Hosts top women players in Aramco series
The verdict was in. Glen Oaks Country Club was a winner. On two occasions, people were overheard calling it “The Augusta of the north,” referring to the famed Georgia course.
The Old Westbury golf course recently hosted the Aramco Team Series-New York event, the third of a unique four-part series held on three continents and featuring six of the world’s top 20 women golfers. Presented by Saudi Golf and the European Ladies Tour (LET), it paired three professionals with an amateur competing to share the $800,000 top prize and an individual champion award of $200,000.
According to a spokesperson, the course met the criteria of being close to New York City and having the requisite infrastructure. Organizers built an enormous temporary building and other structures to aid tournament operations.
“The players absolutely loved it. It’s an amazing golf course. It could host a women’s major,” the spokesperson said.
The tourney was also blessed by splendid weather, marred only by drizzle and storm clouds late on its final day.
The foursome led by Jessica Korda (ranked 19th in the world) won a playoff played under the portable lights at the 17th hole, with Korda beating fellow team captain Sophia Popov of France on the second sudden-death hole.
Charley Hull of England shot a 12-under-par 204 over three rounds to edge Nelly Korda of the United States by one stroke. She scored an impressive 65 final round.
“The golf course was in great condition,” she told Anton Media Group. “I really enjoyed it. There were some tricky par-3s here, but it was a great event on a great golf course.”
Though the team format might have forced players to make slight changes to their approach, they were also competing for the individual title.
“I was aware of the competition,” Hull said. “I saw that Nelly [Korda] was coming up, so it can be a bit daunting when the world’s No. 1 is one shot behind you with three holes to play. I felt like I finished strong.”
It was a memorable week for head golf professional Tim Shifflett. On Oct. 13 he hosted golf legend Gary Player, part of the “trinity” (along with Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus) who dominated golf for more than a decade.
“He’s done a lot for the game,” Shifflett said of the nine-time Major winner. “I mentioned one of our teaching professionals here, Scott Ford, because Scott’s grandfather Doug won the Masters tournament in 1957. I told Gary that Scott was here and he played a lot of golf with Scott.”
Shifflett also gave a lesson to His Eminence Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who was the amateur in a foursome led by Danielle Kang, ranked 11th in the world. The Harvard Business School-educated Saudi is the chair of Aramco, the third most valuable company in the world and recently made news when the Saudi Development Trust he leads bought the English Premier League football club Newcastle. He was cheered by Newcastle fans the day after he played at Glen Oaks, sitting in the stands at the club’s stadium.
“I believe he’s never really played golf before,” the club pro said of Al-Rumayyan. “We had a lot of fun. We spent 45 minutes together and he started having success and really enjoyed it.”
Asked to sum up the event, Shifflett said, “It’s been a great week. We always enjoy hosting big events. We had the Northern Trust in 2017. We had the Met Open in 2016. We’ve hosted numerous local events like these. It’s been a pleasure to have the players here, to watch them play, to [see] their ability. Women’s golf has gotten so much better. It was fun to watch. To have a combination of the Ladies European Tour and LPGA and to have the women for the first time. It’s really terrific.”
“Was that a good score for this course (65 for Charley Hull on final round),” Shifflett was asked.
“Tremendous,” he replied. “The wind was blowing and it did not play easy at all. She did not make a bogey in the final round. That was a tremendous round of golf.”
Of the course he said, “We played the course roughly 6,500 yards. That’s the yardage they wanted. And I thought the hole locations were fair. The greens speeds were probably a little faster than what the Europeans were accustomed to. But the ladies played well. They’re wonderful players.”
Back Next Year?
Ahmed Al-Subaey, Aramco vice president of marketing, sales and supply planning, presided over the trophy presentation and had high praise for the course, thanking Glen Oaks Country Club President Jordan Ziegler.
“It’s great to be joined by the world’s greatest golfers in this exciting new format,” he said, and went on to mention support for the Gals on the Green Foundation, which introduces girls to golf and hands out scholarships. “I want to say to the professionals: You guys have had a tremendous impact on the girls around the world.”
Jessica Korda, in her remarks, said, “This golf course was in amazing shape. The grounds crew did an amazing job.”
She joked, “We almost had to have a talk yesterday because the greens were really fast.”
Korda also thanked the staff and the volunteers.
According to assistant golf pro Tyler Foxx, “Our course superintendent is Craig Currier and his main supporting staff includes irrigation specialist Jason Sartwell and assistant superintendents Kyle Shaw, Steve Mcpartlin, Tim Falvey and Joe Miles.”
Anton Media Group asked Al-Subaey, “Are you coming back here next year for this event?”
“We are. We’re talking to Jordan [Ziegler]. The timing is a bit of an issue right now,” he replied, adding that, in light of the lateness of the season, the organizers were shooting for an August date.
“Are you optimistic that they’ll be back next year?” Ziegler was asked.
He replied, “I hope so. We’ll do our best to have them back.”
Old Westbury Mayor Ed Novick said, “I and the board of trustees were very pleased to be able to work with and authorize the Aramco event supporting women’s empowerment. It is an excellent event for the village and Nassau County.”
Perhaps the most prestigious event hosted by Glen Oaks was the Northern Trust Golf Tournament, part of the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs, in 2017. Dustin Johnson won the $1.575 million top prize that year. The course also hosted a qualifying tourney for the men’s 2008 U.S. Open Championship, the Met PGA Championship in 2008 and 2014, and the Met Open in 2016.
Tourney Director Talks
Anton Media Group spoke with Matt Byers, who was chosen as tournament director after helping guide organizers to Glen Oaks. He was the operations manager for the Northern Trust tourney in 2017 at Glen Oaks.
“Because of that, I developed a relationship with the guys [at Glen Oaks],” Byers said. “I knew a couple of people who were looking and they asked me if I knew of any locations that might be suitable. Glen Oaks is so well taken care of, it could host a tournament year-round. It was the quality of the golf course, the location near New York, and the main reason was the connection I was able to make between them.”
He added, “People from the Aramco event reached out to me. I was a name that came up because I was involved in golf events in New York for a while. And once I helped them find a location they asked me to stay on as tournament director.”
Byers said he was involved in exploratory talks with the club about hosting the tourney next year.
“We’d love to come back,” he said.
Odds and Ends
On Oct. 13 the tournament proper began with a pro-am.
According to Shifflett, “We had some spots for our membership and we actually sold some raffle tickets and gave money to charity. And I pulled the winners out of a hat.”
Richard Radutzky was one of five club members who won a raffle to play in the pro-am.
“The golf course is not very tricky,” he told Anton Media Group. “It’s right in front of you. I think like any professional tour golf course you’ll miss it in the right spots. And I think they’ll be a bit challenged on the greens because they’ll be a little deceiving. What looks uphill can be downhill and vice versa.”
Having caddied the Northern Trust in 2017, a tournament that draws the world’s top men’s golfers, 23-year Glen Oaks caddie Pete Simmons might have been blasé about spending three days with a group of women professionals.
On the contrary. “It was a great experience,” he said.
“What was the best advice you gave?” he was asked.
“Basically, don’t let the shades of the greens fool you,” he responded. “They’re pretty quick. Looks are deceiving.”
Caddie Master Tony DeSousa of Hicksville has worked at the club for 45 years.
Regarding the Aramco Tournament he said, “I loved it. I’ve been around golf all my life. It was something different for the women. We had the Northern Trust in 2017. Sooner or later something is going to happen for the women as well.”
“It would be great if you can get a Ladies PGA here,” he was told.
“Are you kidding? That would be amazing,” he said.
Tom and Andrea Casserly of Dix Hills were among the dozens of spectators who ventured out for the final round on Oct. 16.
“The price was right,” Tom said, referring to the free admission. “It’s a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.”
When told of the high club membership and playing fees, Tom joked, “I’ll stick to the $15 senior rate at the Sunken Meadow Golf Course.”
Noted broadcaster and former All-Pro NFL wide receiver Ahmad Rashad was the amateur in a group led by Emily Kristine Pedersen. His best round was a 93.
Volunteers’ Crucial Role
Dozens of volunteers helped out at the event.
Valerie Zurblis of Rockville Centre jokingly called herself “the chair of the leader boards” and recruited residents to man the scoring displays at holes 6, 10 and 16. Among those helping with the leaderboards were Annette DiCarlo of Lynbrook and Patricia Jaquai of Floral Park.
Zurblis got constant updates on her phone. Volunteers walked the course with each foursome, keeping track of scoring on phone apps.
Zurblis belongs to the LPGA Amateur Long Island chapter. Under a different name, the club was the first in the country to be asked to marshal a major tourney—the 2002 US Open at Bethpage’s Black Course. Marshals monitor play and assist players and spectators.
Player Takes Ceremonial Tee
Golfing icon Gary Player officially launched the Aramco Team Series-New York tournament on Oct. 14, hitting the ceremonial tee shot. Player, widely considered one of the greatest golfers of all time, was in New York in his current role as Golf Saudi ambassador.
The 85-year-old, winner of nine majors, is a firm supporter of helping to grow women’s sport and sees the Aramco-backed New York event as an example of the support the sport needs to compete in a competitive US sports market.
“Women’s golf has been neglected terribly and it’s not fair,” said Player. “The average American doesn’t realize how well these women can play. I’m such a fan and supporter of women’s golf and I appeal to businesses to sponsor it. This is a really exciting event.”
He continued, “I watched most of the Solheim Cup this year and I don’t watch much golf anymore. To see these events, like the one here, sponsored around the world is fantastic for women’s golf. We are going to see great improvement in women’s golf and we need it, young women need role models. We see women playing rugby, soccer, kick boxing. It’s a whole new world and it’s exciting.”
The Aramco Team Series is a new, four-event format introduced to the Ladies European Tour LET this year, in which teams of three professionals and one amateur compete both together and as individuals for a share of $1 million prize money. The Aramco Team Series’ NFL-style draft is one of many innovations the tournament prides itself on. Collectively, the Aramco Team Series represents around 40 percent of earnings available on the LET in 2021.
Player, who resides in Florida, feels New York is a perfect spot for a series that has previously gone to London, Spain and culminates in Saudi Arabia next month.
“Coming back to New York has always been a thrill. It’s a very unique city,” he said. “People misjudge New York and they don’t realize what a great place it is with the surroundings so beautiful. You haven’t experienced life if you’ve not been here. But we also need to give opportunities to young people to get out of the city and experience golf courses like this. As my friend Nelson Mandela used to tell me, ‘Sport can change the world.’ I cannot speak highly enough about women’s golf.”
—Aramco Team Series-New York press release