On Independence Day 230-odd Joe Public golfers, paying $31 each,
played at Bethpage Black, the severe A.W. Tillinghast muni
reworked by Rees Jones for last month's U.S. Open. On that same
day, 60 miles to the east, 21 carefully selected golfers played
at The Bridge, a new Jones-designed course on the East End of
Long Island, in the vicinity of Shinnecock Hills and more than a
few $10 million summer homes. The Bridge, on the site of the
former Bridgehampton Race Circuit course, is no muni. The
initiation fee is said to be $500,000 in the form of a long-term
refundable bond. To date the club has no paying members, six
honorary members and one managing owner: Robert M. Rubin, 48, a
retired commodities trader with eclectic tastes who, over the
past 19 years, has invested $25 million in a course on which he
hopes to someday break 100. He knows enough about golf--he took
up the game five years ago--to know it is predicated on hope.
Someday he hopes to have 80 carefully selected members at his
This is an article from the July 15, 2002 issue
Rubin is a better-than-average putter. He swings and putts
lefthanded, employing a modified Dr. Strangelove grip, the clasp
Bernhard Langer used when he leaked the final putt at Kiawah
Island that cost the Europeans the 1991 Ryder Cup. For Rubin the
right hand is low on the handle and the left hand clamps around
the right forearm, against which the putter shaft is braced. His
innovation is to jam his right index fingernail into the grip so
deeply that all color is drained from the finger. This method
serves as a tension reliever for Rubin, who needs all the
tension relief he can get. On the backswing of his putting
stroke, a moment of serenity for most golfers, Rubin's face
contorts viciously, at least early in the round, until he has
made the necessary adjustments to the speed of his greens. "I
am," he says, "an advanced type A personality."
It was auto racing that brought Rubin to the hilly 513-acre
tract his course now traverses. He began spending summers in the
Hamptons in the late 1970s, in his early days as a kid trader
making serious money, and raced cars as an amateur on the fabled
course known to generations of gearheads as The Bridge. He owned
many prized cars, once employing two full-time mechanics to
maintain them, but the grandest of his rides was a 1962
competition Ferrari 250 Gran Turismo Omologato, which he bought
in 1987 for $1.8 million and which he sold three years later for
$10.75 million. He sold reluctantly, but he needed some quick
cash to settle his first divorce. He is now completing a second
divorce and has been reduced to driving a plain-Jane Audi
station wagon, but the car is roomy enough for his fiancee,
Stephane, a French lawyer working in New York City; her son; his
daughter; and their infant boy. He is, he says, golf-course rich
but cash poor.
Professional racing at The Bridge ended in 1983, the victim of a
Southampton anti-noise ordinance. Developers ogled the land, but
Rubin and a partner and friend from his business life, Gary
Davis, beat them to it, spending about $9 million for the site.
One day in 1992 a town official said to Rubin, "Why don't you
build a golf course?" Rubin had never played the game. He had
never even been to a driving range. A decade later The Bridge
was opened as a golf course. There was no ceremony, no gathering
of members, of course. There was...nothing.
Rubin, a full-time doctoral candidate in architecture at
Columbia, is working with an architect to design a clubhouse
that he says will be nothing like the four heralded clubhouses
that dot Long Island's South Fork, those at Atlantic, Maidstone,
the National and Shinnecock Hills. The clubhouse at The Bridge
will be thoroughly modern and honor the land's racing past.
Ownership has its privileges, and Rubin is way into the racing
thing. He likes to point out that when you leave the course, the
road you use was once Turns 1 through 4 of the race course. He
has left intact the flag stations and the spectator bridge
emblazoned with the words CHEVRON GASOLINES. He has created a
scorecard depicting an old Bridge racing scene, and out on the
course the pins have black-and-white checkered flags, matching
the tee markers. "There's a fine line," he says, "between
honoring the vestiges of the past and becoming a theme park."
He's about on it, and he knows it.
Rubin grew up in central New Jersey in the 1960s, in a period
and place captured for posterity in Bruce Springsteen's music.
He aspired to own a Corvette festooned with flame decals.
Rubin's father, Harold, was an appliance repairman and his
mother, Evelin, a schoolteacher and a nurse. He left for
Exeter--the elite New Hampshire boarding school, which he
attended on scholarship--on the weekend of his bar mitzvah, in
1966, when he was 13. He graduated in 1969 at 15. He graduated
from Yale in 1974, at 20. Evidently he's smart, although he has
his doubters. "Most people would say I have too high a
percentage of my net worth devoted to the course," he says.
Rubin borrows his life motto from novelist William Gaddis: "Life
is what happens when you're making other plans." Rubin's first
job out of college was as a newspaper reporter. He fell into the
commodities field only because a friend in the business needed
help writing a memo about the South African Krugerrand. For
years, Rubin says, people believed he had a deep insight into
whether the price of certain precious metals would go up or
down. Sometimes he did. Often he was lucky. "When a Wall Street
firm starts making a lot of money, the principals at the firm
start to believe their own bulls---," says Rubin.
Which is not to say Rubin has washed himself clean of his
master-of-the-universe ways. Speaking over the intercom to his
building's doorman from his very funky Central Park West
apartment recently--he and his family were run out of their
downtown Manhattan digs by the Sept. 11 attacks--he refers to
himself as Mr. Rubin. While driving to The Bridge and talking on
a cellphone in French, he refers to himself as Monsieur Rubin.
He mangles the pronunciation of Jack Nicklaus's surname, saying
"Nick-o-laus," and calls Ben Crenshaw "what's-his-face." Asked
if he hopes someday to make money from The Bridge, Rubin says,
"I hope to make a lot of money." While reviewing a very short
list of golfers scheduled to play his course one recent weekend,
he comes across the name of a person not to his liking and says
to his club pro, the unflappable Jeff Warne, "Who said this guy
could play? Call him back and tell him he's not playing unless
he speaks to me directly first." Returning his attention to the
sheet, he says, "There are some aggressive people in New
York--not that I'm one of them." He has a sense of humor.
He also has a superb course. The Bridge is natural-looking and
breezy, with wide fairways, magnificent water views from its
many elevated tees and a nice sense of distance from the rush of
the world. (There are no houses or building lots on the course.)
Jones had no budget limits in building the course, and it shows.
The Bridge looks and plays as if it's been there for years. The
bunkers, deep and menacing, look as if they were built by sheep
in winter, desperate to keep warm. On all 18 greens you can run
your ball on from the front and often from the sides and back,
Elite golfers, playing the par-72 course at its full 7,341
yards, will love The Bridge because they can bomb one long drive
after another; they'll hit driver 14 times. For the rest of
us--that is, the few of us who can get our name on the sheet and
past Rubin's watchful eye--the course is totally playable,
provided you play from the appropriate tees, of which there are
four sets, and provided you are fit enough to manage its hills.
There are no carts at The Bridge, not for those under the age of
65. Why? Because Rubin doesn't want them. "I think carts really
suck," he says. He'd like to have a big event someday at The
Bridge. (The Ryder Cup would do.) "That's how the course was
built," he says, with a big event in mind. "This course is about
But courses are ultimately about the people who play them. That
is why the U.S. Open at Bethpage captivated so many people--the
course is truly public. The aura of Augusta National cannot be
separated from the riddle of its admissions process. In the
Hamptons, excess is a way of life, but even in that gilded
territory the personality type of a golfer willing to part with
a half-million dollars to join a club is unknown. In the coming
years Rubin will find out if such people exist. You can make
your guesses, but Rubin is keeping an open mind. "There is no
single monolith that defines the rich and the superrich," he
says. He is the one-man admissions committee and expects no
problems finding 80 good members, without regard to sex, race or
religion. He says he'll spend years to fill the tiny membership
roster if need be. In time he'll become the one-man expulsion
committee, too. "Guy abuses the help, he's out," Rubin says.
He says he is sifting through hundreds of letters from people
interested in joining the club. "When Robert E. Rubin and I were
both on Wall Street, I was always called the 'other Bob Rubin,'"
he says, referring to the former treasury secretary in the
Clinton Administration. "I had to build a golf course to become
the Bob Rubin."
He built the course to prevent a piece of land, precious to him,
from turning into another housing development. Along the way he
fell under golf's spell. On his course the other day, in the
middle of a long series of double bogeys, Rubin was asked if he
"I love golf," he said without hesitation. Later he explained
why: "Golf is very much like racing, except that it's not
dangerous. They both involve a series of economical movements
that must be exquisitely timed. They both have to be done with a
combination of concentration and relaxation. The difference is
that when you make a mistake while racing, you might die. You
make a mistake in golf, you might lose a ball."
As he drove out of The Bridge, through Turns 1 through 4, his
hands were on the wheel of his Audi, racing position, 2 and 10
o'clock. His clubs were at his club. A weekend with potential
members was coming up. Bob Rubin, the golfing Bob Rubin, is in
the game. He never planned it this way, but he is. He's in big.
course to become the Bob Rubin."
Bridge. "That's how the course was built," he says.