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Teed Off in the Hamptons

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The summer season opened last week with the perfect spectator sport for South Fork folks: a multisided development battle complete with million-dollar lawsuits and high-profile players like Ronald Lauder.

Now the Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals has to referee the parsing of "miniature golf." Does the proposed expansion at the beloved Poxabogue Golf Course -- beyond enlarging the existing driving range from 61 to 85 tees and amping up the parking lot by as many as 50 more spaces -- constitute a "miniature-golf course" or merely a golf course that is miniature?

Miniature golf! The very idea of it sounds grotesquely "up-island" to the defiant band that makes up East End Property Owners. "They're calling it 'reality golf,' but miniature golf is miniature golf," says Jean Sinenberg, a member of the association's board who lives around the corner from Poxabogue, with a snort.

"It attracts a very different crowd from golf." Sinenberg was still reeling from the $1 million lawsuit PGC Property had filed against her -- and each of her fellow board members -- just one hour earlier.

To complicate matters, Ron Lauder, the cosmetics heir who owns the farmland opposite the course, has also waded in. He clearly finds the mini-golf plan baffling, since his own efforts to donate land just across the street to Itzhak and Toby Perlman's music school were torpedoed by preservationists three years ago. Received with open arms by Shelter Islanders, the school and its much-attended concerts are now thriving.

"Whatever you call it, miniature golf has evolved a lot," says Jeff Shulman, the chief operating officer of PGC Properties, which bought the 40-year-old public course in 1998. "This is a realistic putting course. It won't feature the Coney Island image with dragons and windmills. It will have state-of-the-art synthetic turf!"

The contest isn't as simple as whether one approves of miniature golf. The tangle over the golf-course expansion (and its impenetrable zoning questions) is only one part of the hubbub. PGC also maintains that the owners' association has repeatedly misrepresented PGC's plans by exploiting Hamptons bugaboos -- garish lights and traffic. And the lawsuit accuses the opposition group of setting up a mischievous Website full of anti-PGC propaganda using the name Poxabogue.org (uncannily close to the golf course's own Website, Poxabogue.com).

EEPO board chairman Peter Wadsworth, a former Kidder, Peabody & Co. investment banker, scoffs at the notion that the golf course owns the name Poxabogue. "The name dates back to the 1800s, at least. There's a Poxabogue Lane, a Poxabogue Pond, a Poxabogue Cemetery . . . "

In the coming weeks, the game will tighten as the matter progresses through the boards and courts. The media will cover the meetings; the Candy Kitchen will fill with gossip. Just as with the Mets versus the Yankees, it's rich versus richer.


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