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Monday, July 15, 2013

North Shore Sets New Model for Modern Country Clubs

Donald Zucker
Donald Zucker
Three years is the blink of an eye in the 99-year history of North Shore Country Club in Glen Head, NY, but that's all it took for real estate developer Donald Zucker and star architect Tom Doak to rejuvenate the Long Island institution. Zucker rescued the club from financial collapse in late 2009 by buying it from the members and immediately brought in Doak to renovate the short, tired course. Doak built on the original design concepts of Seth Raynor and CB Macdonald while Zucker aggressively moved to bring younger members into the club. The results of both may well serve as a model for club management in the modern era.

Zucker said he gave Doak just one instruction when it came to using the 165-acre property: "Give us a great finishing hole." In response, Doak scrapped two lackluster par fours in favor of a quirky 125-yard seventeenth hole with a radical green and a daunting 639-yard par five eighteenth.

Doak worked some similar magic with the two opening holes, setting the tone for the course early. North Shore may be on the short side at 6,543 yards from the tips, but its outrageous greens more than adequately protect par. The 71.8 rating and 136 slope give some indication of the level of play necessary to score low.

Several Raynor/Macdonald trademarks were restored during the renovation. Doak brought back the 236-yard fifth hole, a par 3 Biarritz, and punched up the punchbowl green on the 435-yard sixth. The bunkering was revived on several holes and numerous trees were eliminated to open up vistas, define shot lines, and improve turf conditions--a process that was carried further by last year's storms. The overall result is a tester that rewards creative shot placement off the tee and demands pinpoint accuracy around the greens.

Perhaps the biggest change Zucker brought to North Shore, however, is a serious commitment to getting youngsters into the game. "I wanted to have the most kid-friendly club on Long Island," he says. With seven kids and fourteen grandkids, the club owner has a good idea of what young families want in a country club. In addition to renovating the golf course, one of his first moves was to build a playground near the swimming pool. the club also boasts kid-friendly tennis, a fitness center, and memberships designed for affordability. The club runs golf and tennis camps for kids--both sold out this year. Zucker also says youngsters are encouraged to play the course, adding "If it's open, they should be playing on it."

General Manager Ben Ghesquiere says these efforts are playing off. The most recent twenty memberships signed, according to him, were for people under age 45. "Three of them are families with seventeen kids between them." He adds that the club actually has three full golf memberships bought by parents who don't play golf for their kids who do.

In an era when participation in the game seems to be declining and economic weakness threatens the survival of many tradition-bound clubs, it's absolutely refreshing to see how North Shore Country Club is leading us into a happier future.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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