2004: Nicklaus/Doak project a talker - Father-son open winners

By Bradley S. Klein

Southampton, N.Y.

Two heads are sometimes better than one,” said Jack Nicklaus at a news conference for the ground breaking of Sebonack Golf Club. “Sometimes they’re not,” he added.

It was one of many cautionary moments during that rarity in public relations, an interesting news conference, one that drew more than 100 members of the media anticipating fireworks, controversy or at least disagreement between two of the leading golf course architects in the business, Nicklaus and Tom Doak. They were behind the podium, along with owner/developer Michael Pascucci, to announce an unusual collaboration involving the two designers.

The event proved more entertaining than any of the news conferences taking place down the street at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where the practice rounds for the U.S. Open were under way.

The Sebonack site is spectacular, 312 acres of prime East End real estate, including a half-mile of frontage on Great Peconic Bay. The proposed first tee at Sebonack abuts the 18th green at National Golf Links of America.

With a fine site and impressive courses nearby, Pascucci knew he had to come up with something grand. He first hired longtime friend Nicklaus, but soon realized that the Golden Bear’s basic approach to design – emphasizing extensive earthmoving and a tightly manicured look – might not be conducive to the site’s environmental sensitivities and native dunesland. So he turned to Doak, who has garnered a worldwide reputation for naturalistic designs and a classic, scratchy look to his mounds and bunkers.

Doak observed at the news conference that “all golf courses are collaborations.” Doak’s work style is extremely collegial, with lead crew members Jim Urbina and Bruce Hepner equally involved in design, construction and fine feature shaping. That’s how they worked on Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Ore. (No. 2 on the Golfweek America’s Best Modern Courses list) and how they’ll work at Sebonack.

Earlier in the day, Nicklaus and Doak walked the preliminary routing. Fifty-foot wide centerlines already have been cleared as the first step of construction. Nicklaus graciously acknowledged that the bulk of the current routing is Doak’s. He also said that while he had yet to see any of Doak’s finished courses, he is planning a trip to Pacific Dunes. (Doak already has seen and written about many of Nicklaus’ courses).

When the two were asked whether Sebonack would have a neatly manicured or scruffy look, Doak answered, “I hope more scraggly and unkempt.” Nicklaus said he was “in total agreement.” Pascucci said he hopes to have six holes completed this fall, with the entire golf course completed by mid-summer 2005.

“That’s the optimistic schedule,” said Doak.

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