A golf club that opened seven years ago with a $650,000 membership fee is bringing the first major women’s championship to New York’s Long Island.
A centerpiece of the sport in the U.S. for more than a century, the island boasts courses such as Shinnecock Hills Golf Links, a four-time men’s U.S. Open site that was home to the first golf clubhouse in America; National Golf Links of America, the location of the sport’s first Walker Cup amateur competition, and Bethpage State Park’s Black Course, where Tiger Woods held off Phil Mickelson to win the 2002 U.S. Open as the municipal facility became the first state-owned course to host the championship.
The best women’s golfers in the world now get their chance to play a Long Island major when the U.S. Women’s Open begins today at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, New York.
“Long Island has had a lot of terrific men’s championships,” said Michael Pascucci, Sebonack’s owner, who in 1997 sold Oxford Resources Corp., the car-leasing business he controlled, for $700 million in stock and now owns Melville, New York-based television station WLNY. “This is an opportunity for us to see the best women in the world come play golf on Long Island.”
It’s the first time in 40 years that the $3.25 million U.S. Women’s Open, organized by the U.S. Golf Association and the third of the LPGA Tour’s five annual major championships, will be held in New York. It comes at a modern club that sits alongside two of golf’s most celebrated courses, Shinnecock Hills and the National.
“That is one incredible stretch of golf,” Dottie Pepper, a former LPGA Tour player and now an ESPN golf analyst, said in an interview. “It’s a testament to where the USGA is going with their championships. They’re going to classic places in American golf and certainly Long Island is one of those places. I know the girls are excited.”
Shinnecock, which will host the men’s U.S. Open for the fifth time in 2018, is ranked No. 4 in Golf Digest’s list of the top 100 U.S. courses. The National, which opened in 1911 and is hosting the USGA’s Walker Cup this year, is ranked 11th.
Sebonack, on the Great Peconic Bay, has quickly taken a place alongside those venerable clubs, climbing to 39th in the magazine’s latest ranking.
There are eight courses on golf-rich Long Island in the current top 100, with Fishers Island (10), Friar’s Head (28), Bethpage Black (42), Garden City (55) and Maidstone (100) joining the trio in Southampton. Woods captured the second of his three U.S. Open titles at Bethpage Black in 2002, while Mickelson was also the runner-up to Retief Goosen at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
Sebonack showcases the design partnership of Jack Nicklaus, an 18-time major champion, and Tom Doak, the creator of Pacific Dunes at the Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. Architects with differing philosophies, Nicklaus and Doak built a course over 330 acres that Pascucci says offers generous fairways, good strategy and challenging greens.
“They were sensitive to the fact that they wanted to do the very best work they could,” Pascucci said. “After all, we were next door to two very fine golf courses.”
This will be the fifth U.S. Women’s Open held in New York. The 1953 and 1973 tournaments were played at the Country Club of Rochester, while the 1957 and 1972 events were at Winged Foot Golf Club in Westchester County.
Ben Kimball, director of the U.S. Women’s Open for the USGA, said that while Sebonack is relatively new -- it ranked eighth in Golfweek’s 2012 list of the top 100 modern courses -- he expects it to perform like a “wily veteran.” The course will play at 6,796 yards and par 72 for the championship, with three par-5s over the final six holes.
“There’s some trepidation,” said Pepper, a 17-time winner on the LPGA Tour. “It’s going to be a handful. The greens are extraordinarily severe. There’s all sorts of room to drive the golf ball and you only have to shape a couple of tee shots. The greens are going to separate the field.”
South Korean players have captured four of the past five U.S. Women’s Open titles, including Na Yeon Choi’s four-stroke victory at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wisconsin, a year ago.
American Paula Creamer’s win at the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania was followed by So Yeon Ryu’s victory in 2011 and was preceded by titles for South Koreans Inbee Park and Eun-Hee Ji in 2008 and 2009.
Park, 24, won this season’s first two LPGA majors -- the Kraft Nabisco Championship and LPGA Championship -- and is the 5-1 favorite to win at Sebonack, according to the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book. Babe Zaharias was the last woman to win the first three women’s majors in a season in 1950 and Pat Bradley was the last to win three in a year, in 1986.
The 156 women in this week’s field will finally be getting a taste of major championship golf on Long Island.
“Long Island golf is off the charts,” said Pepper, 47. “People sometimes forget that New York state goes so much further beyond New York City, and this was the great foundation of American golf.”