metgolferarticle-medres - Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club

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metgolferarticle-medres - Eagle Oaks Golf and Country Club
club focus
Soaring
Eagle
If you’re into good golf and unabashed patriotism,
Eagle Oaks Golf & Country Club has plenty of both
BY TOM IERUBINO
PHOTOGRAPHY
PHOTOGRAPHY BY
BY RUSSELL
RUSSELL KIRK/GOLFLINKS
KIRK/GOLFLINKS
W
hat’s in a name? A lot when it comes to Eagle Oaks Golf
& Country Club in Farmingdale, New Jersey. While
Shakespeare wrote that a rose would smell as sweet by
any other name, the Eagle Oaks name clearly means and
stands for something that another name would not convey.
Reprinted with permission of the
Metropolitan Golf Association
Eagle Oaks opened as Shore Oaks Golf
Club in May 1990, and the club made an
immediate mark in local golf circles by
hosting a number of tournaments on its
Johnny Miller-designed course in its first
few years. Since Domenic Gatto bought it
in 2003 and renamed it Eagle Oaks, the
Monmouth County club has continued to
make a name for itself in a number of ways.
The short par-three eighthThe
hole
is nestled
among
tall
short
par-three
eighth
hole is nestled among tall
oaks and is guarded by a pond
sides. by a pond on two sides.
oaks on
andtwo
is guarded
62 THE MET GOLFER 2010
• AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010
62 THE MET GOLFER • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER
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The re-branding of the club from Shore
Oaks to Eagle Oaks is a product of Gatto’s
patriotic nature, and a tribute to how
much the bald eagle has become a symbol
of American pride and tradition over the
years. The additional name change, from
Golf Club to Golf and Country Club,
reflects the expansion of the activities and
amenities offered.
THE MET GOLFER • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010 63
“You always want to get better. That was
the main focus when Mr. Gatto took over,”
says Joe Callahan, the club’s general manager
for the past 17 years. “We not only wanted to
upgrade the golf course but also the other
amenities.”
Gatto is the founder and owner of Staten
Island-based Atlantic Express Transportation
Corporation, which bills itself as one of the
largest providers of bus transportation in North
America. He knows about moving people,
and now he is moving Eagle Oaks forward.
state’s top pros in the 1991 New Jersey PGA
Championship. None of them broke par for
72 holes, as Navesink’s Steve Sieg made birdie
on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff
to win the title after a tie with four others at
even-par 284.
The following year, Ridgewood’s Paul
Antenucci shot a then course-record 66 in the
The Early Days
Above: the 18th green sits
just in front of the stately
clubhouse.
Right: Honor Day at Eagle
Oaks includes an outing for
U.S. Marines.
Planned in the late 1980s as part of a golf
community, the club was built on former corn
and soy bean farmland. Though a number of
houses sprung up around the perimeter of the
course, the community concept never became
a reality.
That didn’t take away from the quality of
the layout, however. Johnny Miller, the 1973
U.S. Open champion and lead NBC golf commentator, was working with Jack Nicklaus’s
company at the time, and Eagle Oaks is
the only course in New Jersey listed in the
Nicklaus Design Group portfolio.
Miller designed a course that was tested
right away by the state’s best amateurs and
professionals. After hosting the 1990 NJSGA
Senior and Pre-Senior Championships in its
very first season, Shore Oaks hosted the
64 THE MET GOLFER • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010
first round en route to a six-stroke victory over
Bob Housen of Manasquan River in the
NJSGA Amateur Championship. Antenucci’s
72-hole aggregate score of 281 remains a
championship record. In addition to Antenucci’s fine play, the tournament is remembered
for Phil Simms, the New York Giants star
quarterback at the time, playing and making
the cut—though he finished far back of his
fellow Ridgewood member.
Later in 1992, the club hosted a U.S. AmaWWW.MGAGOLF.ORG
teur qualifier, and its own Vic Gerard Jr. was
one of five golfers, including Antenucci, to
advance to the championship proper, which
was held that year at Nicklaus’s Muirfield
Village in Dublin, Ohio. Gerard, an Eagle
Oaks member since its inception, is the
owner of Vic Gerard Golf Cars, and his is a
familiar name to golfers in the state as it
appears on golf carts at many clubs.
The Course
The Eagle Oaks routing hasn’t changed
since the course opened. “But we’ve made
a change on darn near every hole since I’ve
been here,” says Head PGA Professional
Wendell Dix, now in his eighth year at
the club.
The par-71 layout stretches to just over
7,100 yards, up from the 6,848 yards it
played to 20 years ago. Water comes into
play on three of the four par threes (Nos. 5,
8 and 11) and on 10 holes in all. The greens
average about 6,500 square feet in size and
feature subtle breaks rather than severe
undulation. The bunkers at Eagle Oaks are
of the flat-bottom variety.
“One of the biggest changes we’ve made
was the tree program,” says golf course
superintendent Marty Sommerfeld, who
has been at Eagle Oaks for 10 years. “We’ve
done a tremendous amount of tree work—
cleaning up, pruning. We put in trees to
block the houses and to improve the aesthetics but also not hurt the agronomy.
“We’re afforded a lot of luxuries for
attention to detail,” Sommerfeld adds. “We
have the commitment from ownership to
put out a first-class product.”
While the three par threes with water hazards are eye-catchers, the layout’s closing
stretch of holes 15-18 leaves a lasting impression. When golfers cross a residential street
named Vardon Way on their way to the 15th
tee, they see a sign on a gate post that reads
“Final Four.”
The 15th hole is a 453-yard par four with
water short and left of the green. The 16th
is a 215-yard par three, while 17 is a reachable 493-yard par five where water on the
left comes into play on the approach to the
green. The 447-yard 18th, named “The
General,” is a sharp dogleg left lined on both
sides by very tall trees. A quote from Johnny Miller on the scorecard reads: “Great finishing holes are a trademark of outstanding
golf and Eagle Oaks has one of my
favorites.”
While the back tees challenge the most
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This links-style, semi-private course was designed by
Stephen Kay with distinct and memorable features
of water, potbunkers and natural hazards complemented by bent and fescue grasses. “The result is 18
holes of Ireland in Dutchess County,” a reviewer wrote — an Irish links layout faithfully
recreated just north of New York City. Now, ten years later, The Links at Union Vale
continues to offer exceptional course conditions and first-class amenities to golfers of
all skill levels. Come celebrate 10 years of Pure Golf, Links-Style with us!
• Four tee positions from 5,198 yards to over 7,000 • Golf lessons and clinics
• Memorable Golf Outings for 20 to 144 • Equity and Annual Membership options
• 18,000 sq. ft. clubhouse with a Bar & Grill, golf shop and superior banquet facilities.
Join our E-club to receive news &
special offers throughout the season:
www.TheLinksAtUnionVale.com
(845) 223-1000 [golf] • (845) 223-1002 [main]
153 N. Parliman Rd, LaGrangeville, NY 12540
The stately Johnny Miller
Library in the Eagle Oaks
clubhouse honors his golf
achievements.
accomplished golfers, three years ago Dix and
Sommerfeld created a scaled-down routing
within the regular golf course for youngsters
learning the game, and dubbed it “Li’l Eagle.”
The nine-hole layout measures a little over
1,400 yards.
The Club
Eagle Oaks’s renovated, Southern Colonial-inspired clubhouse, which was expanded
from 25,000 to more than 62,000 square
feet, is in its fourth year. The clubhouse features the Jack Nicklaus Boardroom and the
Johnny Miller Library. A glass case downstairs
in the clubhouse contains five autographed
helmets from NFL coaching great and Eagle
Oaks member Bill Parcells, one each from the
organizations for which he has worked: the
Giants, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys and Dolphins.
Former Jet stars Joe Klecko and Wayne Chrebet are members as well. Hollywood is also
represented among the membership by film
star Joe Pesci, a New Jersey native.
A pool and three Har-Tru tennis courts
were recently completed. Most of the membership lives within 30 to 40 minutes of the
club, but four suites will be built near the pool
area so people can stay overnight. “We’ve also
purchased some additional property where we
hope to put in a separate par-three course.
We’re working on the zoning,” Callahan says.
Another longtime club employee is caddie
master Jack Cox, who has been at the club
from the start and supervises a caddie contingent of 40 to 50.
The one-acre practice facility, one of the
most impressive in the Met Area, features a 75-
66 THE MET GOLFER • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2010
yard short game area. Dix’s staff of assistant
and teaching pros includes former Futures
Tour player Lauren Mueller, Mike Beyer,
Morven Rodrigues and Wayne Warms, the
1995 PGA of America Junior Golf Leader and
2003 New Jersey Section PGA Teacher of the
Year. Warms is in his second year at the club.
While Vic Gerard Jr. has won the most club
championships with seven, the reigning club
champ at Eagle Oaks is Domenic Gatto Jr.,
son of the owner. A former professional golfer
who regained his amateur status after a stint
playing the mini-tours, Gatto Jr. has captured
the title the last three years. This summer, he
was also the low amateur in the New Jersey
Open, and placed fifth overall. Mary Ehlers
won the 2009 women’s club championship.
Eagle Oaks has continued to be a welcoming host in recent years. It was the site of the
2007 NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championship
(won by Michael Deo over 2010
MGA/MetLife Public Links champion Brian
Komline) and three U.S. Open local qualifiers
run by the MGA over the past 10 years,
including this year. The club will host the
NJSGA’s Tournament of Champions on
October 14.
But Eagle Oaks’s most important hosting
role comes on what it has dubbed Honor Day,
which is held during Fleet Week in late May.
Eagle Oaks raised approximately $45,000 in
2009 and $83,000 this year for Hope for the
Warriors, a charitable organization whose
purpose is to enhance the quality of life for
U.S. servicemembers and their families who
have been affected by injuries or death in the
line of duty.
“Mr. Gatto is a Vietnam veteran, and he
and one of the members came up with the idea
after being at a dinner for a member’s relative
who was involved in Hope for the Warriors,”
Callahan explains.
Fifty U.S. Marines are invited to play golf
with Eagle Oaks members on Honor Day, and
another 150 are brought in that night for a
reception and dinner. Atlantic Express,
Gatto’s company, picks them up at their ships,
while Ping donates 50 sets of clubs for the
Marines to use.
“The members have really embraced this
event. Forty-four of them play in it, but 100
want to, so we have a lottery to see who gets
to play,” Dix says.
Whether they win that lottery or not, Eagle
Oaks members are a lucky bunch who have
shared their good fortune with others. ■
Tom Ierubino writes from his home in Somerset,
New Jersey.
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