Feature Interview with Jeff Warne
1. You are from Augusta and grew up playing Augusta Country Club. The changes at its next door neighbor are well chronicled and generate mixed opinions while the changes to Augusta Country Club this century are universally applauded. Is this the best ACC has been? Who deserves the credit?
I wasn’t around Augusta CC during the lead up to and implementation of the restoration by Brian Silva, but Fred Sims, former Augusta CC President (childhood friend at Augusta CC and frequent playing partner to this day) sent me a treasure trove of newspaper articles. ANGC member Jeff Knox (another childhood friend and fellow competitor) was the head of the ACC Restoration Committee, and interestingly, the thoughtful restoration was implemented at nearly the exact time that the massive lengthening at ANGC was going on.
Specifically, Augusta CC made the decision to keep the bunkering random and occasionally in play for all levels of players, as opposed to being targeted distances out from the back tees as is so often the case at ANGC and other championship courses. Additionally, Superintendent Greg Burleson was very involved in the work completed by Brian Silva’s team, as was Club President Tom Bird.
After the restoration, quite a bit of tree work was done, eliminating many of the ornamental trees that had been planted over the years. According to Fred Sims, “To be honest Ralph Ireland and me pushed and started the tree cutting trend about five or six years ago but it took a few more years for things to happen. We only cut a few trees when we were on the board but later the future boards really did all the work. Lucien Williams was the guy in the trenches and Tom Bird was president. A willing, unified and consolidated board made it happen.”
So to answer the question, yes Augusta CC is probably nearly as good as it ever was, though I would have loved to have seen it when there were two courses in the 20’s, one of which was a Raynor design all the way down to Lake Olmstead, named for the famous land planner.
The course I grew up on, the former Hill course (the Lake course was sold off after the depression) was quite different, with smaller greens, not square at all, and was a typical old school Country Club course, subject to the cost cutting measures of the 30’s and 40’s coupled with the tree planting of the 50’s and 60’s. In the mid 80’s, the Nicklaus firm was hired and the course got significantly worse, losing much of its charm and most of the Ross feel. To be fair, the course I grew up on the mid-late 70’s was stylistically very different from what you see in the ground today. The routing is virtually intact, with 1 and 18 flipped and #8 across Rae’s Creek and #9 re-done with the acquisition of #9 fairway by ANGC.
It appears that the new #9 is as good, if not better, than the old hole, and obviously $20+ million goes a long way towards financial health of even a long established club. Also, old #9 at ACC suffered from poor drainage being the low part of the property.
Finally, long views out across the property and towards ANGC (and vice versa!) were a byproduct of the clearing of the land between 8 and 9 to create the new #9. Not sure ANGC had anticipated that!
2. How many Masters have you been to? Where do you rank the 2019 invitational?
46 consecutive though I attended a couple before I played golf that I have no golf memory of.
My parents gave me practice round tickets beginning in 1975 (I took up golf in the summer of ’74). The tickets were $5 each Monday and Tuesday, $10 Wednesday. My father would give me $20 for lunch and I’d eat all day and come home with change. Skipping school that week was a bonus and now they close schools for the week as many locals rent their houses and tickets out for the week. Those are some of the best memories of my golf life. Ironically, with all the putting and chipping to expected pin placements, practice rounds now take forever, and bore me. I rarely attend on practice days.
My father had access to Tournament tickets and I usually got to attend one or two days with his tickets or was able to borrow tickets for a day. Ticket lending was common in those days, and at practice rounds you would give someone your ticket on the way out and on Sundays you could easily get a ticket by hanging around in the afternoon outside the gates when someone would leave early to watch the finish on TV.
Sadly, my father lost two of his tickets that way when a client of his sold them on the way out to an ANGC agent in the late 70’s. It would never occur to my father that someone would do that, and incidents like that led to fewer and fewer people giving away tickets as they departed for fear the recipient would resell them.
Being a PGA member since 1992, I have yearly access to the grounds and regularly attend 2-4 days annually during the tournament proper.
Previously, I ranked 1975 as the best Masters (being my first) but also because Nicklaus beat the two challengers, Weiskopf and Miller, in an epic duel for his reign at the top. I was on #16 when Jack made the bomb from 40 feet (the pin was front right, not the one we see in the final round today).
Although 1986 was great, I only attended a portion of the final round, having had to work brutal hours in a local bar, and I watched the conclusion of the final round on TV.
2019 was the best Masters I’ve witnessed, and I was out there 6 days, including following Tiger on Sunday. The energy was overwhelming, and may have been matched in 1986, but I think this was bigger, especially given the struggles of Tiger, and the large stage that The Masters has become.
3. From your podcast, I understand that you are hopeful that future changes to ANGC might be more in keeping with the Jones/MacKenzie ethos behind the original design. Please explain.
I think many are hopeful that ANGC would go back to the simpler, less cluttered design of before. It would be great for Augusta to return to 22 or so bunkers, and I would say given that number, they could be more scary/penal and therefore more considered when contemplating challenging one. In some ways, it could be quite a bit harder for the pros – witness the struggles when players go over 15 or 17 or short left on 10. Many times the bunker shot is substantially easier than the shot left if the ball was allowed to trickle away. Ironically, Augusta used to be considered to have scary tight fairways – now they look downright lush compared to the ridiculous agronomy inflicted on approaches and surrounds of high end greens elsewhere – a bad trend IMHO as creativity and imagination are greatly reduced when ball/club contact and technique becomes so difficult and unpredictable that putter or a hybrid is seen as the ONLY option.
4. That’s an interesting point. Moving on, you were exposed at an early age to nearby Palmetto GC in Aiken, where you now have been a member for 30+ years. What was it like to play there?
I “discovered” Palmetto in the Southern Cross, a High School Tournament in 1978. Ironically, I also was exposed to Aiken Golf Club (then called Highland Park) the same year when Palmetto was closed when we went over for a practice round.
As a freshman that year, the highest score I shot that year was 82, and had averaged 76. Sure enough, I shot 84 in the final round played at Palmetto, which couldn’t have played over 6300 yards. But I was smitten. Tiny, tilted firm greens, wild terrain in spots, great variety – and a driveable par 4 (that everybody thought was stupid).
The unirrigated dry running, common Bermuda fairways bled into sandy roughs and the course enjoyed great texture then. The sandy areas just off the fairways would thinly grow with whatever as the rough, but mainly, such sandy areas were unmaintained waste areas. Occasionally, a bit of brownish orange would bleed through from the clay, and the areas looked authentic, not like the faux waste areas we see at so many courses.
Additionally, there were multiple scruffy, pine barren natural bunkers/sandy wasty areas that had a bit of Pine Valley look such as you still play over on #4 at Palmetto. There was another such area out about 280 off the tee as well as right of the green where missing the green short right was an absolute no-no.
In many cases, these were cross hazards of broken ground that encroached on half or three quarters of the fairways. Crazy Creek, which crosses 14 fairway was a dry creek bed with an incredibly native texture – it was a real place to avoid and even then it could be reached off the tee with no irrigation – it’s now cleaned up with perfectly groomed Bermuda rough.
A few in Augusta were aware of Palmetto, but most dismissed it as a poorly conditioned relic of a course with some “goofy” holes. Remember, National Golf Links of America wasn’t even in the Top 100 at a similar time in the 1980’s. Interestingly, one could join Palmetto as an out of town member from Augusta, which couldn’t have been more than 20 miles away. Now there is a long waiting list for both regular and National members. When I joined Palmetto in the early 90’s, it was $250 annually!
Alas, the late 80’s renovation added fairway irrigation and a lot of the texture was lost, with formalized Bermuda roughs replacing sandy unirrigated waste areas, giving the course a more homogenized uniform non-sand hills appearance. There has been a recent Hanse renovation and both Tom Doak and Brian Schneider did work there, and while it is much improved, it lacks the old rustic, lived-in texture it once had by virtue of no irrigation.
5. Your first job in golf was at Athens Country Club in Georgia. Tell us about that Ross course.
Despite being both AA State Champion and All Class State Champion, and a winner of quite a few junior events in Augusta and in Georgia, I was incredibly naïve about the college process. After a woefully misguided walk-on attempt at the University of Georgia, due to very poor communication on my part with the coach, I quit golf for about a year as I was an obsessive practice/grinder and had become burned out.
In need of money in college, a fraternity brother introduced me to the Superintendent at Athens CC, Buzz Howell, who hired me to rake bunkers and mow greens on weekends. It was an old Ross course, with many intact features and it represented my first experience with blazing fast bent greens, due to the mostly intact severe tilts and slopes. Being on the maintenance end gave me an appreciation for all that went into presenting a course, and these were far simpler times where bunkers were raked once weekly with a sand pro (I was in charge of the bunkers on all 27 holes). We mowed the greens by hand.
Additionally, we built a third nine holes at Athens CC when I was there, and no doubt was a huge influence on the design, being the guy who shoveled the sand on top of the canvas bunker liners 🙂 . It was a George Cobb design and immediately it was apparent to me the differences in design between a 1985 Cobb and a classic Ross. Inevitably, we avoided that nine and stuck to the Ross 18 when it came time to play after work. It was a great re-introduction to golf and the employees and I played a lot of after work golf, particularly with the Assistant Superintendent James Drinkard, who had a lot of game. I remained there the summer and fall after I graduated – who wouldn’t want an extra football season at UGA!
I credit the old school architecture and maintenance involvement at Athens CC for recharging my golf batteries and passion for the game.
6. How far did you hit a 7 iron then? How far do you hit a 7 iron now, nearly 40 years later?
In 1981, I hit a 7 iron 155 yards, and with my current Apex Pros I hit a 7 iron 175 yards. I am in the process of trying to find a 7 iron that goes 165 yards (probably go back to my older forged Apex pros), which has been my distance since the ProV1 intro in 2002. I find the cup face technology in most modern irons bothersome, as fliers are doubly magnified and I’ve never airmailed so many greens in my life. Ultimately, I want a set of irons with a little more spin to shape the ball, even if I have to settle for clubs that have slightly less loft than I’d prefer. I resisted modern lofts for years, attempting to avoid the inevitable “gap” wedge, but clubs with traditional lofts are getting harder and harder to find unless one goes with super blady stuff.
7. Have changes to technology altered your approach to the game? For instance, do you shape the ball more or less now? What does the ability to spin the ball around the green on recovery shots mean?
I’m a total curmudgeon when it comes to technology as I have always asked where it will all end. I object less to more back tees than I do to knee jerk reactions like narrower fairways and deeper rough, as it merely changes the character of the game, and tortures players having a bad day regardless of the tee they are playing. I see so many young long hitters that simply can’t find their ball at all – it puzzles me how industry leaders and golfers in general can’t grasp that we’ve allowed the scale to get out of whack, and that the answer is as simple as regulation and restoring scale, not bastardizing courses.
Amazing they could spend time and energy banning anchoring (the “offenders” look the same to me), grooves (100% of spin has been recaptured), changing to knee high drops, leaving pins in, allow 3 minutes for lost balls – cool till you’re walking back to the tee. These are all silly, mindless changes and yet the powers that be then completely FAIL to properly regulate technology that IMPROVES every year in terms of distance.
My game is different in that I struggle to hit the shot my mind still sees. I’ve always played best in wind or adverse conditions where swing thoughts are the farthest thing from my mind. I can’t say I notice more spin around the green and I rarely use spin to intentionally stop a shot, but rather height which rolls out more predictably. When playing in very windy links conditions, I always felt I had a huge advantage, having learned to keep the ball below the treeline working three years at Long Cove in Hilton Head, and 25 years in the windy Hamptons. Now I play golf with players that don’t even bother to adjust their ball flight in moderate and even higher winds … heavy sigh!
I definitely shape the ball less now, although I still try – just less happens. I notice the ball tends to start more in the direction I’m trying to curve it and recovery shots are very different and not nearly as fun. Virtually impossible to curve the ball at all from any rough or wet condition.
I will add that I just played in the Senior Open Qualifier at St. Annes old links and the course was exposed to heavy crosswinds throughout the practice rounds and blew 23 mph sustained in the event proper. Suddenly I remembered how to shape the ball and hold the wind as simply riding the wind would never have worked on the fiery, fast unirrigated fairways. This was golf at its best. I gathered myself for a two under 34 on the back nine after a couple of nervy bad shots but a series of unfortunate breaks sealed my fate on the front.
8. Being a crack player and having an appreciation for golf course architecture are two circles that don’t necessarily overlap as much as people might think. Walk us through your progression in how you came to appreciate good architecture.
My appreciation for architecture was purely accidental and as one can glean from my answers, I may have an appreciation for architecture, but certainly haven’t studied it. Having Augusta CC as my home course, ANGC over the fence and Donald Ross’ Forest Hills Club down the street from my home, where I won a State High School Championship, were all monumentally important in helping to shape what constitutes good golf.
Ironically, I learned links golf at Augusta Golf Club, aka The Patch, which was our High School’s home course. Hard by the airport and exposed to wind, hardpan sloped, reverse cambers (though I had no idea what that meant at the time), rock hard sloped fairways that demanded shot shaping, barren tight lies that required nerves of steel or a well struck bare lie run-up, and grainy tiny greens – all of it was essential to my scoring development. I won a City Junior there by 5 shots (ironically ANGC famous marker Jeff Knox finished second), despite doubling the 16th hole and nearly playing out of the parking lot on 18.
Ben Hogan’s quote of “I pity rich kids” was certainly true as elite junior golfers and rich kids just don’t see conditions like that anymore, much less embrace them, and they miss a key step in the development of imagination and shotmaking skill in adverse conditions.
While I have been incredibly fortunate to land jobs and grow up around architecturally significant courses, my education really took a turn when I stumbled across GolfClubAtlas in 2002, in response to the owner of The Bridge Bob Rubin wanting to know what was being said in a particularly nasty thread about The Bridge. I lurked for awhile and attended the Dixie Cup in 2004 with my good friend Shooter, who rarely posts anymore. What amazed me about the thread was the vitriol expressed, mostly by posters no longer here. Some posters had reasonable criticisms, but many were simply irrational rants. IMHO, most of the complaints were due to high expectations associated with the high initiation fee, and imaginary visions of the expected culture that would emerge from such a high fee.
As we get to below, many of their course concerns have been addressed, as every course matures and evolves over time, but most negative posters have not bothered to revisit. Interestingly, The Bridge has been an outstanding success, not only financially, but in the development of an outstanding, relaxed, fun golf and family culture with a top junior program, complete with several of the best teachers in the country. One can expect to get a relaxed round here rather briskly on a busy summer weekend morning. Additionally, with its iconic modern clubhouse in a majestic setting, it is the place to be for the younger, hip Wall Street crowd.
The good news about learning about GolfClubAtlas was that I was exposed to so many great ideas, people (many of whom have now become friends) and courses. GCA became an invaluable resource for the annual (sometimes 2-3 annually) UK/Ireland off-season trips I began taking in the early 1990’s. Previously, I had used Finnegan’s books and Tom Doak’s Confidential Guide and often would just look at maps of the coastline in areas where I was going to visit to stumble upon local links and seaside courses.
What amazed me most was how many courses I have worked at or been a member of that were mentioned on GCA (Southampton, Augusta CC, Palmetto, Athens CC, Doral, Long Cove, Sleepy Hollow, Atlantic, The Bridge) and many that I had fallen in love with overseas. GCA was truly the best thing that ever happened to me as far as golf course appreciation, and has been not only a source of entertainment, but a professional and educational resource as well.
9. All good stuff! You also spent time at Sea Island, I believe?
Yes, I went to Sea Island to work with Jimmy Hodges in 1987 on my own game and waited tables at night at The Cloister and The Island Club to pay the bills. I also had the chance to work with Davis Love Jr. Like Mr. Love, Jimmy was a class act, a great mentor in my life and unfortunately was tragically taken from his young family in an airplane crash with Mr. Love as well as a third professional John Popa and their pilot … RIP.
While there, I had the opportunity to play the four nines at Sea island which involved work by Colt, Allison and Travis, amongst others later, which furthered my love of classic architecture. Again, I really hadn’t put my finger on why I liked certain courses, but knew I had been incredibly fortunate to have several classic courses as my playground. I also spent a lot of time playing Brunswick CC, a rudimentary, barely irrigated dilapidated old Ross that would later be rejuvenated by Love Design, as would the Sea Island courses.
In addition, I took the opportunity to frequently visit the Travis designed Great Dunes 9 hole course. I had no idea at the time that Travis was involved, or who he was, but I loved the course, and the price was right.
I haven’t been back to any of them but I wonder if I would prefer the old version of Brunswick CC, where the simplicity of the mounds and lack of irrigation reminds me of the courses I would later play in the UK.
10. You worked on Hilton Head island later in the 1980s and grew to have a fondness for the RTJ Course at Palmetto Dunes. Tell us what resonates about that design with you.
Palmetto Dunes Jones Course was my first course actually in the golf business and Hilton Head seemed rather exotic to me. Big bold bunkers, huge live oaks, and an ocean front tees and green. And don’t forget the beverage girls – my future wife was one when not teaching school!
What was not to like? Yes, it was early in my education in golf course architecture, but to this day I don’t “study” architecture, I just have favorites and not favorites, and unlike the politically correct police of today, I don’t impose my current values on where I was in 1988.
The other courses at Palmetto Dunes were the George Fazio course (long and a stern driving test) and the Arthur Hills (more hazard fraught with knockoff railroad ties and it seemed quite modern to me). I did enjoy the variety of the three together though.
I played Harbour Town several times when I worked on the island. Always ridiculously crowded, 3 hour front nines, encroaching trees, condos and homes tight to the course, poorly conditioned except right around tournament time due to heavy shade and heavy overseed. I saw some really cool holes, just never really had a great time. I appreciate its place in architecture and PGA Tour history and its uniqueness, I just never felt compelled to go back.
11. So you were more of a fan of Long Cove, where you worked?
As opposed to the first 17 holes at Harbour Town, Long Cove had variety in spades. Long Cove was ranked as high as 19th in the country in that era and was built after Dye had completed TPC but was much more attractive and varied with forgiving features. It proved to be a laboratory of up-and-coming architectural talent with Tom Doak, Bobby Weed and multiple others on Dye’s crew. It had everything: Tree lined strategically tight holes like Harbour Town, wide open holes, beautiful marsh holes, ancient live oaks, long holes, short holes, small greens, huge greens, lots of movement, and mounding that blended seamlessly off to the sides. It felt like a little bit of Scotland in the low country.
Long Cove is where I learned how to play golf on a big boy difficult course in a windy environment. Despite being a housing development, I never once hit a ball OB there in multiple rounds over three years, as the corridors were expansive. Pete Dye visited often and tweaked the course in preparation for the ‘91 US Mid-Am, which coincided with my last week there en route to go work for Jim McLean.
12. So was that at Sleepy Hollow? Tell us about the course then. When was the last time you saw it?
I actually went to Doral in fall 1991 when Jim McLean took over the teaching concession from Jimmy Ballard, then spent my summers teaching for McLean at Sleepy Hollow, which was a tremendous mix of great golf, exposure and a tremendous introduction to the MET area market and MET PGA tournament scene. A by-product was playing an unheard of gem nearly every week.
Sleepy Hollow was love at first sight. I had the greatest job – playing golf with members, doing Jim McLean’s lessons and schools with him, teaching a full schedule and managing a huge junior program. My wife and I lived on property in a great house by the stables with another golf pro and tennis pro.
At the time, Sleepy had 13 holes designed by C.B. Macdonald and five by Tillinghast (holes 8-12 which ran deep into the woods). I was immediately in love with the course, the greens, the wooden bridges, the wonderfully tilted and sloped greens. They also had a 9 hole course which contained more original Macdonald holes. I have incredible memories of working there from the huge Mansion clubhouse, to my twins being born, to the junior program from which so many good players came. Great membership as well and I played every weekend morning at 7 am.
As far as the course, it was old school tree lined with great sloped and tilted greens and great variety. Rees Jones did a renovation there just after I left and while not that much changed, the work did not age well. I still remember Jim Hand, a student and former USGA president, shedding an actual tear as he showed me the renovated 16th greenside bunkering, which ironically looked like a smiley face.
The bunkers in place when I was there had a flashed up Tillinghast look to them, perhaps a holdover from the holes he added years before, and were handsome, though not true to the original Macdonald style. Thankfully, Gil Hanse has recently unified all eighteen holes under the Macdonald style, which is far more rare than the Tillinghast style.
I have not been back since visiting in 1995 with Mr. Hand but I do look forward to returning this year in our MET Section Championship. George Sanossian, who spearheaded the recent Hanse renovation, is a friend and I taught his now grown kids in our junior program. I’ve seen the photos and it looks absolutely amazing.
13. From Sleepy Hollow, you went to Doral. What was it about Dick Wilson’s architecture that gave the Blue Monster such cachet?
The Blue Monster got its cache from the great events played there in the 50 years they hosted Tour events. In the 1960’s Doral was the shiny new toy on Tour and every great player competed and won there. I first visited in the early 1980’s when I worked on my game with Jimmy Ballard. I still remember playing the Blue and being wowed by playing one of my first big time Tour courses.
Even in the early 1990’s when I started teaching there for Jim Mclean, the tournament still attracted a top field and was the first event that many of the best players, particularly overseas players, participated in during the run-up to The Masters. We gathered extensive film of every single player and did extensive studies which are still relevant to this day.
The resort began struggling about the time when the Kaskels ran into hard times, in no small part due to massively exceeding their budget for their Telluride resort, which eventually forced them to sell. This eventually led to a series of owners simply looking to flip it and the resort quickly lost its cache due to deterioration, a series of failed renovations, and competition from newer, better presented resorts.
The course was never that great, but before 320 plus drives became the norm it played difficult in the wind and had water in play on enough to make it interesting and strategic. The large Wilson bunkers were distinguished and they really lost their way in several failed renovations in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.
Trump/Hanse’s work was intended to test the best in a Tour event, but in an often windy environment, it borders on becoming a modern monstrocity, and no doubt can be frustrating to the less skilled resort guest on a winter vacation.
14. Who is your favorite architect of all-time?
Must be Leeds given my love for Palmetto, Myopia, Kebo 🙂
James Braid seems responsible for SO many courses I love overseas but we all know many courses are continually altered and perhaps not even built by the architect of record.
Tom Doak would be my favorite living architect given his pre-design background, his wanderlust for seeing new and different things, his own designs, his writings, and his voluntary participation on GCA.
15. How do you evaluate a course? A lot of ace players fixate on conditioning but your writings on GolfClubAtlas make it clear you have other, more important metrics.
I have no set metrics, it’s like porn – I know it when I see it. I still remember playing Brora with an afternoon tee time at Dornoch and forgoing that to play another 18 at Brora – such a perfect place and a perfect day.
To me, a good course has texture which is easier to achieve over time.
The trick is to find a way to create texture, without ball eating rough and hazards which suck the life out of a round.
A great course allows for creativity and asks and sometimes even suggests certain shots. Other times, it leaves it for the player to decide based on conditions, his abilities and tastes that given day.
Most importantly, a course is challenging and enjoyable, but does not beat you up needlessly on a bad day. It must provide some margin for error on marginal misses, as recovery is an important skill of the game.
A variety of holes, both short and long, and a lot of movement on the greens and fairways is of paramount importance. I enjoy doglegs – whether dictated by trees or suggested by terrain.
I am particularly fond of holes where semi-blindness or full on blindness are a feature that can highlight one’s skill and judgement.
I don’t enjoy courses where everything (including access) is a big deal, and I far prefer a choice of company over venue. Being the boss, I’m often fortunate to choose both. We do a lot of off season staff trips and I far prefer the low key off the radar courses so well documented by GolfClubAtlas, which has been an incredible resource in my travel and course selection over the years.
No doubt setting, simplicity and culture are a big deal to me based on my favorite courses being Palmetto, Goat Hill, North Berwick, Myopia, Southampton, Cape Arundel, Pennard, Portsalon and Durness. I love them each for different reasons.
I absolutely couldn’t care less about fast greens or pristine fairways, just finding my ball, a dry lie and greens reasonably true (which is pretty much everywhere these days).
16. We always talk about the hidden gems in Ireland and the UK, which I see from your answers above is an absolute favorite of yours too. Given where you live on Long Island though, tell us three hidden gems in your general area.
These days there are no hidden gems, but one in the MET area that I recently played is Paramount. It’s been profiled a bit on GCA. Steve Scott was the pro for awhile and Jim Urbina did work there. Very attractive layout in an awesome mountain-like setting with very tilted and sloped greens, yet just northwest of New York City.
Favorites such as Southampton, St Georges, Engineers and The Creek are well chronicled here and I’ve certainly written enough about Goat Hill on Shelter Island. A very enjoyable day is Gardiner’s Bay also on Shelter Island – no fairway irrigation to ruin things but the recent “improvements” have made it a bit less textured and more homogenous.
In Westchester, Apawamis was always a favorite, though I haven’t played it with modern equipment and wonder what that would be like.
Inwood is also a favorite of mine that seems to fly under the radar, having blown the back nine in the final group in the final round of the MET PGA there in 1993 in my first event as a PGA member.
Quogue Field club is a course I play quite a bit – it’s a quirky old school 9 holer.
One course I also play quite frequently in the winer and off season is The Vineyard outside Riverhead – short but fun to play with a couple driveable par 4’s and reachable par 5’s. Atlantic-lite I call it.
Finally, Shennecossett, just a ferry ride across the sound in New London, Connecticut, is a classic old school Ross muni maintained firm, tawny and scruffy and is a blast.
17. Tell us about your show “Golf School” on SiriusXM. It is enormously time-consuming, and you have been doing it for six years now. What are you hoping to communicate to the listener?
It’s an instructional show and as a GOLF Magazine Top 100 Teacher, I try to give the listeners what they tune in for, but I use the platform to discuss many things in golf including architecture, the various tours, history or anything else my guests or listeners want to discuss.
On Saturdays I partner with my old mentor Jim McLean, so we focus mainly on instruction.
On Sundays, it’s my show so I do try to present varied content and make it about my guests. It has definitely been a growing experience that has allowed me to meet and interview some very interesting people.
I feel very fortunate to get paid to discuss my passion on a weekly basis.
18. What took you from Florida to Long Island?
I went to work at Atlantic as Director of Instruction from 1996-2001, while continuing to do winters at Doral. I didn’t play a lot in Florida as we taught all day, had multiple training sessions, and the winter days are short. I did sneak out to The Doral NLE White course as well as occasionally The Blue, and enjoyed playing at nearby historic, rough and ready Miami Springs, while occasionally making the rounds at local public courses with my junior students. Atlantic was a great place to work, especially as I worked for Rick Hartmann who everyone knows is one of the leading players in the country. It has a Rees Jones golf course that also has been renovated and is much improved.
19. Ultimately, you landed at The Bridge and have been the Head Professional there for 18 years. What was the course like when you arrived?
The first thing that came to mind was the grand scale of the property, located high above the Peconic Bay on an amazing piece of property, formerly the Bridgehampton Raceway with long views, and rollicking topography.
The course was initially monochromatic with dark green bluegrass roughs, bent fairways and, due to clearing restrictions, thick impenetrable scrub oaks clogged with sunlight starved mountain laurel lining every fairway and forming a virtual wall. There were multiple outstanding views from high points on the course, but it was clear that many of the holes had been designed and the tees placed for water views of Peconic Bay. These views were accessed by multiple long uphill walks from green to tee. Therefore, there were a lot of repetitive downhill tee shots which in addition to being a pain to access, were quite challenging in the crosswinds that impact The Bridge as one of the highest points on Long island, 240 feet above the Peconic Bay.
There were multiple very good holes (and many potentially great holes) utilizing the outstanding heaving terrain, and I often invented new tees and occasional greensites in my mind as I played. One thing I did regularly was to always play the nearest tee to every green, to save hill climbing.
One thing that stood out were the greens. Varied in contour, they offered multiple pin locations which allowed creativity and discipline to know when and how to get the ball close. However, the player “friendly” slopes on the edges of fairways too often made it difficult to get a ball to stay in a place where an advantageous angle to a tucked pin could be had.
The bunkers, like the property, were big in scale, sometimes 50-100 yards long, were modernistically attractive with multiple capes (you’ve seen the model), were prone to washouts due to their sheer size, tended to run parallel to the fairways and were rarely considered prior to being in one. Exceptions were my three favorite driving holes – 4, 11, and 17, where they weren’t quite central but nor were they merely flanking.
Knowing the soil, the terrain and the neighborhood, I was incredibly excited to be here, yet slightly disappointed and felt the property could yield quite a bit more, particularly if a way could be found to soften the walk and to link the holes to each other, rather than face a series of one at a time, private golf hole challenges.
20. In 2011, Bob Rubin gave permission to Greenkeeper Gregg Stanley and you to begin to carry out changes to the original design. Rarely, if ever, have I heard of in-house changes that have met with such thunderous applause.
All proposed changes were presented to the owner in advance. We moved at the pace of 2 to 4 holes per annum and implemented them within Gregg Stanley’s annual capital budget. Nearly all the changes were done with in-house labor and materials recycled from the site (rough, fairway sod, native plants, etc.). Earth moving expenses were incurred only when large amounts of dirt were moved by local contractors and/or rented machines.
Most of the changes at The Bridge were initially driven by Gregg Stanley, who came to us in 2004 from Hudson National, where he was Superintendent and built the course with Tom Fazio there. From the very beginning, Gregg could see the potential at The Bridge, and immediately set out to improve it.
He began by thinning the trees to alleviate the “wall” effect, starting shortly after his arrival in the 2005 timeframe. This pruning was very well received and began to reveal the incredible topography of the property and the undulations on the course began to fit into and make sense in their surroundings. As he continued pruning, a more seamless walkable routing was unveiled. We also could see that the incredible water and on-course views were so good that many of the higher tees were no longer needed for water views, as the interior course views were as good or better.
The following season the low lying vegetation exploded now that it had sunlight, revealing spectacular mountain laurel, bayberry, blueberry, bluestem, beach heather and a host of other previously dormant species of vegetation, as well as wildlife now able to access all this vegetation. Deer, foxes, turkeys, rabbits were in abundance and even a coyote appeared.
Pretty soon I suggested a few shortcut tees and Gregg built several of them. He explained how some of my ideas would work and how some wouldn’t due to location and terrain and showed me a few far more bold ideas of his own to reduce the walks from green to tees. All of these projects were done in house without closing the course. We ultimately built 90 new tees, took out hundreds of vertical feet and more than a mile out of the walk. Because of the pruning, our water and interior course views actually got much better and more frequent, despite playing golf from lower tees.
These were not small changes and some involved massive earth moving. Yet, we never had a hole closed in season, doing nearly all of the work in the winters from 2011-2017. Nearly every change involved Gregg himself doing the construction or one of his trained guys to do smaller shaping. Occasionally we hired outside help to do larger earth moving before Gregg and his team would do the detail work.
As we changed a few holes per winter, the members would remark the next season how much they liked the changes. The tricky part was despite adding substantially more fairway to create options and width, we had to maintain the original irrigated turf restrictions, which meant when we built a new tee or added fairway/landing area, we had to net it out by revegetating the old tee and returning an equal area to unirrigated native to stay within the restriction of being equal to the original plan.
Using the corridors originally cut for the green sites and expanding them slightly allowed us to dramatically ease the difficulty of the walk and revegetate an enormous area previously reserved for the remote hilltop tees and driving lanes. As we were restoring more acreage to native than we were adding, this net gain allowed us to build a 5 hole par 3 course with acreage to spare.
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.
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.
The same process was repeated eliminating the surrounding faux dunes around the 9th 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.