The 59-year-old NY State resident is a residential and commercial real estate developed who has built and developed 11 golf clubs primarily in the greater NYC metro area.. Bergstol opened his first club in 1994 — the last one coming with the much anticipated Bayonne Golf Club which opened in 2006 — for a total of 11 courses. He is married to Kimberly and HAS five (5) children — Andrea, Paige, Branton, Paityn and Paulina.
I started in the golf development business at a time of great demand for new and better golf experiences. My personal dealings at some clubs, both public and private, were lacking and I felt strongly that there was a great need for a better golfing experience. In total I did 11 projects — three of which were with Tom Fazio, who I consider the best in the business. I learned a great deal from Tom and what he’s able to do with various sites. My work with Bayonne started soon after my first course development project in 1994.The Bayonne project was ongoing since then and opened in 2006..I’m a builder — someone who has done countless residential and commercial projects but golf has always been my passion.
Very few people have the wherewithal to thoroughly understand what’s needed in golf development. Taking something from nothing and making it spectacular. For me — that challenge became the driving force to move ahead and succeed.
MATT WARD: Bayonne GC celebrates its 10th anniversary this year — how special is that to you?
ERIC BERGSTOL: Bayonne is special because of the enormous effort, time and resources it took to build a golf course 4 miles from Manhattan. I doubt a facility like Bayonne will ever be reproduced. We imported 7 million cubic yards of material to create the golf course. The entire process from approvals until opening the clubhouse took around 15 years. Every obstacle you can imagine was fought and overcome to make Bayonne Golf Club a reality. I began with Bayonne near the time I started with my first golf club and continued until the club house opening at Bayonne in 2008.
MW: Getting the course built and opened was a massive operation — was it what you expected?
EB: The challenges were enormous from the environmental permitting to the coordination of importing 7 million cubic yards of fill raising the site from around 10 feet above sea level to around 100 feet above sea level. Working on the waterfront of the New York Harbor added to the sensitivity as well as the difficulty. The large quantity of dredge material, which had a consistency of soup when it was delivered, had to be processed on site with portland cement to bind the organics and allow the material to be able to be distributed on the site. The importation of the fill alone took 7 years. Prior to that was the environmental mitigation of the site and after was the construction and grassing of the course.
MW: Knowing what you know now — is there be anything different you would have done in retrospect?
EB: Probably not do the project. It took a lot out of me and as I stated before, I opened most of my other clubs I had built (eleven) while working on Bayonne. There were many instances where Bayonne would not have been completed but the challenges to get the club finished inspired me and pushed me beyond what would have been involved in a normal project. The great thing about building Bayonne were the many people who fell in love with the dream and put in the enormous effort to help make it a reality. It was an impressive team of people who helped get Bayonne built.
MW: Bayonne has a very active and engaged membership — what’s the key in handling their needs?
The original concept for Bayonne was to build a club for the new generation of golfers who still want exclusivity yet a friendly environment. The club is business friendly and walking only. The staff led by manager Laurie Levan works hard to create an atmosphere where the members feel like they are home. The course was designed to feel intimate in many ways. The small parking lot at the club house versus a sea of blacktop, to the many holes that leave from and return to the clubhouse. You can see many golf holes and thus golfers playing from the clubhouse creating an interesting flavor similar to the first hole at Merion and the first at the Old Course St. Andrews. The club meets every request possible from the members who do a lot of entertaining at Bayonne. We provide a club ferry to bring members and their guests back and forth from Manhattan. It is highly regarded by the members and a service offered by very few golf clubs.
MW: You’ve played golf in various different countries — curious to know — what course is at the top of your personal bucket list — in the USA and internationally?
EB: I have a passion for links golf — much of what you will discover at Bayonne. True links are not man-made, so I take tremendous pride that Bayonne feels natural despite the obvious in being within the proximity to industrial New Jersey and Manhattan. I can’t give you my one favorite but I’ll give you a few of what I believe are special. USA west coast — Cypress Point, San Francisco GC. East coast — Shinnecock Hills, Pine Valley. England — Sunningdale, Royal Birkdale, Swinley Forest. Scotland — Turnberry, Dornoch, North Berwick, Old Course St. Andrews. Ireland — Lahinch, Royal County Down, Royal Portrush, Port Stewart.
MW: Golf is going through a difficult period — frankly much of it is tied to an oversupply of facilities and a lesser number of active players. What would you advise the leading golf organizations to do in this matter?
EB: All golf organizations have been addressing the problem attributed to the oversupply of golf courses and the reduction of the participation rate throughout the country. There have been many creative suggestions which do help some clubs. Most clubs can’t make the transition and some will eventually close. I don’t see any real solutions for the traditional golf we currently play. The game is too slow for many and too difficult to enter. The real estate is far too expensive in most places to have short courses with fewer holes or courses with larger cups to move play along. In Great Britain some clubs require alternate shot play to keep golfers moving. For me I would lose interest in golf if I could only play every other shot in a round. The simple fact is unless more people begin to play the game many more golf facilities will close. Courses like Bayonne are fairly immune from that problem because of its location and proximity to many people but we take participation and member satisfaction very seriously and it is the driving theme of our club staff’s policy.
MW: Somewhat related to the last question – if you could change one thing in golf unilaterally what would it be?
EB: There are too many courses. Some need to close and recreate the demand golf has always enjoyed.
MW: You wake up in the morning — what fuels your passion to keep pushing ahead?
EB: My life in the golf world has changed significantly. I loved the challenge of finding property, fighting the battles that surround the development of any large project, and constructing the course. After my first club, I realized my passion and the missteps drove my desire to be better and more self-sufficient so I started developing, planning, designing, constructing, and managing our facilities. I truly enjoyed the design and golf course construction. I have often said that it became my art form, “painting with a bull dozer”. The golf down turn has changed the incredible amount of new golf development which happened over the past couple of decades. Our golf will be in the fine hands of our management team who are tasked to create a wonderful golfing environment while making sure the bills are paid. I get to move on to other creative development projects which may or may not include golf. I am hopeful golf will have a resurgence. Unfortunately, the days when I built about one club per year from 1994 through 2006 probably will not happen again in my life time. The history of golf is long and what goes up usually goes down and then up again.
MW: You’ve got one round to play and a foursome to play with — what’s the course and who are the three other people besides yourself – alive or dead?
EB: Too tough a question. I would play Bayonne because if it was the last round there are many memories I would need to remind myself of and cherish. Regarding the foursome — sadly my children are not players and my friends and associates are too many to pick just a few.
MW: Complete the sentence Eric Bergstol is …
EB: A humble man not afraid to fail. Building golf courses is a risk I happily undertook. I wake up every morning realizing I have much to learn and look forward to the new experiences and growth the new day brings. I say to myself, “what will I learn today”. I rely on those I work with and allow them the freedom to succeed or fail. I am a true delegator. I look for leaders and decision makers who take the initiative.
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