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Rebirth of a Classic

A renovation at Sleepy Hollow pays homage to its original designer, Charles Blair Macdonald, and brings a storied New York course into the modern era
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
The Blues Brothers, Jan/Feb 2008

(continued from page 3)

Some of the new bunkers are blind off the tee, an old-world way to create a hazard. On one hand you could criticize a blind bunker as being unfair, but as Ben Hogan once said, "A blind shot is blind only once."

The steep grass-face style of the new bunkering has a practical maintenance purpose. In heavy rainstorms, bunkers with steep sand flashing tend to wash out, as several did at Sleepy Hollow. A bunker renovation at the Country Club of Birmingham wasn't mindful of the Alabama climate and its propensity for gullywashers. The steep sand faces kept washing out, necessitating another project to rebuild the bunkers with steep grass faces.

While Sleepy's new fairway bunkers were being added, all the greenside bunkers were being recast, most significantly at the second hole, the 13th and the dramatic short 16th. At the second a tabletop extension was added to the front right portion of the green. The bunker that now wraps around that daunting pin position is an abyss. The 13th has two gaping bunkers that appear as the nostrils of an inhospitable beast. At the par-3 16th, with its tee commanding an alluring view of the river, the original moat-style bunker has been restored, making for a dramatic postcard.

"Adding the fairway bunkering has brought the most to the golf course," says Hanse. "Also, getting a consistent style of steep grass faces with flat bottoms. The course now has a very distinct look to it, especially in Westchester County where there are no other Macdonald-Raynor courses."

Because the work was done gradually, play was never disrupted significantly. A few temporary tees had to be used, a few drop areas created, but because the greens and fairways weren't being torn up, play could continue. In the process, members could become acclimated to the joys, and perils, of their sympathetically restored course.

"The more you see what they did, the more you fall in love with most of what they did," says O'Rourke. "On the ninth hole they took down a massive amount of trees down the right side. I first saw that in winter and I didn't like it. As the foliage grew back, it showed what a beautiful piece of property we have. The hole is much better now.

"There were a couple of things I wished they wouldn't have changed. I thought the best two holes on the course were the eighth hole and the 12th hole. There were a lot of trees down the right side of number eight that forced your shot to the left, and if you were over on the right you had to learn how to carve a shot around the trees. The 12th was our hardest par 4. The new par 5 will be a good hole, I'm sure. But now we are playing the 15th as a par 4 with a blind second shot. I don't think sacrificing the 12th hole to turn the 15th into a par 4 was good. That's what a few members have said, but we are certainly in the minority. By and large the club is buying into every change."

With the work completed last September, Mike Hegarty, the club president, had a friend over for a round. The man was a 5-handicap at Winged Foot. After playing off a few back tees, which now measure about 6,800 yards with the members' tees at about 6,500 yards, "he said to me, 'This is more golf course from the back than I really want to play right now,'" says Hegarty. Sleepy had awakened.

The course renovation had been part of a long-term plan of capital projects. Members were assessed $10,000 each for capital investment. The golf course renovation cost $2.5 million for 27 holes. You couldn't get Jack Nicklaus on site for that amount of money.

"There is a feeling of tremendous pride," says Sanossian. "Working with Mike Hegarty, who understood what we wanted to accomplish. Working with Tom Leahy, my superintendent, who can be tough to work with but only has the best interests of the club in mind. I saw the brilliance in what Gil was proposing. I saw the restoration of the golf course at Sleepy Hollow to a status where we think we should be. We saw a restoration to a Macdonald look and feel. Gil and George really understood what this was supposed to be like."

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