Roughly eight years ago, the Eastport South Manor golf program was searching for a new course to call home. ESM had been using the Indian Island golf course at in Riverhead, but head coach Todd Skala wanted his team to play at a course closer to its school in Manorville.
Eventually, Skala reached out to Stanley Pine, general manager of Hampton Hills Golf and Country Club, located just north of Sunrise Highway in Westhampton.
“I asked Stanley about the availability of the course, and he had to talk to the board,” Skala said. “When he got back to me and said they were on board, I asked how much and he said, ‘No, no, this is free.’ That kind of shocked me. Golf is not a cheap sport, especially in this day and age. What he’s done for our school has been phenomenal for us.”
Pine said that after talking to managing general partner Barry Beil about bringing ESM onboard, they both decided to donate use of the course.
“It’s giving something back to the neighborhood,” Pine said. “Probably a dozen or more of my employees are kids that like golf who go to ESM. And it’s exposure because we don’t advertise. Most people don’t know that we have been referred to by New York Magazine as a hidden gem.”
Since joining Hampton Hills in 2003, the ESM varsity golf team has won five league championships. The team has only lost three home matches in the past six years and, more recently, went undefeated at Hampton Hills in 2010. Much of the team’s success has come from practicing on the tough greens at Hampton Hills, which were designed by world-renowned golf course architect Francis J. Duane. According to Pine, Duane was a president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and has built courses from Miami to Hawaii.
“We have dramatic elevation changes that make it very difficult for someone who’s not used to playing on such a hilly course,” Pine said.
“It’s a real, real tough course to play on,” Skala added. “The greens are tricky and really quick. Other teams aren’t practicing there, so it’s a big home-course advantage to be there.”
A number of players have gone on to pursue professional careers in golf. Anthony Bonsignore was ESM’s number one player before leaving the school last year to attend Hank Haney’s International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Bonsignore began attending the academy in January and plans to finish his high school career in the South.
Bonsignore wasn’t really into golf until he tried out and made the ESM junior varsity team in the seventh grade. That’s when his love of the game began.
“You can’t beat playing golf after school a few days a week,” he said. “I think being able to do that in the beginning helped me especially. And then the fact that the we were playing on the course for free helped all of us out a lot. Golf is an expensive sport, and it’s a great course. It’s beautiful, it’s private, it’s perfect.”
Matt Kontogianis graduated in 2006 from ESM, where he played on the varsity team for four years. He was the number one player for ESM his senior year and still holds the best individual record in a single season at 41-9.
Kontogianis went on to graduate from Penn State’s PGA golf management program in 2010, in which he was able to learn the ins and outs of golf operations, such as tournament operations, merchandising and human resource management. He has since returned home from college and is a professional golf teacher at Westhampton Country Club. He also works as a Class A PGA pro at Jonathan’s Landing Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida.
Kontogianis said he loves his career and it was something he knew he wanted to do since he attended ESM. He said he and the members of the team were well aware Hampton Hills donated its course to the team.
“Skala told us it was privilege to play there, so we were always pretty mindful,” he said. “Always wore khakis, where other teams would wear shorts.”
Another 2006 graduate of ESM, Evan Vonatsky, worked at Hampton Hills in the pro shop one summer for head pro Jack McGowan. After initially attending York College to play baseball, Vonatsky eventually left York for PGA golf management school at Campbell University in North Carolina, where he is three credits away from a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Following his graduation, Vonatsky hopes to pursue a master’s degree in golf management. His goal is to one day be a general manager of a top 100 golf course and country club.