 50 yard carry from the members tees), the signature spectator bridge visible just to the right of the tee and the iconic clubhouse in the background.

Moving the 18th tee next to 17 green opened up this view from the tee down the multi-option driveable 17th.

Speaking of which, I’m quite proud of the 17th, in no small part due to the fact that I liked the Old 17th, so the bar was high. Rather than again walking backwards and up (again!) to the tee, we moved the tee lower and forward and made it a short par 4. What distinguishes this hole is that there are 6-7 different attractive and sizeable options/areas for driving the ball. So unlike many short holes, there’s not a concentration of divots in a small layup zone for those who don’t or can’t  go for it. The wonderful A frame shaped green and fairway width have a lot to do with the hole presenting so many options as a player will seek to drive it to the side of the green where the pin is to avoid hitting across the tilt of the green.

17 from tee – lots of landing room in multiple driving areas to promote angles.

22. Though I haven’t been, I am told The Bridge has more central bunkers now than virtually any course in North America. What was the thought process in establishing these central hazards?

Prior to embarking on any of the bunker work, Gregg and I had the opportunity to play hundreds of rounds and observe many more by the members. So we had a good idea of what would enhance the fun and strategy. The terrain at The Bridge was good, the corridors were wide, we just needed to place the bunkers where they complimented the terrain in the fairways and use them to entice and reward rather than to simply punish a duck hook.

In many cases, we replaced bunkers with fairway and kept a small piece of the bunker and then widened the fairway on the side of the bunker we had eliminated. At first we were asked why we had put a bunker in the middle of the fairway and I would show them where the old bunker was and how that was now fairway. I would also point out that there was often 60 yards of fairway on one side and 30 on the other (which previously didn’t exist) so in reality we had put fairways in the middle of our bunkers.

We also reduced our total sand by about 40%, mainly by reducing the size of the bunkers, which assisted greatly in washouts and blowouts, previously a major problem on such an exposed, heaving windy site. In many cases, the bunkers were placed to be skirted, flown and/or positioned where the best angle was just short of them.

Old 10 left side – lots of sand to rake without adding much strategy.

New 10, where there is less sand but increased strategy.

Sometimes they were simply random due to attractive landforms for a bunker and occasionally they were placed to give the super short hitter a challenge and thrill to carry and the rest of the players some eye candy. Some of these bunkers are real hazards as their smaller size means you are likely hitting a wedge out. Smaller size means they are easier to avoid but often much harder to play out of.

It’s very important for people to realize that nearly every single inch of the golf course has been tweaked in the past 7-8 years, without ever once being out of play April-October. This was NOT a mere “bunker project” though I’m OK with the members thinking we just added few bunkers as that indicates to me that the work, which was massive in scale on nearly every hole, had matured nicely by the time they arrived in May. This was not my definition of minimalism as massively widening a fairway to create a new angle or creating a reasonable tee near the previous green on such a severe site requires a lot of work and even more to make it look like it never happened – something at which Gregg was an expert. Lowering tees as much as we did changed the fairway sight lines dramatically and in some cases, we embraced that as an up and over and in others, we moved many days worth of dirt to recreate the original shot nature.

On multiple holes Gregg moved enough dirt to form a seamless natural looking land bridge to avoid yet another drop down 40 feet down from a tee then back up to fairway or green. In multiple cases, we moved dirt to reduce the banked fairway effect, in order for a player to access a side of a fairway to create the optimal angle without his ball being deflected back into the center. Similarly, many of the bunkers were shaped previously to repel water, which had the same effect on a golf ball or a quality shot continually deflected back to the middle. These were the details that caused Gregg to painstakingly move dirt to please my function demands, yet seamlessly fit into his aesthetic and maintenance ideals. Yet all this was done for $$ amounts substantially below the numbers we see thrown out for simple bunker or tee renovations.

The biggest thing was we created more play areas as options, and mainly contained the hazards within those play areas. There are however bunkers that are not central, part of natural landforms and tie into the native areas very nicely, and with the exposed terrain, native sand, and scrubby surrounds, look as if they have been there forever. In some cases, they are simply there to be skirted and or tie in the native areas to the rough.

Finally, there are substantial areas of short grass that have been added surrounding the greens that give multiple options where any club in the bag can be utilized. We’ve actually raised the height of cut over time to INCREASE options so ball contact is slightly easier for the average player, yet a putter can still be one of the choices.

23. What have you learned over the course of the renovation?

From Gregg Stanley, and recently Brian Schneider, I have been very fortunate to learn so much about the construction and practical side of architecture, mostly that you always need to go bigger than you initially think, to make it look like it never happened. Also that there is so much infrastructure to put in after the initial dirt is moved. Gregg has a very keen eye for the aesthetic and is receptive to my strategic ideas, but also has the experience to know what won’t work and how to steer me in the right direction.

I have learned a tremendous amount by watching him and his crew work and I do think I have been helpful to him with understanding how we need to make the course work for the average player, while keeping varied challenges and options open and accessible for the better player.

Importantly, we both have recognized what occasionally doesn’t work and have had the courage to go back and fix what didn’t work.

24. What hole has improved the most? Describe the before and after version and what pleases you so much about the work.

I would say the 6th hole (the sole green that was moved) and the way we integrated holes 5-7 into a compact routing.

We built tees just left and right of the 5th green that avoided a 150 yard walk back and up 30-40 feet of elevation to the old tee located in the revegetated area at the top left of the photo below.

The 5th green, with the new 6th tees steps away.

Then on the 6th we put the new green in a beautiful bowl surrounded by stunning native vegetation, 50 yards closer to 7 tee. Finally, we lowered 7 tee from the highest point in the picture (above pines on left) reducing the walk from 150 winding upward yards to 40 yards. New tee in small cut just above and left of pin. Old green was just outside right edge of photo – a long way from the top of the pine on the left.

We left the old greenside bunker, enlarged it and use it as a semi Alps feature to partially block the view of the green 60 yards away and a few feet below it.

Old 6 green was left of what is now “Alps” bunker – New 6 green is 60 yards farther back and to the right in an attractive bowl.

From behind new 6 green- Former green was at top center of photo.

Making a cut to unify the new 6 green and 7 tee, which allowed the 7th tee (below) to be steps from 6 green rather than the previous 100+ yards.

Note small central bunker on #7 – that was a piece of the old massive left flanking bunker parallel to the hole on the left which combined with the left to right terrain made access to the speed slot left impossible. The area left of that center bunker used to be all bunker then woods, but is now fairway to allow access to the slot but everything feeds towards that bunker unless the tee shot left is boldly struck. There is also plenty of fairway over the short right bunkers, which are about a 150 yard carry from the member tees.

Old 7 green and small optionless layup area which was divot city.

The hillside right was blown out to create room and options.

7 with bigger layup area and option to feed around right bunker to access right pin

As illustrated by these three holes and multiplied throughout the property, the course is now a joy to walk. Additionally, the texture, scenery and views are varied on and off the course. Strategy is now a big part of playing the course properly, including the ability to run the ball onto every green in some way.

25. From the pictures that I have seen, the bunkering is both handsome and distinctive. How were they built?

Gregg Stanley used an excavator to dig them out, using the dirt to build up the faces and lips which his team skillfully sculpts as he’s digging.

Drainage and irrigation are installed.

The crew hard at work with boss’s approval soon to follow.

After properly hand and shovel shaping, the sod (stripped from a nearby area being reworked and already mature on the site) is laid, then marked by Gregg and cut by the crew. It’s a very fast process and many of the unusual shapes stem from the fact that the crew has no preconceived notions of what a bunker should look like and the handcrafting keeps them unique to each other.  The bunkers at The Bridge are beautiful, penal, distinctive, sometimes even crude until they soften and represent the wind blown nature of the properly and terrain. They are to be avoided though the occasional randomness of their design creates some element of surprise.

26. Let’s drill down on the 13th hole. From our conversations, I understand it was good hole before but now there are more things for the golfer to think about on the tee? 

Old 13 – a good hole before but a fair walk was required to reach the tee from the prior green.

The green line below highlights the elimination of sand. The actual new fairway was widened in the field more than on the drawing.

New Hole 13 -steps from the 12 the tee with a speed slot down the right, and large acreage saved with revegetation of old corridor.

From the back markers, the 13th has become a fine diagonal tee ball with enticing risk/reward elements.

27. When I told people about this pending Feature Interview, they said to be sure to cover the work done on the sixteenth hole.

16 Old required a long uphill hike to its tee with the benefit being a distant water view. The hole itself was located in a forest per below.

The Old 16th measured 150-250 yards and played downhill.

This is another example whereby we found a way to greatly shorten the green to tee walk and even though we were left with an uphill hole and no water views, I find the new hole to be more striking.

The New 16 now measuress 120-225 yards and plays slightly uphill.

The Old 16 tee was previously at top of revegetated hill seen upper left. Now only a few steps exist from the 15th green to the New 16 tee as seen above the left greenside bunker.

28. Thank you for the tour – That is just staggering! I don’t know what to say other than CONGRATULATIONS! Are any more architectural changes being contemplated or are you essentially done?

Stay tuned – we’re pretty close – more a question of fine tuning – simple grassing issues like adjusting the aesthetics of the fairway lines such as the one on hole #13 above. Most were adjusted, but when you create many new angles and 90 new tees, there’s always going to be some you didn’t get exactly as you wished the first go round in 27 degree weather!

Also it bears mentioning that 3 years ago Gregg and Brian Schneider built a terrific 5 hole par 3 course on really cool terrain amongst the native vegetation left of #1 which can be played forward or backwards.

A view across the exciting landforms of the par 3 course.

Most recently Brian (with assistance from Blake Conant) and Gregg re-did our range in a target green style much more reflective of the property and the work we have done throughout the course. It will be extremely useful as one of many courses we use for our Jr. Chipping Shootout and Jr. Club Championship events.

29. How is working at The Bridge?

One of the highlights of my career has been having the owners of The Bridge, Bob Rubin and his wife Stephane Samuel, allow me to collaborate with them and develop the unique, relaxed, kid friendly, walking culture of The Bridge in an environment and region where relaxed is not always the norm. With both of us having three kids when we started, mine now 26, 26 and 19. Bob gave me tremendous freedom to run a kid/family friendly environment, with no restrictions on kids other than pace of play applicable to all members.

In addition to developing a highly successful golf course and culture, Bob Rubin and Stephane Samuel are giving back in a huge way with The Bridge Foundation, based in Harlem, whose mission is to promote academic and sport opportunities through golf for young men of color. Currently the program is in its 5th year, the program is run year round by Bridge Director of Instruction Mike Sweeney, who despite being only 32 years old, has been with me for 14 seasons. We recently introduced a summer 2 week Bridge Foundation caddy camp where the young men stay on property doing internships, working on their games and enjoying many of the opportunities the east end of Long Island provides in the summer.

Jr. Chipping Shootout on Renaissance Design’s  Brian Schneider par 3 course.

Bridge Foundation Director Mike Sweeney hammering home a point.

The Bridge Foundation Camp teaching clubface awareness.

Chipping Shootout Fun‘n Games.

In conclusion, thank you Ran for the interview and all that you have done for golf and the appreciation of golf course architecture and specifically for providing an invaluable and highly educational and entertaining resource for all of us. Golfclubatlas has had an enormous positive impact on the game of golf, the mainstream awareness and appreciation of architecture, and the quality of golf courses in general.

And for those of you who made it this far, thanks for reading, being a GCA participant and come out to see us.

The older Bridge pictures were provided by Frank Pont courtesy of Chris Hunt who photographed the course while working on the crew at Sebonack in 2005.

Thanks especially to my wife and family who have given me the support and freedom to pursue my lifelong passion.

A fun family trip: Jeff’s son and wife at Gairloch.

The End