Architect: Tom Doak and Jack NicklausSouthampton, NY
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of playing golf at Sebonack. The Sebonack experience is one of the most unique anywhere the game is played. But before the merit of the architecture can be discussed, it is the setting that must first be explained.
If you take a minute to examine the aerial photograph above, you see two golf courses. The course on the right, with the fan shaped routing and the brownish tint, is Sebonack. The golf course on the left which is a brighter shade of green and has what is called an out-and-back routing is CB Macdonald's The National Golf Links of America. However, this is a tale of three golf courses. Shinnecock Hills is just off the top of the picture. Now factor in the fact that the best player in the history of the game is one of the co-designers on one of the most expensive golf properties ever at $46 million, directly adjacent to the birthplace of golf architecture in America... Sebonack was built with one thing in mind, building the absolute best golf possible.
One of the most fantastic greensites I have ever seen. Sebonack starts off with a bang, #2 might be the best hole on the property.
Even for me personally, I feel the need to explain my personal bias/expectations/influences going into my round. Mr. Doak has seriously influenced some of my career decisions and has privately shared some opinions on what it was like to build this golf course with me. Going into this round I had played 2 other Doak designs this year and according to the magazines, Sebonack ranks higher than both.
#3 Plays back to the clubhouse before heading making a right hand turn inland. Don't be surprised if you are just trying to set your next putt on this extremely difficult green.
Aside from the location, the site itself is very impressive. Sandy dunes along the beach doesn't get much better. Only this is in the very protected Hamptons, where there are extreme environmental constraints. Some of the types of things that the architects had to deal with: all water must be contained within the site and recycled, certain areas and grasses cannot be mowed, and turf care chemicals are a no-no. That said, there are some holes at Sebonack which had to have been no brainers. With all the Doak v Jack design fights that took place, greensites #1, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19 had to have been no-brainers. What makes Sebonack a great golf course is what the architects were able to do when you weren't in the dunes and along the water.
#4 is a very diverse par 3 with a ridge that runs between the bunkers on the right, and splits the green horizontally down the middle into distinct front and back sections. The front half slopes back-to-front while the back half slope away from the golfer, front-to-back. Tees can also be stretched giving the hole 4 different setup options.
I really like the opening sequence of the golf course, even though it is extremely difficult. While the course begins with some awkward tee shots, the quality of golf between #1 green and #5 is phenomenal. I really didn't like the opening tee shot, I know driver doesn't have to be the play, but when you are standing on the tee for one of the most anticipated opening drives of any first play you will ever have, you want to be able to grab a club that gives you the biggest margin of error. I even thought the tee shot on #2 was a little confusing for a first timer. Looking at sand dunes, an ocean, and a triple fairway, it took me a minute to realize the trees were my guide here.
Mr. Doak is known for his great short par 4's and his love for Heathlands and Aussie Sandbelt architecture, but who does the credit for #5 belong to? Note the caddy standing left of the fairway bunker: site of the Golfmeister's first ever eagle (9 iron from 135).
The turn inland starts out with #4 and #5, but I found the next three holes to be the least interesting on the property. It is hear that you can really begin to feel the struggle between compromising the style and preferences of one architect to sacrifice for the goal of building the best golf. This section of the property is a relative low and where the main irrigation pond is, which normally is a hard enough problem to solve, but when you factor in that all water must be retained on property some how and you are coming off such a high from the ocean holes, it will be a let down no matter what the solution.
A wonderfully creative tee box for hole #7 sits atop the bunkers just right of #6 green.
Even #9, which is a solid par 5, doesn't quite live up to the famous hole which it was inspired by. Bethpage Black's #4 hole, the famous double dog-leg with the glacier bunker carry is one of the best combinations of aesthetics and strategy I have ever come across. While this hole plays off a similar strategy, it falls well short of the intimidation factor and therefor the potential for excitement falls short of its Suffolk counterpart. On this very difficult golf course, I wish this hole was a bit tougher and another hole, such as #1 or #3 made a bit easier.
While the left bunker off the tee and the 3rd bunker on the right of #9 are certainly big enough, they neither intimidate nor encroach the line of play enough to make this hole as it could be.
There are a number of holes to fall in love with on the back nine. With 4 greensites along the edge of the property, bordering the beach, a fascination with at least a few of the holes on the way in is inevitable. But first to get back to the coast, a golf hole that immediately jumped out at me as a Mackenzie inspired Doak short par 4. The bunker scheme and shape along with the playfulness of the slopes around the right side of the green leave so many options that affect the way one guides the ball onto the playing surface.
While I have never played a Mackenzie, from all the photos I've seen, it just feels like the pictures of the camouflage inspired bunkering.
Holes #11 and #12 don't need much review, the are simply great. If neither Doak, nor Nicklaus, nor Pascucci found these holes we would have had serious problems. Lucky for us, they did!
#'s 11 and 12
While the problems with #14 have already been well documented. I will say that the green can at the very least be puttable with a little help from my trackhoe and shovel. It is unacceptable to have to plug the slope with sod because it is to steep to mow and grow healthy turf. The next hole, #15 is along with #2 one of my favorites. To be fair, I normally bash holes with bunkers behind the green, but the aesthetic offering is fantastic, natural, and will over great fun if entered, so I will let this one slide since no rule is absolute in golf architecture... Plus I love the idea of unreachable in 2 par 5's.
While one of the biggest knocks on Sebonack is the unbalanced pars between front and back nines, I think the final decision to end the round with the par 3 #17 and finish with #18 as a par 5 worked out wonderfully. One last bold iron shot played into the dunes and directly at the bay is what the golfer faces at #17, before playing along side the ocean for all 3 shots on #18.
One last tee shot. Water left and most of the triple fairway that connects #18 to #2 and 3 on the right.
My host completely nailed it... Sebonack is a great golf course that contains limitless excitement, but it is not a perfect golf course. While it may be the best Nicklaus design, it is not the best Doak. There are so many questions to be figured out in future plays a truly definite opinion cannot be placed. While there are some obvious changes I would make that could immediately make the course better, like fixing #14, Sebonack is like no other golf course I have ever played, and for that I love it.
#19 plays straight at NGLA. My last question is: Why do you need tee markers for a 19th hole? Just through down a ball and settle your bet.