It is arguably harder to find a bagel on the north shore of Long Island than it is to find a golf course. Dotted along the cliffs and valleys near the Long Island Sound are many of the game’s most storied venues, from The Creek Club (GOLF’s No. 62 course in the United States) to Piping Rock (No. 56), to a handful of offerings that fall just outside the purview of GOLF’s lists, from uber-elite Deepdale to Sands Point, and beyond. This, of course, is to say nothing of Bethpage Black, Garden City and Fishers Island, which all stand mere minutes away from the selections listed above.
Perhaps if not for its neighbors, Engineers Country Club in Roslyn Harbor would earn more name recognition among the golf public. The course’s history dates back more than a century, calling Herbert Strong and later Devereux Emmet (of Garden City fame) its primary designers, and the famed boxer Joe Louis among its many thousands of competitors.
But soon that history will take a new twist. As Newsday first reported, ClubCorp officially assumed operations of Engineers last week, marking the first in a phased series of updates that will alter the course from its longtime state. ClubCorp will assume ownership from RXR Realty, the developer who first purchased the course in the late 2010s, and now plans to develop 92 condo units on course property.
RXR says it has invested $7 million over the last several years in upgrades to Engineers, retaining ClubCorp’s services in that time for help with golf course management. Under the new agreement, RXR will focus its energy toward construction of the condos, eventually handing over complete ownership to ClubCorp for an undisclosed sum. RXR says that, upon the completion of the condos, it will invest an additional $5 million to “reconfigure” the course, and has hired Nicklaus Design to assist in those efforts. (Nicklaus Design and GOLF are both owned by 8AM Golf.)
In its current form, Engineers is a match players’ dream, with gettable holes and challenging terrain melding to form a course that lends itself to the thinker. Evidently, the PGA of America and USGA agreed, bringing the still-match play PGA Championship and the U.S. Amateur to Engineers in back-to-back years (1919 and 1920). Golf’s most famous amateur, Francis Ouimet, came up just shy of his second U.S. Amateur victory at Engineers in 1920, losing to Charles Evans Jr. 7 and 6.
But for all its design elegance, the course had fallen from its century-old hayday. By the time RXR entered the fold in 2017, Engineers was in dire straits. The club’s neighbors — in addition to shrinking membership and outdated facilities — had brought it to the brink of bankruptcy. After a protracted period on the open market, the club’s board approved the sale to RXR, who planned to borrow a tactic from nearby Woodmere Country Club in turning the course into a high-end real estate development.
Of course, the proposed updates are overwhelmingly likely to serve as a departure from the course’s longstanding design. But this is far from a bad news story. Since RXR’s purchase, golf has undergone a nationwide boon, and the company’s efforts to drive membership have followed suit. Membership is now 300 — double its number at the time of the sale — while RXR has received enough additional interest to install a $10,000 initiation fee. As RXR prepares to break ground, the club is at its healthiest moment in a long while.
It’s true, this piece of golf history is likely to take on a much different appearance — and there’s room for litigating whether that’s a good thing. But it’s going to remain a piece of golf history, and even in an area overflowing with it, that’s a good thing.