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His work was over for the week, but Scott Brown, like a lot of PGA TOUR pros, is always on the job.
So, after having missed the cut at Bethpage Black in the first FedExCup Playoffs event last August, Brown wanted to get right back at it. Surrounded by a plethora of golf options out on Long Island, he hit balls at the Tam O’Shanter Club in Glen Head where the head professional, Mark Brown, presented an intriguing suggestion: Why not go look at the Glen Oaks Club in nearby Old Westbury?
“So, I went over and played it, and I’m glad I did,” said Scott Brown. “It’s my kind of golf course.”
The impetus to play Glen Oaks went deeper than practice, though. Scott Brown knew that THE NORTHERN TRUST would open the 2017 FedExCup Playoffs at Glen Oaks, a course that may be a mystery to PGA TOUR pros but certainly isn’t to many members of the Metropolitan section of the PGA of America.
Mark Brown, for instance.
A week before the FedExCup Playoffs at Bethpage Black, Glen Oaks hosted the 101st Met Open where the Tam O’Shanter head pro shot 69-69-68 for a 4-under 206 and four-stroke win. He was excited to point Scott Brown toward Glen Oaks, but Tim Shifflett isn’t surprised to hear that it came with advanced billing.
“We call it the Augusta of the north,” Mark had said.
“I know people say that, but I just don’t like that expression,” said Shifflett, the head professional at Glen Oaks since 2001. “It certainly wasn’t our intent when we renovated.”
Mark Brown understands the pretentiousness to compare any golf course to the home of the Masters, “but, honestly, (Glen Oaks) is that pure, that perfectly conditioned.”
What Mark Brown might not have known is that Scott Brown is a native of Augusta, Ga., and knows Augusta National well. He was in synch with Mark Brown’s assessment.
“It’s a fabulous golf course, similar (in style) to Augusta National in that you have to play shots to certain quadrants of the greens,” said Scott Brown. “It’s not crazy tight (nor is Augusta National) and it’s fun to play. The greens are firm and you have a lot of options for shots around the greens.”
Jason Caron, the head professional at the Mill River Club in Oyster Bay, has heard the “Augusta of the north” expression and said it fit. “Seriously, Glen Oaks is that good,” he said.
Certainly, its history is that good, too, flavored in large part by its connection to the “Roaring ‘20s” when so many of America’s wealthiest families established sprawling estates on Long Island. Shifflett noted that the Glen Oaks Club started in 1924 on the Queens-Nassau border, built on land purchased from William K. Vanderbilt’s “Deepdale Estate” which curled around Lake Success. When reporters wrote of two-time PGA Champion Leo Diegel’s exploits in the 1920s, he was said to have been from Glen Oaks.
As urban sprawl spread on Long Island in the ‘60s, the Glen Oaks Club gave way to the North Shore Towers. Club members bought land about 15 miles west and in 1971 re-opened Glen Oaks in Old Westbury as a 27-hole course designed by Joe Finger.
Not that it wasn’t a good course — the routing was praised and the putting surfaces were splendid— but Shifflett used the word “unmemorable” to describe it.
“It was not interesting. Every hole looked similar — trees left, bunkers right; trees right, bunkers left. Every green had a bunker left, a bunker right, a bunker to the rear,” said Shifflett. “It was all so redundant.”
The hiring of superintendent Craig Currier – who had done brilliant work at Bethpage Black for both the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens and had also worked at Augusta National and Garden City GC – signaled a change of direction for Glen Oaks. With credit to a membership that trusted their vision, Shifflett and Currier were told to pick an architect who would oversee a renovation. After considering bigger names, they decided on Joel Weiman, senior designer with McDonald & Sons of Maryland, with whom Currier had worked on a Bethpage project.
Together, they went to work . . . and work . . . and work.
“It was more work than I ever envisioned. But once we started, there was no stopping,” laughed Currier. “It’s like when you start tearing your kitchen apart.”
The overall goal, said Shifflett, was for “green grass, white sand and mulch around the trees – three distinct looks.”
Hurricanes of 2011 (Irene) and 2012 (Sandy) contributed to the aesthetics all three wanted by clearing several swaths of trees. Mostly, though, it was the collaborative efforts of Weimer, Currier and Shifflett that produced sweeping vistas and such a clean, fresh look.
Scott Brown, who played Glen Oaks with firm and fast conditions, gave it thumbs up. He loved the sprawling piece of property with wide and tightly-mown fairways that run into sharp-edged bunkers, shaved areas around the greens, and putting surfaces which can offer speeds that will command your respect.
If similar conditions exist August 24-27 for THE NORTHERN TRUST, Scott Brown suggested his brethren will be tested.
But Mark Brown, who was the only competitor to break par at last year’s Met Open, said Mother Nature will be in charge. “If it does get soft,” he said, “I could see the guys eating it up. It’s not terribly long (using Nos. 1-3 and 6-9 from the White Course, 4-5 from the Red Course, and all nine of the Blue Course, Glen Oaks will offer a composite layout of approximately 7,300 yards) and these guys usually figure things out quickly.”
Currier, after two U.S. Opens at Bethpage, knows the landscape. If he could dial it up, “I’d wish for a good, dry week with a little wind,” and he’s confident that “from tee-to-green (the players) will love it.”
The firmness of the greens and their speeds will likely decide the overall scores, but for Currier there is a bigger picture. The Met Section has a long line of world-class golf courses and the Glen Oaks Club — with a distinctive look that is its own — is getting mentioned in the conversation.
“They’re talking about our golf course,” said Currier. “That’s kind of cool to see.”
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