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Approaching championship Sunday at Great Neck, looking back at a 'miraculous' summer

Jim O'Neill

Publication: theday.com

Published August 31. 2012 5:00PM   Updated August 31. 2012 5:50PM

I play in a good number of CSGA senior events throughout the summer and I must say, the question most asked of me goes something like this: "I heard you folks were in trouble last year. How did it all work out?" It was no secret that the old NLCC was in financial trouble, as are so many other small, private clubs around the nation, and many of my fellow players were intrigued by the so-called "Great Neck Miracle," the sobriquet I use when telling the full story to them.

And make no mistake, the rise of Great Neck Country Club from the ashes of NLCC is nothing short of miraculous, an entirely unintended consequence of the fall of the first private club in the area.

I am happy to report that all is more than well at Great Neck. Dave and Ann Mortimer have poured more than their money into the new enterprise; they have embarked on a very large commitment to the people of this area and we members are the very fortunate recipients of a miracle none of us could ever have foreseen.

The Mortimers have decided to essentially rebuild the infrastructure of the club, pouring millions into the reconstruction of a restaurant that will now be open to the public and into a banquet facility that will rival the best in the area. Mortimer hired the highly respected Brian "Butch" Langley to make this all work, while patiently waiting for the construction to catch up to the enthusiasm. The new patio will be open in time for Club Championship Day on Sunday with the Mortimers hosting a cocktail party for the members following play. The restaurant is in the final stages of construction with an October target date for a "soft" opening.

The commitment to the golf course itself remains steadfast with Dave Mortimer himself promising top-flight conditions, especially as he comes to understand more about the nature of the game. All of this accrues to members at a $2,700 per season price point and that was the key to the huge upsurge in membership which has resulted in a full house with a waiting list, something no one, not even Mortimer, could have anticipated back in the dead of winter.

The formula isn't new. Keep the price of golf low so as to attract members; build attractive facilities that golfers and the public want to use; run the food end in such fashion as to be the profit center, enabling you to keep golf prices at an attractive rate. Simple enough. You just have to have the guts and cash to make it work. Will it work? As the Zenmaster said, "We'll see."

The early returns are very promising and perhaps the biggest test will come this winter when the issue of membership retention will be the club's focus. But for now, we are a group of very happy campers, playing a top golf course at a very reasonable rate. The miracle is that in February, most of us were in the doldrums, thinking we had played our last round at the venerable course and wondering if there was a golfing future for us.

The Great Neck Championship Day features a number of good matches. Sue Schmidtknecht takes on Sue Delpriore in a battle of former women's champions while the men's side will see someone crowned for the first time as Dave Gaccione takes on Eric Bergstrom. Eric swept aside your kindly old blogger in the round of eight. I played my heart out only to realize "nice try, you old goat, but this kid is waaaaaayyyyyyy better than you are." And nicer, too. Which makes the finals a battle of the really good guys to see who's the first Great Neck champ.

And speaking of finals. Scott Venditto, pride of theMontvillechapter of the Venditto clan, will be playing Ron Soccoli, Jr, he also of a famous athletic family, in the finals at the Black Hall Club. Scott advanced to the final by defeating Bill Hermanson, a feat of which Scott will grow prouder as each year passes. The list of players who have beaten Bill in a match of consequence is shorter than the list of highly respected Congressman. Psssst!! Keep this quiet. Scotty is my nephew.

And speaking of tournaments, lets make first mention of one of the biggest events of the year, the Senior Two-Ball at Great Neck Country Club. This is the fourth annual and it has always attracted one of the strongest fields in the state. Open to any amateur teams over the age of 55, the tourney is a one-day, 18-hole event in a better-ball format with a prize list that is the tops in the state during the golf season. The event has both a gross and net component and there is a guaranteed first prize of $1,000 per team in both the gross and net divisions. The tournament field has grown each year and it is advised you get your entry in early. The date of the tournament is Wednesday, Oct. 10. You can get more info by emailing me at zincman@sbcglobal.net or by going to the Great Neck Country Club website at greatneckgolf.com

Every week I pick a playing partner everyone would love playing with along with a restaurant recommendation. This week's nominee is Tom "Binky" Bordner and we will be playing each other in the Super-Senior Finals at Great Neck. Binky was my first athletic hero when I was introduced to him 58 years ago. He was the star catcher for the VFW in the New London National Little League when I was a rookie 9-yr old. Ever smiling and generous with his encouragement, he went on to star at Waterford High and then on to a distinguished military career. He is still ever-smiling and generous, and still commands the respect of everyone who knows him. Some heroes never disappoint you.

And speaking of dinner, give Gaspar's a try. It's onBank StreetinNew Londonand I had a fabulous meal there recently with old friends Gil and Carol Shasha. Try the wienerschnitzel. Outstanding!

Jim O'Neill is a member at Great Neck Country Club

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