Bonnie Briar will always represent a special place for me. We joined in 2000 and I became involved in the governance of the Club, first as Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee, then the Green and Grounds Committee, and finally as President between 2006 and 2008.
I left to join Winged foot in 2015 and had not played much at the Club since leaving, but my friend Clarke and I were able to arrange our 'grudge match" in August 2018 against our dear friends David and Herb, and this time we actually managed to win...
The course is now a pleasure to play. Back in the day, a group of our friends all joined at around the same time - we were called “The Shore Club Group” because that’s where we mostly all members prior to joining Bonnie. The Club was in a tenuous financial state and had embarked on a membership drive which we took advantage of.
Anyway, we started to see some real turnaround: the management, the golf pro, the superintendent, the golf course and pool areas all dramatically improved under first Geoff Whelan, Fred Cuccia and Roger Maxon. My tenure on the Board was a challenging experience at first, but now the Club today has a very attractive golf course and a full membership. I’d like to think I was part of that success, but so were the following: Geoff, Jerry, Herb, Alan, Clarke, David T, Steve, Tim, David W, Freddie, Paul K, Lynn, Todd, Rob, and many, many more who saw the potential to create something great.
So close to Manhattan, a gorgeous piece of property, and a friendly Country club in the true sense of the meaning. Hard to believe there were moments in Bonnie's history when things might have unraveled. A developer gained control and nearly converted the place to a 9 hole course with sheltered housing. It only just failed. Then there were spats within the Club over the direction to take. Some wanted a palacial clubhouse. Fortunately they lost out or the club would have gone the way of others who neglected the key asset, the golf course.
Amongst the initiatives we took, we made several change to personnel. Kevin Burke is a larger than life figure who played a key role in turning the Club around. A new Superintendent was vital, and we were fortunate to hire Nick Lerner. The guy is sensational. His commitment to the Club has been exemplary. He worked closely with an agronomist we also hired, Ed Edtchells. We hired David Heatwole as architect and his skills transformed several holes including most recently 18. We also hired Tom Willson, one of the best teaching pros around. He coached Rob Labritz at Whistling Straights for example.
The lesson is clear: good things happen when you hire people who know what they are doing and leave them to get on with it. It's so tempting to interfere!
We also made a series of physical upgrades: the course came first. If we had not done this there probably would be no Club today. The course was awful when we joined and despite the desires of a certain group of members sense prevailed and money was directed to start the restoration of the club. Tees, fairways, bunkers, greens were all upgraded. New equipment given to the crew to keep it in good shape was obtained. We built a maintenance facility. We beautified the course by revealing the awesome rock formations and with new plantings. This has been carried on by subsequent Boards to great effect.
After I left the Club I was delighted to be shown the completed water project. That was guided through by a former President, Roger Maxon. I consider this one of the most important investments the club could ever make. The water bill can be reduced, but more importantly, the club has a better guarantee that the supply of water will remain adequate during periods of stress. It takes only a few days to lose a golf course in summer in NY.
Today, as I pass by Bonnie I am proud to been part of the process to restore and rejuvenate the Club. It is in a prime location and now has a thriving membership and a gorgeous course.
Some of the folks who made Bonnie so special.
My dear friend OT invited me to play in May 2019. Here we are with Arthur B and Fausto L on the 15th tee box on a marvelous saturday afternoon. I think I shot a 77. It was great to be back.
I was fortunate again to play in July 2019, a re-match of Clarke B and my rivalry with OT and Herb; they were very gracious hosts as usual and equally gracious in defeat as they just lost out to a couple of fortunate birdies on the last two holes. Bonnie was looking sensational again:
Sadly, a former President, Geoff Whelan, passed in 2019. There was a gathering of around 60 folks at the Club to celebrate his life and his contribution to the Club. I first met him in 2001. He was Chair of Green and grounds, and later I would serve on Boards with him. Geoff’s blinding insight which I would later have at the centre of my approach was “restore first, renovate second”. Hence all the initial effort went into the course infrastructure and only gradually did we re-focus on improving the look of the place. It took 10 years I would suggest for this to come to fruition, and while it ran into some serious opposition from members who quite naturally wanted to see more immediate bang for their buck, the plan did work. Today, the course is really a delight to play.