Doak went on to route the course, roughly mapping out the location and sequence of the holes across the three-hundred-acre property. Although Doak spent more time on site, Nicklaus paid several visits, offering his input on every hole and, in a number of cases, disagreeing with what Doak had laid out. Nicklaus won some of those battles, including getting his wish to move the green at the par-three seventeenth to eliminate a blind shot over a dune; Doak prevailed on others, generally preserving the natural roll of the land. Both architects politely say they learned much from one another.
One of the subtler appeals of Sebonack is the rhythm, or progression, of the routing. The opening hole, a short par four that bends slightly right, plays out to a bluff over the bay. Immediately, you're brought to land's end and introduced to some of the stiffest wind on the course. After a pair of long par fours that offer ample room off the tee only to demand heroic uphill approaches, the course turns inland. The next several holes ramble more or less through the trees in a lower lying, more protected corner of the property. It isn't until number nine, a par five with an enormous cross-bunker inspired by the fourth at Bethpage Black, that the routing climbs back to the higher ground by the bay. The pattern repeats on the back nine—building drama, then easing off before hitting a crescendo at the majestic par-five eighteenth, parallel to the shore.
Doak enthusiasts fortunate enough to play Sebonack—membership will be limited to 180—will quickly see that it's more challenging than most of his other designs. In fact, Doak says it's probably the hardest course he's ever built, noting that Cape Kidnappers, the clifftop layout in New Zealand he designed two years ago, can also be a bear when the wind is up. In this regard, the influence of Nicklaus is apparent at Sebonack. "It's tough," says Doak, "because it has all the difficulties of contour in the fairways and on the greens that I employ to make a course challenging, plus the small green targets and big carries and length and added bunkering that Jack employs. Put 'em all together and it's a big package."
Take the second hole, for example. A hefty 454-yard par four, it requires an exacting drive between a pair of majestic American elms (bookending the site of a mansion that once stood here) to a fairway cratered with bunkers. To get the ball anywhere close to the flag, the approach must be banked off the left shoulder of the green, which is tucked into a complex of dunes and has a steep false front. Imposing bunkers loom on either side. So much for easing one's way into the round.
But Sebonack is more than a mere brute. Although it has no readily drivable par fours, which are a highlight of some recent Doak designs (he says the property didn't suggest one), the course rewards strategic play. The best example comes at number five, a 345-yard par four. Drives must contend with a cluster of bunkers in the center of the fairway, modeled after the twelfth at St. Andrews. The seemingly safer play is down the right side, away from the bunkers and the woods on the left. But from there, approaches must clear a deep bunker pinching the right of the green, which is the smallest on the course. And even shots that land on the putting surface stand a good chance of running off, as the green falls away to the left.
To be sure, not every hole is a masterpiece of strategy and beauty. The opener plays awkwardly between a row of cottages on the left and woods on the right, its fairway pitched sharply left to right, seemingly a recipe for troubled tee shots. The par-three eighth, demanding a forced carry over a man-made pond to a green bunkered left and right, could be anywhere.
Yet the overwhelming feeling at Sebonack is one of exhilaration, fostered in large part by the bracing waterside holes. The 466-yard par-four eleventh, for example, starts off simply enough, with a tee shot through a corridor of trees—and then plunges through the dunes to a green that sits naturally above the bluff line. The next hole, the twelfth, is a par three played from an elevated tee that drops even farther toward the water—almost a toe touch into the bay. A leaning beach fence shores up a small dune beside the green. From here, beachcombers can be heard in the distance down the crescent-shaped shore.