August 30, 2006
An Exclusive Interview With Michael Pascucci
Sebonack Ready To Tee Off
When Michael Pascucci purchased 300 acres of pristine land in Southampton in 2001 with an eye towards turning it into a golf course, he didn't have to go far for advice: his next door neighbor in Florida is legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, the winner of 73 PGA titles. Five years later, Southampton is the home to another golf course whose pedigree rivals that of the neighboring National Golf Links of America and the Shinnecock Hills Golf Course.
Nicklaus, together with Tom Doak, who Pascucci described as the "new, young architect du jour," designed Sebonack Golf Club in Shinnecock Hills, a private course that celebrated its grand opening last Thursday. The par 72, 7220 yard links course is situated on 300 acres overlooking Peconic Bay, near the legendary Shinnecock and National courses.
The collaboration between Nicklaus, who began designing courses in 1969 and whose firm has more than 300 courses to its credit, and Doak, was an unusual one. "I thought it would be very unique to get both Doak's look that he creates with Jack's strategy," Pascucci said. Comparing it to having two artists paint the Mona Lisa, it took Pascucci close to a year and half to bring the two on board, "but it worked out great," he said.
Pascucci purchased the property from the Local 3 electrical workers union for $45 million in 2001. Hundreds of undeveloped acres with a mile of Peconic waterfront coming up for purchase as they did was "unheard of," Pascucci said, and he was determined to keep as much of the natural topography in place as possible. "Whatever was there, you just build the golf holes around it; just put the greens in, put the bunkers in and play golf," he said.
And though Pascucci's vision for the course was very definite, Nicklaus and Doak ran the show. "I would say that Mr. Nicklaus and Mr. Doak would say that Mike Pascucci was more involved than they would have cared for. They didn't give me a lot; I had to beg for whatever I did get," Pascucci said.
The course offers challenges for the best golfers, while also being forgiving enough not to make the average duffer turn in his clubs, according to Pascucci. "For the more modestly skilled golfer, the fairways are very big and it's a very forgiving course. And yet the strategy that Jack Nicklaus has created, if you're a very, very good golfer, it resists scoring. It's fun for the weaker player, and it's very, very challenging for the professional player," Pascucci explained.
Membership is by invitation only, and the price has yet to be determined. "The price of a membership simply reflects the cost structure in today's dollars. It doesn't reflect supply and demand because we have a tremendous demand."
The course will remain private and is unlikely to host any PGA events. "At the present time we don't have any interest in that," Pascucci said, preferring to keep the atmosphere at the course "low key."
Pascucci, who resides in Locust Valley and owns WLNY Channel 55, made his money in auto lease financing in the 1970s, building the largest independent auto lease financing business in the country, Oxford Resource Corporation, now owned by Bank of America. He started in the home mortgage industry before turning his attention to automobiles. "I was looking for something else to finance. I went to the next biggest thing that the average person purchases which is a car," he said.
Building the course at Sebonack fulfilled a lifelong dream for Pascucci, and he didn't stint in singing its praises. "This property is spectacular," he said. He has played the course a number of times and he described the experience as "exhilarating." And his handicap is nothing to scoff at — most of the time. "My low score so far is 79," he said. "My high score I'm not telling you."