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Events | In The Press | The Met Golfer

The Metropolitan Golf Association’s Official Web SiteBack to the Links, by Dr. William Quirin
The Met Golfer, The Metropolitan Golf Association Magazine

Ten years ago, golfers approaching the 13th hole at the Lido Golf Club in Lido Beach, on Nassau County’s south shore, would be gripped by fear. They weren’t worried about Reynolds Channel, an ocean inlet that separates Long Beach Island from Nassau County and which bordered the entire right side of the hole. In fact, what they might score on the hole hardly ever entered their minds. They were much more concerned with the flocks of Canadian geese that tended to surround the golfers as they left the tee—enough to give even Alfred Hitchcock a scare. Getting through them was a challenge, but avoiding their “effluence” could be even tougher.

The place literally was a mess. Lido, at the time, was owned and run by the Town of Hempstead, which kept the course in playable condition but had little time for details, such as tees, bunkers, the rough, or the green collars. Eventually it became too much of a burden. So, in 1996, the town put the job of renovating and managing the course out to bid, and all the top golf management companies made their pitch.

Lido, after all, was golf history. Although the existing course had been built by Robert Trent Jones in 1947, the original Lido course was designed on reclaimed marshland by Charles Blair Macdonald between 1914 and ’17. In the ensuing years it became the crown jewel of Met Area golf, ranking right up there with the National Golf Links of America, Shinnecock Hills, and Garden City Golf Club, all on Long Island. So if the sheen was no longer on the course at least the name hadn’t lost its luster.

The winning bid came from a newly-formed company called Double Eagle Golf, Inc., created by three Long Islanders who were golf buddies, Lou Clerico of Valley Stream and brothers Richard and Angelo Belli from Brentwood. A key to their victory: For the previous 30 years the Bellis had been in the soil reconstruction business—they sold topdressing, and also handled some excavation—and that was a crucial area that needed work. The Bellis also owned the construction company that would do the work, instantly removing a level of bureaucracy (not to mention some overhead). The Town gave Double Eagle a 10-year lease on its muni. Six years have passed, and the work is near complete. Lido is back in style.

Lido was possibly the most daring experiment in golf course architecture ever conceived, an engineering marvel built by Macdonald on marshland and swamp. The possibility was suggested to Macdonald by Henry Rogers Winthrop of The Piping Rock Club, also in Nassau County, but at first Macdonald thought the idea utter folly. The desolate terrain, filled with sand, reeds, and briny water, was more suitable to frogs and wild birds than golfers.

But that would soon change. When Winthrop told Macdonald that he would have complete freedom to create whichever holes he wished, that struck a sensitive nerve. Winthrop knew that Macdonald still had in mind holes he had seen in the British Isles for which he had never found a suitable setting in this country. “To me, it seemed a dream. It really made me feel like a creator,” Macdonald would recall.

The group behind the Lido Golf Club, which included Otto Kahn and Cornelius Vanderbilt, purchased a 200-acre “rectangle” extending from the Atlantic Ocean to Reynolds Channel in Long Beach. Macdonald did indeed incorporate several ideas from abroad into his design, as well as versions of originals first seen at National. To gain some variety, though, he enlisted the aid of golf writer Bernard Darwin, who sponsored a contest in Country Life magazine, asking readers to design a classic par four of 360 to 460 yards. A design by an Englishman named Alister MacKenzie was declared the winner from among 81 entries, his hole having three separate “tongues” of fairway to aim at from the tee, each requiring a carry over some very rough country, with the more daring drive rewarded with a simplified approach to a green protected by bunkers and grassy hollows. Macdonald adapted MacKenzie’s plan, with slight alterations, as Lido’s 18th hole, thereby giving great impetus to MacKenzie’s budding career as an architect. MacKenzie, of course, would go on to design such classic layouts as Cypress Point and, with Bobby Jones, Augusta National.

Lido was built by Seth Raynor, Macdonald’s engineer, who is said to have pumped two million cubic yards of sand from the channel floor to shape Macdonald’s contours. Work began at Lido in 1914, one week before World War I broke out, but the course wasn’t opened officially until after the war. The layout received high praise, with many experts rating it among the five best courses in the country.
At 6,604 yards from the championship tees, Lido was considered three to five strokes harder than the greatest British links. No less than seven holes demanded sufficient length off the tee to carry a huge bunker or series of bunkers guarding the “entrance” to the fairway—a feature reminiscent of The National. The sand-based bent grass rough was so thick that it usually was difficult to find one’s ball, and even then it was nigh impossible to do anything with it but play a niblick recovery back to the safety of the fairway.
In 1928, Lido unveiled its new Spanish Mission-style clubhouse overlooking the ocean. It was a large, lavishly appointed palace, with 400 guest rooms. That building, now condominiums, still dominates the beachfront.
Lido’s moment in the spotlight lasted less than two decades. During the Second World War, the United States Navy took over much of Long Beach Island, including the Lido property. The club ceased operations after the 1942 season, to reopen as a private club in 1949 with a new Robert Trent Jones course located entirely on the channel side of Lido Boulevard, which had been extended through the club’s property. That club lasted until 1977 when it fell victim to financial difficulties and the Town took over.

The Double Eagle version of Lido has made a stirring comeback, perhaps not to Shinnecock Hills’ standard, but at least as an interesting course that challenges the best. It happened over three phases. First came the restoration of tee boxes and fairways. Each hole now has four tee boxes. All the fairways were regraded and several were raised as much as three feet to place them above the water level to improve drainage. That meant bringing in tons of topsoil, but soil was the Belli’s business.

The most severe work was done on the sixth and 13th holes, where the fairways would flood, then turn to hardpan when baked dry. The problem at six was solved by digging a drainage lake that has three fingers extending toward the fairway. At 13, where water would overflow and seep through a bulkhead, the fairway was raised and moguls and bunkers—sand and waste—were built.

Next came the greens and bunkers, with spectacular results. The greens are vintage Robert Trent Jones—large and undulating—and are in magnificent shape. The bunkers were restored wherever possible to their original sizes, shapes, and depths.

The final stage, according to Director of Golf Steve Rofrano, involves course aesthetics, and is almost complete. Golden fescue and love grass now line many holes, and flower beds accent the tee boxes. In addition, part of the $5 million overhaul was dedicated to a stand-alone catering facility in the clubhouse.

The new Lido does bear some similarities to the old track, even though the sixth hole is the only Macdonald hole left. The 16th hole is a reasonable facsimile of the old fourth, with alternate fairways off the tee and an especially testing second shot to the left for the average publinxer. Long hitters play up the right fork—it’s 265 to the water from the tips, impossible to reach into the wind, leaving 175 to the green. Paired with the splendid 17th, a long par three across the lagoon, it gives Lido a potent one-two punch in the final stretch.

According to Rofrano, Lido “tends to attract accomplished players.” For example, this year’s club championship semifinals included eventual winner Al Falussy, winner of the Long Island Amateur and Stroke Play Championships in 2001, and who twice qualified for the U.S. Amateur; Joe Horowitz, winner, earlier this season, of the Richardson Memorial and New York City Amateur, and runner-up in the MGA/MetLife Public Links; and Casey Alexander, who recently qualified for the 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur and was a semifinalist in the 2000 New York State Amateur.

Horowitz, who took up the game when attending the adjacent junior high school and who grew up playing Lido, believes the 63 he shot on a calm day in 1999 is the course record. “From the back tees on a windy day,” he says, “Lido is one of the best layouts on Long Island—especially the last six holes.”

But to the average player, the biggest—or at least most welcome—aspect of the new Lido is that the geese are gone. Credit Double Eagle’s not-so-silent partner, Ben, a Border Collie bred and schooled for the job in Virginia. It took three migration cycles for Ben to convince the geese that Lido was no longer their dining room and toilet, but he succeeded. Some $5 million may have been poured into this renovation, but Ben the Border collie may constitute the best three grand that Double Eagle ever spent.

Dr. William Quirin is the MGA Historian and author of “America’s Linksland.”

The Metropolitan Golf Association’s Official Web SiteThe Met Golfer is published bi-monthly and is free to all members of MGA member clubs. To obtain a paid subscription, $20 for a two-year subscription, contact the MGA office at (914) 347-4653 or via email at

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