The Lido rendering

The Lido will be a private club when it opens in 2023 – a soft opening is anticipated for next summer or early fall – though some weekday tee times will be available to Sand Valley guests.

TOWN OF ROME – Brandon Carter has given nearly four dozen tours of The Lido to prospective members and guests at Sand Valley Resort and has gotten three nuanced reactions.

“They are either blown away, very blown away or extremely blown away,” said Carter, the resort’s marketing and communications manager.

VIDEO: Gary D'Amato's first impression of The Lido.

Count me a member of the extremely blown away crowd. Standing in the middle of The Lido on Wednesday, surrounded by a vast expanse of turf and sand, I was overwhelmed by the scale of the course, which is under construction just to the north of the resort proper. Though The Lido is being built on 225 acres, the treeless terrain made the place feel 10 times bigger. Angry gray clouds gathering on the horizon added to the effect.

The Lido will be a private club when it opens in 2023 – a soft opening is anticipated for next summer or early fall – though some weekday tee times will be available to Sand Valley guests.

The course will be the centerpiece of a 1,200-acre conservancy that will be separate from, but complement, the resort’s 53 holes (Sand Valley, Mammoth Dunes and a 17-hole short course, the Sandbox). Sand Valley, owned by the Keiser family and modeled after patriarch Mike Keiser’s Bandon Dunes in Oregon, has rapidly become one of America’s top golf destinations.

That is all well and good, but what makes The Lido so eagerly anticipated is that it is a faithful reproduction of a fabled “lost” course on Long Island, noted for the men who designed and built it: Charles Blair Macdonald and protégé Seth Raynor, the Ruth and Gehrig of early golf course architecture in America. A third member of that Mount Rushmore, a young Alister MacKenzie, contributed the design for one hole, years before he and Bobby Jones would build Augusta National.

This is not a “replica” course. It’s The Lido Golf Club reincarnated. It is golf’s equivalent of raising Atlantis from the ocean depths, or rebuilding Pompeii, brick by painstaking brick. It’s an audacious project, one that will invite scrutiny from course architecture buffs, grace the covers of golf magazines and jump to the top of discerning golfers’ bucket-list courses.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider this: Carter said he has a backlog of some 750 emails from golfers who expressed interest in joining The Lido. They were too late. Membership was capped at 166, a number that was reached quickly, with founding members paying a $50,000 initiation deposit.

The original Lido Golf Club was a collection of classic template holes from the British Isles, built with 20 million wheelbarrows of sand dredged from a nearby channel in what was, for its time, an incredible feat of engineering. The course opened in 1917 but was demolished during World War II by the U.S. Navy, which declared the area a strategic defense site.

The Lido measured a then-preposterous 6,693 yards, which strained the limits of hickory-shafted clubs of the period. Before it disappeared, leaving myth as an heir, it was by acclaim the most demanding golf course ever built.

“It was the longest, hardest course in the world at the time,” said Peter Flory of Chicago, a student of classic golf course architecture and perhaps the world’s leading authority on The Lido. “And it was incredibly wild out there with the grasses and the sand and the wind and the ocean.”

Brothers Michael and Christopher Keiser, the operators of Sand Valley, weren’t the first to dream about bringing The Lido back to life. In fact, Ban Rakat Club near Bangkok, Thailand, recently opened Ballyshear Golf Links, a Lido-inspired layout designed by Gil Hanse.

“I’ve talked to Michael about that, and he’s talked to Gil,” Carter said. “I think there’s certainly some holes out there that are very similar to the original, but then (Hanse) has his own holes out there, too.”

The Keisers didn’t want a course inspired by The Lido. They wanted The Lido. They hired architect Tom Doak to recreate the course, with features accurate practically to the linear foot. The project was made possible by Flory’s unparalleled collection of photos, newspaper articles and rare aerials, which he used to produce a stunning virtual rendering. That was the DNA. The site, a blank slate of unremarkable sand scrub, could easily be molded by Oliphant Golf and Doak’s shapers.

“Other than the sandy base, it wasn’t a great site for golf,” Carter said. “But that allowed us to get every detail right. If you look at the wind charts for the original site and then you compare those charts to this location, throughout the year the wind speeds and directions match almost identically. And so, the way this course is oriented matches the prevailing wind on the original site.

“I think it’s such an important factor that this course may not have happened if that wasn’t completely right. These holes are designed with such purpose that you really need the element of wind.”

Thanks to long stretches of ideal weather this year, construction is ahead of pace and 13 holes are grassed. We walked them on a day that was so calm, not even the tiniest ripple disturbed The Lido’s prominent water feature, a lagoon. It was a mirror, reflecting the pines and past-peak fall colors on the course’s perimeter. Carter, who lives just down the road from the site and has walked it more than 100 times, was moved to whip out his cellphone and take photos.

“I’ve been out here on days where it feels very much like Bandon,” he said. “A three- or four-club wind, easy. (Sand Valley) has some holes that are kind of in valleys or below ridges, so you get blocked from the wind. Out here, you don’t. I would say it blows one or two clubs harder here than it would at the resort.”

The routing and design elements are ingenious. Golfers of all abilities will love The Lido because it can and will be played countless different ways, through the air and on the ground.

The fescue fairways are generous in width, but the optimal landing areas are not always evident from the tee. The massive greens, some 50 yards wide and three clubs deep, are situated and fortified in ways that reward favorable angles and punish careless approaches.

The direction and intensity of the wind will make The Lido a course played as much by feel as by a yardage book. On one day, a par-4 may be a driver hit with abandon downwind followed by an easy wedge; the very next day it might be a cautiously steered 3-iron followed a 6-iron cut into a crosswind.

Such care has been put into The Lido to get it exactly right that an “editing” process, post-shaping, has sometimes necessitated shifting a fairway bunker just a yard or two. The entire 15th green, Carter said, was moved a few feet when it didn’t match up precisely with the topographical mapping.

“I think with the amount of information that Peter has collected, the goal for Tom and his crew is that, whenever someone comes out here, they can’t present a picture or an image and say, ‘This isn’t right. Look at this bunker,’” Carter said. “They’re not cutting any corners. If you talk to Brian Schneider, who does a lot of the bulldozer shaping for Tom, I think he’d say the toughest part has been the editing process.

“Normally, when you’re building any other golf course, you wouldn’t touch it. You know, ‘That looks good, this is fine.’ But that editing process is done to make sure it’s right.”

A few liberties have been taken to spread holes apart for safety’s sake. For instance, on the original Lido, which was built on a compressed site of about 150 acres, the green on the fifth hole encroached into the fairway on No. 13. Doak separated them by 20 yards so that golfers putting on No. 5 won’t get plunked by errant shots from the 13th tee. But he then built an identical second “green” into the edge of the 13th fairway, complete with bunkers, so that the hole plays exactly the same as did the original.

That kind of attention to detail is extraordinary. It’s why The Lido, with five holes still being shaped and months before the first divot is taken, already feels like magic.

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