SEBONACK - 17 points
Sebonack makes some top 100 lists although if truth be told it is probably there more through virtue of the great location, fantastic clubhouse and the pedigree of the designers (a Doak and Nicklaus combination) than the pure quality of the course.
The clubhouse at Sebonack is one of the most impressive you will every see. It towers over the course (the flag next to the putting green has to be seen to be believed) looking out to the bay. The National Golf Links of America is just next door and the clubhouse there looks like a maintenance building for Sebonack in comparison.
As you would expect from one of the most expensive golf clubs to join in the world the service is unrivalled - tremendously friendly staff from the pro shop to the restaurant - and I challenge anyone not to think the view over the course as the sun sets isn't one of the best in golf.
We warmed up on the range which was what you would expect for a course of this stature. Were this a 'who's got the best warm up facilities in Long Island' competition I would say that Friar's Head edges it out but I am being a little pedantic here. Sure, there were no island greens to aim for and the chipping area was a little smaller than Friar's Head but these are insignificant matters.
The practice putting green was on a tier looking down at the first tee and beyond that to the clubhouse of the National Golf Links of America - this is a pretty special setting and one you will remember for a long time.
And so to the course. Well, it's just fine. Doak and Nicklaus collaborated on the construction and you can probably feel a little more of the Doak influence than the Nicklaus. The greens are undulating, in the extreme at times, and approach shots are almost always to a green with a false front which means you have to get all the way to the pin if you want to get onto the short stuff. This seems to be one of the features of many of the courses around these parts and it really marks them apart from a UK links type course. In the UK the ball will often run up around or onto a green. Here you really need to land it up there to stay, the aerial route therefore being the preferred option. That probably makes the course play a little longer than a UK equivalent of the same yardage.
Off the tee the course is fairly wide and we went around with only one lost ball between three of us without showing an unerring accuracy off the tee. From tee to green it was a good fun course. We played it from the tees which were just under 6,500 yards and that was perfect. We didn't have too many stupidly long clubs going into greens and it was rare that someone was out of the hole before hitting their approach shot to the green. For a mid handicap golfer that is a real blessing!
However, I think that the green complexes did take away a little of the fun for me. Of Doak's courses, I have only played here and The Renaissance in Scotland and both felt a little too tricked up and really needed multiple play before the average golfer would get much enjoyment from them.
A classic example would be the 18th. I hit my approach into the sand and then a great shot out, however with the pin perched on a mound on the right I just couldn't hold it and I was faced with a 50 foot putt with a hideous slope in the way. Sure, the top guys in the world would have been unbothered probably, but it was just a bit too much for me.
Am I saying the course was just too hard? Actually, no. It was playable from tee to green and there were some lovely holes. I would call out the second playing along the water and then the 4th up to the clubhouse. 5-8 were a little less memorable but the sweeping uphill 9th was good fun and I enjoyed a birdie at the great 10th.
There a couple of holes with a Scottish feel to them - the par 4 13th where you could just imagine there was a west coast town sitting behind the green - and the cute par 3 14th. And then, the turn for home with the elegant 17th and the par 5 18th along the water are both well worth seeing.
According to some reports Sebonack is one of the most expensive memberships to get in the world and one of the most exclusive courses. I had bought the book Building Sebonack and it gave a nice background to what they went through to bring the course to life. The story added a great flavour to the experience and I would recommend it if you're the kind of person who likes to do a bit of reading before playing a course.
The book narrates how getting Doak and Nicklaus to collaborate was no easy feat. It feels given the land they had and the money spent that it has only been a moderate success. There is one quote I read which said that this is probably Nicklaus' greatest ever design (he has done over 250) but not Doak's (he has done 20). That whets the appetite to play more Doak courses for sure!
BOOKING THE COURSE
Well this is a members and guests only course and there are only reported to be around 220 members - so it's a tough tee time. However, again I would encourage you to look for charity tee times (a Google search shows there are quite a lot out there) and actually this isn't the kind of course which only has 20 people out a day. This is played a lot (we played in October and the course was showing the signs of a lot of rounds) and outside of peak times members can introduce unaccompanied guests. So next time you are sitting next to a wealthy New Yorker who tells you he is in private equity - seize the day!
If you check out the Shinnecock review you will see tips for a golf trip to this area and some good places to go if you have the chance to visit.
405 Sebonac Rd,
Phone: +1 631-287-4444