Jeff Stein is renovating the Devereux Emmet-designed golf course at The Seawane Club, located on Long Island in New York.
“Among Emmet’s many inland courses, Seawane stands out as a particularly special design because of its rarity as a true links and the fact that the routing has remained intact,” said Stein, who has worked on other Emmet courses in the area, including Rockville Links. “Working alongside Jim Urbina at Rockville showed me the depth of research that goes into this type of work. I bring the same curiosity and appreciation of history with my restoration work so that I can create a plan which is sympathetic to Emmet’s original design intent. At Seawane I was able to dig up an amazing collection of aerial photography from the 1940s, a 1927 hand drawn design proposal, and detailed descriptions of the original course construction. All of these research materials helped immensely to create an accurate restoration plan.”
Seawane is built on a sandy site and Stein, who started his career as an intern with Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design firm, will be able to call on his past experiences of such properties for this renovation, having been involved in projects at Bandon Dunes, Southern Pines and Ohoopee Match Club.
Stein was introduced to the club’s new ownership group in 2020 when he was asked to evaluate the golf course’s architecture as well as work with the club’s new superintendent, Ryan Bell, on maintenance improvements.
“Within the first few visits, we came up with a plan to rework all the steep mounds and ridges, built up in previous – and ill-advised – renovations,” said Stein. “Our plan simplifies the maintenance programme, highlights the sandy nature of this site, and makes the golf course much more playable and fun.
“We will also address bunker strategy, honouring as much as Emmet’s drawings and design intentions as possible. Ultimately, with every swipe of the excavator we want to recreate a sandy seaside landscape, on a human scale, reminiscent of what you might see at other low-lying American seaside courses like Maidstone or Kittansett.”
Since December 2020, Stein and the club’s in-house team has worked on one area or hole at a time. In winter 2020/21 the focus was on three greens – the sixth, eighth and thirteenth. In autumn 2021, the ninth hole was completely reworked, while in 2022, work has turned to irrigation updates and a new bulkhead along the third and fourth holes.
“We have restored elements of Emmet’s original design largely by exposing more sand between holes and undoing some unfortunate architectural alterations made with imported fill from the 2000s,” said Stein. “Dozens of steep artificial mounds were built up between holes and we intend to consolidate this earth into more naturally appearing features which blend into the surrounding landscape.”
The eighth, a 155-yard par three surrounded by sand, was the first hole to be renovated. Stein’s work has included expanding the green to its original size and removing a collar of ‘bumper’ mounds that surrounded the putting surface. “It seems they were built to help players stay on the green if an ensuing bunker shot went awry,” he said. “However, these appendage mounds not only scarred the architectural beauty of this unique par three, but they also trapped water along the edge of the green.
“Other Emmet design features, as seen in his original drawings, are short grass running directly into hazards and wide fairway approaches to the green. Throughout the course we will be restoring these important architectural elements to provide fun and variety around the greens, while also allowing golf balls to run into fairway hazards.”
With the club lying close to the south shore of Long Island, wind becomes a factor on many holes. As part of his work in winter 2020/21, Stein significantly widened the fairway on the short par-five sixth.
“I shaped the surrounds of the hole’s central bunker much like you would see in Britain, so that a daring player can skirt the side of the hazard along the ground but also receive a helping carom towards the green to access a front pin. Players who do not dare test their accuracy close to the edge of the bunker will face contouring which deflects their ball further to the right side and possibly off to the fringe.”
The club’s in-house team is handling the construction aspects of the project, while Stein manages and helps with shaping. The project team also includes shapers Robert Nelson and Daniel Loveridge. Bunker sand has been provided by DeLea and drainage is from the Turf Drainage Company of America.
“The most significant, and well received, transformation so far is the ninth hole,” said Stein. “When I first saw the 500-yard par five, it had 34 bunkers! That is not an exaggeration.” The maintenance team was quick to draw this to Stein’s attention and ask what he was going to do about it.”
Stein says his redesign of the hole is sympathetic to Emmet’s original intent, while also being sensitive to the ownership and members, who liked it. “It was clear we had to do something about the intense maintenance demands of just one hole,” said Stein, noting the importance of balancing competing interests.
“The visual transformation of this hole is stunning,” he said. “Sweeping sandscapes and ribbons of fescue tantalise and distract a golfer’s approach. The large native sandscape was restored by transplanting fescues and bluestem grass from other areas of the golf course and occupies the entire right side of the golf hole from 150 yards in.
“We tried to tie in views of sand and fescue from tee to green so that members would truly get a sense of playing near the sea. This sandy native landscape blends into more formal greenside bunkers with elements inspired from Emmet’s work at Garden City, St. Georges in New York, and the National Golf Links of America. These courses have a similar style and flair, with their greenside bunkers all having steep grass faces. It was the more diminutive scale of Garden City and St. Georges which we modelled our greenside bunkers on at Seawane. However, we were inspired by NGLA for its windswept fields of fescue and bluestem and its unique dune-top hazards.
“At Seawane we took advantage of a large mound to create a ‘volcano dune’ just to the right side of the ninth green. Any wayward approach will be lucky to find themselves in this caldera of sand, because otherwise, they will be penalised by the tall and wispy fescue which surrounds this rise in the landscape.”
Stein hopes to bring more native sandscape into play throughout the course. “The more we are able to peel away invasive grasses, expose sand and let mother nature take over, the better this golf course will become,” he said.