Clubhouse Angst at Gardiner’s Bay

They don't make vantage points like this anymore--the clubhouse site at Gardiner's Bay Country Club

 His design of the recently built clubhouse at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, according to architect Dennis Wedlick, “involves a tension between preservation and modernization.” Certainly there was tension—club member John Feinstein called the project “a complete and utter disaster.”

The noted sportswriter and author has belonged to this Long Island summer enclave since boyhood and would not deny that its former clubhouse was due for extensive reconstruction. But he and other Gardiner’s Bay members would not have gone the route chosen by club officers, i.e., turning to an “expensive architect” whose interest in renovating with an eye toward preservation would likely be minimal.

Feinstein, interviewed as construction was nearing completion several years ago, claimed that dissenters were denied timely reports about Wedlick’s design for the new clubhouse, including cost projections.

“There were a lot of people demanding to see the plans,” he said. “By the time we got a look at them it was pretty much too late to do anything.” Steven Wright, a Wedlick design associate, insists the existing building was beyond help. “Parts of it were so decrepit they had to be roped off during club events to keep people from being injured,” commented Wright.

The chaotic democracy of any member-owned club naturally produces factional conflict around big decisions like clubhouse renovation—not to mention clubhouse teardown. In this case, says Feinstein, it was a rift between longstanding members who are devoted golfers and newer members more interested in boating and socializing.

“The club has added quite a few new-money members in the last 15 years,” he observed, adding that suggestions from his contingent were dismissed with phrases like “Oh, you golf people.” One of their main objections involved a set of grill-room windows “that turn a million-dollar view of the bay into a thousand-dollar view,” moaned Feinstein.

Descriptions of the Gardiner’s Bay design plan make it clear that careful research and thought went into the Wedlick group’s decisions about configuration and visual style. As the building prepared for its grand opening, backers—and perhaps many impartial observers—were sure to offer up praise. But it was certain that other heads would be shaking. Feinstein felt the real obstacle to design revisions was the tear-down of the existing clubhouse before plans (and final budget projections) for the new one could be generally reviewed. “We were given an original $1.8 million estimate that was adjusted up to $2.8 million.” His advice to clubs contemplating new clubhouses: “Don’t allow demolition until you know what the new clubhouse is going to look like and what it’s going to cost.”

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