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Field of Dreams – Peter Imber & Quogue Field Club

Benjamin Litman’s GolfClubAtlas article Timeless Golf at Quoque Field Club was a key contributor to the beginning of my love affair with 9-holers.  I wasn’t sure about how exactly to pronounce the name (it is “kwahg”, by the way), but I was absolutely certain that I wanted to play the course.  The chance to experience Quogue came for me during this season’s Noreaster, and as I wrote in my recap of that trip, it did not disappoint.

As a coincidental bonus, our host was Peter Imber, who also happens to be a principal player in Quogue’s restoration.  We connected after my visit, and hit it off over our respective efforts to revitalize our golf courses.  Not only did he give me guidance on how to approach my efforts at Canal Shores, but he also graciously agreed to do an interview.  With that interview, Jon Cavalier and I have partnered to bring you a QFC photo tour.  Enjoy!

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THE INTERVIEW

How did you get introduced to the game of golf?

I first picked up golf in my teens.  A friend of my father’s took me to play my first round when I was 14 at Southampton Golf Club.  After that I basically lied about my handicap to get on my high school and college golf teams.  I didn’t play in matches, but I got to play a lot with better players.

When did you know that the game had a hold on you?

I was hooked from the start.  I love to practice and I love the feeling of hitting a pure shot.  There is always something new to learn, and there is no one way to play or one “right” course design.

How did you get interested in golf course architecture?

I have been very lucky.  Growing up in NY, summering on Long Island and also living in SF for a while, I have had access to amazing courses, public and private.  In most cases I didn’t fully appreciate where I was playing until later, but I would invariably remember something about them – a shot, a view, a feel.  The two places that probably had the greatest impact were (not surprisingly) Shinnecock and National.  Both amazing in totally different ways.  As the years have gone by, I have tried to distill why they are so wonderful and the answer is ever evolving…the research is fun.

Who is your favorite Golden Age architect, and why?

It’s so hard to pick.  I have always loved Tilinghast’s simplicity.  The courses are right in front of you; they are fair and they are challenging.  It wasn’t until I went to Scotland in my 20’s that I began to appreciate architects like Raynor and McDonald, whose quirkiness comes from the source and is historically significant and not contrived.

Tell us about the history of Quogue Field Club.

The Quogue Field Club was founded in 1887.  The original location was about a mile from where it currently resides.  The club did not include golf originally but RB Wilson (head pro at Shinnecock at the time) designed a crude 9 hole layout in 1897.  As the village grew, the old location became the business center of the village and the club was moved to its current location in 1900.  The current course was built in 2 parts.  The original 9 was designed by Tom Bendelow in 1901 and much of that course is what still exists today.  A 2nd 9 was added in 1921 under the supervision of James Hepburn (pro at National Golf Links of America).  As a result of damage from the hurricane of 1938 and a lack of interest in golf around WWII, the club gave back a chunk of land representing 9 holes and what was left is the current layout.  7 of the 9 current greens are original (#4 and #6 were redone in 1999 and 1974, respectively).

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How did you get involved in the restoration of Quogue?

For years golf has been a distant second to tennis at QFC.  Many of the better golfers are members of other 18 hole courses in the area (SHGC, NGLA) and play their golf at those courses.  As a result, the course didn’t receive the attention it might have, and over the years appreciation of the history of the QFC course was lost.  In 2008 I asked the chair of the Green Committee why our greens were so much slower than others in the area despite the same weather and same soil.  The next day I was on the Green Committee.  Two years later I was asked to replace the chair when he stepped down.  

The first thing I did was challenge the committee to see how they would like to improve the course.  We began to discuss what changes we felt were most important.  The single change that lead to the restoration was our desire to remove some non-native trees that had been planted along a number of fairways.  They weren’t in keeping with the links roots of the course.  In order to strengthen our case to the board, we asked to bring in an architect for a consultation.  That’s how we met Ian Andrew.  We were so impressed with his visit that we convinced the board to allow us to retain him for a full Master Plan…and so it began.

Did you experience any resistance to change, and if so, how did you overcome it?

There is always resistance to ANY change at a club that has been around as long as ours.  There are two ways to deal with this – either build consensus for the changes, or make the changes and explain it after.  I’d like to think that we pursued a balance of the two approaches.  We worked closely with the Board at all times, and, supported by Ian’s Master Plan, we made some significant but inexpensive changes (namely tree removal to resolve a safety issue).  We did so without building consensus, but with strong conviction that we were making the right decision and with the full support of an expert (Ian) and the Board.  As the membership digested these changes, we brought in Ian to present the full Master Plan to the membership which helped build consensus for the rest of the vision.  

We still fight some battles, even as we approach the final stages of the restoration, but more often than not, we are simply asked questions about why we are doing certain things and engage in a thoughtful discussion.  In the end, the course belongs to the members and we are not looking to impose our will come hell or high water.  On the other hand, sometimes change needs a little jumpstart.  Hopefully our members would agree that we found a good balance.

How has Ian Andrew impacted the work at the club?

Ian has a wonderful vision.  He does not look to put his fingerprints on the course.  He values the history of the course and treated it like an old gem that had been lost for generations – shine it up and put it in an appropriate new setting.  Ian focused on our links heritage.  He advocated tree removal for the most logical of reasons: “Your best asset is your views and your best defense is the wind…and the trees are interfering with both.”  Ian focused a great deal on presentation, and it was amazing how much he changed the course without us moving a shovel full of dirt.  Every change he has advocated was consistent with his vision and consistent with the history of the course.

(For more from Ian Andrew, read his GeekedOnGolf interview here)

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What were the key areas of focus for the project?

The biggest focus was on improving sightlines and returning to a links feel.  Just removing the trees that lined the fairways changed the look and feel of the course.  We have three holes on the water, but you never used to be able to see the water except from two spots.  Now you can see the water from the clubhouse and almost every hole in between.  You can also stand in almost any spot and see every hole on the course.

What has member feedback been to the changes?

Overwhelmingly positive.  Even those who questioned it, now seem to love it.  As much as anything else, I think the members didn’t realize or appreciate the gem we have.  It was just a place they played.  Now their friends are asking to play it and they are proud of what we have restored.

What one piece of advice would you give to Green Committee or club members who are considering championing a renovation or restoration?

Communication is everything – whether to the Board or the membership at large.  Explain what you are doing and more importantly, why, to anyone who is curious.  Clubs have interesting dynamics borne of a wide variety of perspectives within the membership.  A well thought out and well explained plan will almost always prevail.  It’s okay if it takes time.  It gives the membership time to digest the vision.  We have been implementing our plan for five years.  Trees one year.  Two new tees the next.  A new bunker the following year.  At this point I don’t think anyone even notices the changes anymore.

What do you love the most about the restored Quogue Field Club?

I love the walk and the views.  Where you used to play holes in a tunnel, now I see golfers on every hole across the course and I can see the water from every hole.  It makes me smile.  It doesn’t hurt that our Superintendent John Bradley has done an outstanding job of raising the bar on course conditions and presentation.


QUOGUE FIELD CLUB

Before diving into the hole-by-hole tour, two important notes about Quogue:

First, how it works.  The course has forward and back tees.  There are two sets of each, which are color-coded.  One color-coded set is played the first loop around, and if you want to play 18 holes, you play the other colored set the second loop.  The different sets are at meaningfully different distances, creating a distinct playing experience on each loop.  Genius.

Second, how it plays.  Superintendent John Bradley present a course that does now seem highly manicured or over maintained, and yet it plays absolutely perfectly.  The fairway run and bounce, the fescue is playable, the bunkers are rugged yet tidy, and the greens roll true.  To me, it is the model of maintaining a course responsibly and sustainably with regard to inputs, while at the same time providing players with an outstanding experience.

HOLE #1 – (Black) Par 5 – 528 yards / (Orange) Par 5 – 492 yards

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The opener is a five par that plays over a road and flat ground to a green flanked by bunkers.  The subtle, but infinitely interesting internal contours of Quogue’s greens are evident from the very beginning.

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HOLE #2 – (Black) Par 3 – 148 yards / (Orange) Par 3 – 161 yards

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The green on the second sits surrounded by sand and fescue-covered mounding.  The putting surface is a punchbowl of a variety that not even Messrs Macdonald & Raynor ever thought to build.

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HOLE #3 – (Black) Par 4 – 270 yards / (Orange) Par 4 – 272 yards

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Quogue’s church pews, and all manner of other quirky bunkering, are on display on the 3rd.  The yardage on the card begs for a heroic shot, but the members know that for most players, going for the green is a sucker’s play.

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HOLE #4 – (Black) Par 3 – 193 yards / (Orange) Par 3 – 171 yards

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The fourth is a mid-length par-3 with one of the coolest greens on the planet – the redan, biarritz combo.  The high front right feeder slope is separated from the back plateau by a shallow swale.  Fun to look at, and even more fun to play.

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HOLE #5 – (Black) Par 4 – 412 yards / (Orange) Par 5 – 470 yards

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The 5th is a slight dogleg right that ends with a green set hard against the water. Judging approaches at this particularly windy spot on the property is a devilish challenge.

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HOLE #6 – (Black) Par 4 – 281 yards / (Orange) Par 4 – 245 yards

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The tight 6th plays over a wetland, which also guards its entire left side.  The low set green is guarded by bunkers on both sides, including a unique grassy sand dune.

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HOLE #7 – (Black) Par 4 – 414 yards / (Orange) Par 4 – 434 yards

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The 7th is a tough four par which demands a tee shot placed between angled bunkers on either side of the fairway.  The large green is surrounded by bunkers on three sides including 2 nasty little pots.

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HOLE #8 – (Black) Par 4 – 379 yards / (Orange) Par 4 – 347 yards

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The penultimate hole provides another dose of quirky challenge with a cluster of bunkers right of the landing area, and another cluster of cross-bunkers short of the green.  The green wraps around a circular bunker right making some pin positions dicey.

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HOLE #9 – (Black) Par 5 – 534 yards / (Orange) Par 4 – 408 yards

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The closing hole heads back over the road and to the clubhouse.  One final seamless transition from fairway to straight-fronted green awaits the player upon the return.

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A day spent at Quogue Field Club is a golf geek’s dream come true.  It is golf at its purest and finest.  Created before architectural egotism existed, lovingly restored, and masterfully presented, the course evokes joy from the deepest levels of a player’s heart.  That level at which each of us first fell in love with this great game.


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Copyright 2017 – Jason Way, GeekedOnGolf