Sebonack Golf Club opened in 2006 to considerable hoopla from the press. Located in the golf mecca Southampton, Sebonack is just a pitching wedge away from National Golf Links of America and not much further from Shinnecock Hills which made it controversial from the start. The course itself was an unprecedented collaboration between two architects, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Doak, each bringing distinctly different styles to the project. The press also had a field day reporting on the costs associated with the new club. The numbers being bandied about to buy the land, build the course and join the club were astronomical by normal standards. The number that seemed to be the favorite topic of discussion in the press was the initiation fee. I’m not sure that anyone really knows for sure other than those who have written the checks and those who have cashed them, but the numbers have been reported anywhere in the $650,000 to $1,000,000 range. With that kind of ticket price you can bet the club was going to be exclusive and have a membership consisting of some high rollers.
Unfortunately, I was well aware that folks with a spare million to drop on joining a golf club don’t exist in my circle of friends, so the chances of me playing the course didn’t look very good. Even more unfortunate was my strong hunch that this course was going to find its way onto the Top 100 list and I was going to be forced to find a way to play it in order to complete my quest.
When the Golf Digest 2009-2010 list was published in May of 2009 my suspicions were confirmed and Sebonack was firmly embedded in the Top 100 having debuted at #39. Quite an entrance for a course just 3 years old. Based on the strong first showing I suspected that it was on the list to stay and decided I had better start working on finding a contact. This could literally take years. I immediately phoned my friend Jay in New York to see if he could help.
To many of you who know me personally and to some of my regular readers you may have heard or read mention of my friend Jay. We’ve been good friends for nearly 20 years and have had an infinite number of golf and non-golf adventures together. Please indulge me as I give a little background.
I was going to school at Virginia Tech in the early 90s and I met Jay when he moved into the apartment above me. We became fast friends over many Tuesday night pitchers of beer at our favorite Blacksburg watering hole The Balcony. During our senior year I found myself in the fortunate position of having a car. Jay’s transportationally challenged status resulted in me making a great many pick ups and drop offs for him at various points around Blacksburg. I’m sure there were probably times when I loaned my car to him as well but it was a long time ago and I don’t remember for sure. What I DO remember is the statement he made one day as I was chauffeuring him to some class, the library, a party, a date or who knows where. He said “I don’t know how yet, but someday I will repay you for all these rides”. The only reason I even remember this is because of the absolute absurdity of the statement. What kind of person wants ‘repayment’ for being a friend. I laughed and told him he was an idiot.
Fast forward about 15 years later and the college kid with no car has managed to leverage all those hours in the library into some kind of fancy important job in New York City where he meets other fancy important people. He’s even got his own car now!!! So, one day I am on my way to the driving range to pound some balls and I see that I’m getting a call from Jay on my cell phone. When I answer all he says is “How’d you like to play Shinnecock Hills?” Uhh, what? Did I hear that right? Turns out I did and I of course I responded with a “yes” that was surely preceded by some sort of unprintable explicative.
The day we played Shinnecock Hills the Top 100 Golf Odyssey was born and I have not been normal since. So far Jay has directly helped me to play Shinnecock Hills, Winged Foot West and Bethpage Black as well as indirectly helped me with a number other Top 100 courses. If there ever was a debt to be repaid for all those rides (which there wasn’t) you can now consider yourself paid in full my friend. That being said, there’s no need to stop just yet – which brings us back to Sebonack.
So when the list came out in May I called Jay and told him I was going to need to play Sebonack. He said he would do what he could but it wasn’t going to be easy. I’m not exactly sure how he pulled it off, but just 3 months later I’m driving through the gates with a secured tee time. Seriously, I can’t even believe these things myself sometimes.
Mike Pascucci is the owner and mastermind behind Sebonack. The 300 acres he purchased to create Sebonack was at one time the summer getaway of business tycoon Charles H. Sabin. The gates you drive through when entering the club (pictured below) were salvaged from the original Sabin estate.
Driving in the first thing I noticed was that like its neighbor, National Golf Links of America, the road to the clubhouse cut right through one of the holes and you had to stop and wait if someone was teeing off. After being waved through by the players on the tee we drove up the hill towards the clubhouse which sits on the highest point of the property and has an incredible view of the Peconic bay.
I dropped my clubs at the bag drop and went inside to be directed to the locker room. The clubhouse was spectacular and clearly no expense was spared. The building had a summer resort sort of feel to it which seemed just right for a club like this. In the locker room I changed shoes and met up with Jay and our other friend Steve who was playing with us. Once we navigated our way out of the locker room we headed down to the practice tee to meet our caddies and get warmed up.
We had found out the day before that our host was going to be unable to play with us so the club arranged for one of the professional staff, Louie, to join us as the fourth player. After about 20 minutes on the practice tee and putting green we Louie guided us to the first tee to start our game.
There are four sets of tees at Sebonack with the tips playing 7,481 yards and the shortest playing 5,508. In between there are a 6,898 and a 6,369 yard options. In order not to beat ourselves up too badly we elected for the 6,369 yard tees.
The first hole is a short par 4 that only plays 355 yards from the tips. For us the hole played just 319 yards. The photo below shows the view from the tee. Clearly the hole curves to the right. The bunkers you can see on the right side of the photo are not greenside but about 30-40 yards off the green.
The photo below is of the first green. Welcome to Sebonack . . . this place is crazy! With the hole cut in the front there is no way to keep it on the green if you hit your approach shot to the back. The greens were running at lightning speed too.
Next we have the 2nd hole which is a 391 yard par 4 and the hardest hole on the course. We’d been warned about this hole by everyone we’d talked to who had played the course. Drives need to be hit straight out between the trees towards the bunkers straight ahead. Thats not too difficult a task from these tees but from 83 yards deeper at the tips (474 yards) thats feels like threading a needle. The best drives favor the right side of the fairway to avoid a blind approach shot to the green. The second shot is an uphill shot that requires some extra club to make the distance.
Below is a photo of the 2nd green. It was taken from the back left. Where the green falls off on the right side of the photo is a very severe false front of the green. If you miss this green long and left (from the area where this photo was taken) it is nearly impossible to keep your ball on the green when the hole is cut where it is in this photo.
The 3rd hole, pictured below from the tee box, is a par 4 that played 377 yards from our tees. A drive up the right hand side is the ideal shot as it avoids the bunkers on the left and slightly reduces the amount of uphill/blindness for the second shot.
Below is a photo from the 3rd fairway. You can see the way the hole falls down to the left. Staying to the right appears to really be crucial on this hole.
A picture of the 3rd green and one of the many incredible views at Sebonack.
The first par 3 of the day is the 4th hole which we played from a medium length of 188 yards. From the tips it was bit more intimidating at 235 yards.
Short par 4s are my favorite holes in golf and the 5th hole here is a fun one. We played it from 320 yards and it was straight downhill. There is some bunkering out there to be avoided if hitting driver off the tee, but a 3 wood or utility club is all you really need to have a reasonable 2nd shot into the green.
After playing straight downhill on the 5th hole the par 4 6th hole played 361 yards straight uphill for us. You cannot see it in the photo below, but the hole doglegs a bit to the left at the end so the best line for the drive is to run it up the right hand side of the fairway.
The photo below of the approach shot to the 6th green shows how important it is to keep the drive on the right side of the fairway. Too far left and you may have to contend with the trees for your approach shot.
And back down the hill again . . . The 7th hole pictured below is a par 4 that we played from 412 yards with a dogleg left at the bottom of the hill.
The photo below is a look at the approach to the 7th green.
The 8th hole is your basic par 3 over water hole. We played it from 150. There is not much bail out room to the right and none to the left so you probably would be wise just to hit it on the green here.
The 9th hole is a par 5 that we played from 490 yards. As you can see in the photo below the road passes between the tee box and the fairway. This is the entrance road that I mentioned early in this post. There are a number of bunkers out there so I’d say the best move is just to hit it down the middle.
The second shot here is another all uphill shot. Even though its not a long hole, I didn’t have a chance to get home in two because the uphill eats up a lot of distance.
The 10th hole is a par 4 that we played from 360 yards. Though the tee box is elevated it plays considerably uphill. The photo below was taken as I walked down from the tee box towards the fairway so the elevated tee is not apparent in the photo.
The approach shot on 10 plays straight uphill. The photo below was taken as I was walking up to the green and you can really get a good feel for the elevation on this hole.
The 11th hole we played from 412 yards and is a downhill dogleg left par 4. As with many holes at Sebonack the green is not visible from the tee box. Its best to favor the right hand side of the fairway here to set up the best approach shot to the green. This is one of many scenic holes on the second 9 holes.
The view from the 11th fairway pictured below is pretty spectacular. The downhill approach requires the right club choice to make sure you don’t overshoot the green. Being short is no picnic either with the swails in front of the green.
The photo below of the 11th green shows the mounding/swails in front of the green in a bit more detail. I believe this is something that would be attributed to Tom Doak’s influence.
The 12th hole is a treacherous little par 3 that we played from just 135 yards. As you can see from the bunkering around the green, tee shots that don’t find the putting surface can easily lead to problems.
The 13th hole is a fairly short par 5 that we played from 495 yards. Again it is uphill so it will play a little longer than the scorecard says it will. The ideal drive will play along the right edge of the bunker on the left and will set up a 2nd shot that could reach the green.
Just beyond the wooden stakes to the left side of the photo below is where the 2nd shot would be played from if a good drive is hit. Its a little bit of a knee knocker to hit a 3 wood 240 or so yards up the hill and over all the trouble to try to reach the green. Jay and I were 3 down in our match at this point and Louie was going for it, so I thought I had better do the same if I wanted to make a real run at winning the hole. I knocked it on but had really long roller coaster of an Eagle putt.
Here is another view of the approach to the 13th green as you are walking up the hill.
The 14th hole is a par 4 that we played from 365 yards. As you can see in the photo below the green is not visible from the tee shot. The aiming spot is to fly your drive over the right edge of the bunker. There is more trouble in the fairway and along the edges at the top of the hill so its critical to take the right line here.
Below is the approach shot to the 14th green.
The 15th hole is a par 5 that we played from 541. From the tips it plays 661. The ideal drive is to hit the ball right over the left edge of the bunker on the right. The hole doglegs to the right a bit and there is some right to left slope beyond the bunker that can add some distance to a drive that lands in the right spot.
The second shot which is pictured below was still a long way for me to get there. I don’t imagine there are many people getting home in 2 on this hole.
The par 4 16th hole we played from 390 yards back up the hill again. Its a bit of a narrow drive.
The 18th hole at Sebonack is a pretty spectacular finishing hole. It is a par 5 that we played from 501 yards. The tee box is elevated with the Peconic Bay running down the left side. I thought it was prettiest hole on the course.
For the second shot have to hit your ball over the bunker and up onto another level where the green is. Unfortunately you can see my ball about a foot or less off the back edge of the bunker in the photo below. All I could do was knock it out about 90 yards and then have a longer than desirable shot to the green.
I didn’t get a good photo of the clubhouse from the front side, but the photo below is a view of it sitting off to the right as you come up the 18th hole. Quite a structure!
Below is a look at the 18th green as you approach it from the fairway. There is trouble behind this bunker and you really don’t want to get into it. As usual, you can trust me on that.
Sebonack was quite the experience. From the point where it came onto the list and I started panicking about playing there, to the last putt on the 18th hole, it was an adventure all the way. Because of its proximity to two of America’s greatest courses and the inevitable comparisons that were sure to come this club and course had a tough row to hoe from the very start. I won’t even begin to compare them, but I will say that Southampton has three very unique and very incredible Top 100 golf courses and I know I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience them all.