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Friday, June 5, 2009


The Greatest Long Island Golf Moments

Garden City Golf
A large crowd watches the championship match of the 1936 U.S. Amateur at Garden City (N.Y.) Golf Club between John W. Fischer and Jack McLean. Fischer won in 37 holes. (USGA Museum)

By Dr. William Quirin

Long Island has witnessed its share of golf history by hosting eight U.S. Opens, seven U.S. Amateurs, four U.S. Women’s Amateurs, three Walker Cup Matches, two USGA Senior Amateurs and two U.S. Amateur Public Links Championships. And it has no shortage of great golf courses that have yet to see USGA action. Here are some highlights from more than a century of Long Island golf.

Meadow Brook Club, Hempstead, 1895

The USGA conducted the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship in 1895 — the same year the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Open began — at Meadow Brook Club. Neither rain nor fog deterred the 13 contestants, who played the nine-hole course once before lunch, then again in the afternoon. Lucy Barnes Brown of Shinnecock Hills Golf Club emerged a two-stroke victor with a 132 total.

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, 1896

Among the contestants in the 35-player field for the 1896 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills — the second edition of this championship — were teenagers John Shippen and Oscar Bunn, both members of the crew that built Shinnecock Hills and who still were caddies at the club.

But when some of the white players in the field learned that Shippen was the son of a black minister, they refused to play. USGA President Theodore Havemeyer then put his foot down and told the dissenting players that the USGA could and would conduct the championship without them, if necessary. The players relented, and Shippen played on.

He played well, too.

Shippen eventually tied for sixth in what was then a 36-hole championship, returning scores of 78-81 (the winner, James Foulis, carded 78-74). For the record, Bunn finished 21st.

Nassau Country Club, Glen Cove, 1904

He was only 17, but Jerry Travers eagerly anticipated his first encounter with 42-year-old Walter Travis, winner of that year’s British Amateur. Their meeting came on Oct. 8 in the final of the Nassau Open. Feeling that his putting had not been up to par, Travers switched for the match to a center-shafted Schenectady putter — a club that Travis himself used and which would be banned by the R&A in Britain from 1910 to 1951. In fact, Travis was so taken aback when he saw a Schenectady in Travers’ hand that he looked into his bag to see if the youngster had swiped his own.

The match turned into a battle of the Schenectadies, with both players wielding hot putters. Travers found himself two holes down with five holes to play. Undaunted, the younger player got back to all square on the 17th hole, then
won the match with a 12-foot putt for a birdie on the third extra hole.

And thus began one of the first great rivalries in American golf. Between 1900 and 1913, the pair won seven U.S. Amateurs between them — Travers winning four and Travis three.

Garden City Golf Club, 1908

The 18th hole at Garden City is unusual for a finishing hole, being a relatively short par 3 over a pond to a devilishly bunkered green. In a semifinal of the 1908 U.S. Amateur, Walter Travis was 1-down to Jerry Travers when Travis’ tee shot found the deep bunker to the left of the green (Travers hit safely).

Worse was to follow. Travis’ second shot stayed in the bunker, as did his third. At that point, Travis picked up his ball, climbed out of the bunker and shook his opponent’s hand. Match over.

Even more galling for Travis was that he had put the bunker there himself when he redesigned the course. The so-called “Travis Bunker” was detested by the membership. As one member reputedly said after the match, “Well, that’s one time the Old Man dug his own grave.”

National Golf Links of America, Southampton, 1911

As a prominent player in early U.S. championships and a founding father of the USGA, Charles Blair Macdonald knew the best courses American golf had to offer, yet he felt they were inferior to the great courses abroad — particularly in Scotland, where he had learned the game. In 1904, he began in earnest to create the classic American course, and called it the National Golf Links of America. Macdonald conceived the idea of “transatlantic translation,” whereby he would build a course in this country which included holes that embodied the principles of the great holes abroad. He traveled to Great Britain to gather ideas and then traveled the east coast of the U.S. looking for the ideal terrain.

He found it in Southampton, adjacent to Shinnecock Hills — “a God-endowed stretch of blessed seclusion,” as Macdonald called it. Tons of earth were moved to create the National, and in 1911 it opened to rave reviews. The signature holes? The National has 18 of them, but the most famous are the Alps, the par-4 third, borrowed from Prestwick in Scotland, with a diagonal fairway and a blind approach, and the Redan fourth hole, a par 3 borrowed from North Berwick, also in Scotland, with a diagonal sloping green and a large front bunker.

Garden City Golf Club, 1913

Jerry Travers didn’t look likely to win the 1913 U.S. Amateur. He was certainly one of the top players in the country at the time — a three-time national champion already — but he barely advanced through the qualifying rounds at Garden City. In fact, Travers had to survive an 11-man playoff for the final positions.

The championship featured Francis Ouimet, just two weeks before his landmark victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the U.S. Open at The Country Club outside Boston. Travers met Ouimet in the second round. On the 26th hole, 1 up at the time, Ouimet hit a great iron shot inside 10 feet. As for Travers, to quote the legendary British golf writer Bernard Darwin, “With the joy of battle in his eye, he played a still finer shot.” Travers won the hole and went on to win the most electrifying match of the championship.

In winning the final, he set a record at the time of four U.S. Amateur titles (a mark later surpassed by Bob Jones, who won five).

The Lido Club, Lido Beach, 1917

Lido was Charles Blair Macdonald’s next challenge, after the National. In 1914, he was tasked to build a course on marshland and swamp that was being reclaimed from an area between the Atlantic Ocean and Reynolds Channel — an inland waterway.

“It really made me feel like a creator,” Macdonald would recall.

But he wasn’t the only creator. Macdonald enlisted the British magazine Country Life to run a design competition for what would be Lido’s fourth hole, a par 4 to measure 360-460 yards. The winner was an Englishman named Alister MacKenzie, a former surgeon who had served in the Boer War before becoming a promising course architect.

MacKenzie suggested a hole with three fairways. Two were large and hittable but separated by water, which made reaching the green in two exceedingly difficult. The third fairway was a small, raised island set in a lagoon, difficult to hit but with a landing area that would leave a far easier approach for those who succeeded. MacKenzie’s work was called the Channel Hole and eventually became Lido’s 18th. Lido shut down in 1942, a victim of the Great Depression and naval operations during World War II, but was reopened with a new Robert Trent Jones design in 1956 and today is a public facility.

Still, MacKenzie’s work gave great impetus to his new career. With Bob Jones, he went on to design Augusta National, which opened in 1933.

Inwood Country Club, 1921

By capturing the 1921 PGA Championship at Inwood, Walter Hagen became the first American-born winner, defeating “Long Jim” Barnes in a well-played final match.The championship was not without drama. Heavy rains interrupted the semifinals, and Barnes and his opponent, Emmet French, agreed to resume play the following morning. Hagen’s opponent, Cyril Walker, refused, however, and their match continued to its conclusion.

Hagen got soaked while winning, but the following day Barnes had to play 12 holes to conclude his match early in the morning before beginning the 36-hole final. Hagen won, 3 and 2, to capture the first of his five PGA titles.

National Golf Links of America, 1922

The idea of a golf competition among different countries arose after World War I. George Herbert Walker, president of the USGA and the maternal grandfather of 41st President George H.W. Bush, had been part of a contingent that had been meeting with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, Scotland, to confer on the Rules of Golf and to foster international relationships through the game. Walker proposed a team competition and donated what he called the International Challenge Trophy, but which the press quickly dubbed the “Walker Cup.”

Early in 1922, the Royal and Ancient announced that it would send a team to compete for the Walker Cup later
that year. The matches were played in August at the National Golf Links of America, Walker’s home course. After four 36-hole foursomes matches and eight 36-hole singles matches, the American team won 8-4.

The Brits had it tough, as each of the eight U.S. team members — Bob Jones, Francis Ouimet, Jess Sweetser, Chick Evans, Robert Gardner, Jesse Guilford, Max Marston, and W.C. Fownes — had been, or would become, a U.S. Amateur champion.

Nassau Country Club, 1923

Often when Bob Jones visited Long Island he would spend some time at Nassau Country Club, where the pro was Jim Maiden, Jones’ first instructor and the brother of Stewart Maiden, Jones’ mentor in his native Atlanta. On the Monday before the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood, Jones did just that.

After playing Nassau’s second nine with Maiden, Jones complained about his putting stroke. The pair went to the practice green, and soon the coach suggested that Jones try Maiden’s putter, which he called Calamity Jane. Jones had immediate success with the putter (see “Jones Wins His First U.S. Open,” below), so Maiden gave him the club.

Jones eventually had several copies made of his signature putter. He won the Grand Slam in 1930 using one of the replicas, Calamity Jane II, which is on display in the USGA Museum in Far Hills, N.J. Another copy is on display in Nassau’s halfway house.

Inwood Country Club, 1923

When he stood on the 18th tee in the playoff for the 1923 U.S. Open at Inwood Country Club, Bob Jones felt a sense of urgency. The 21-year-old had been playing in USGA championships for seven years. He had reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur when he was only 14 but had never triumphed. The previous day, he had double-bogeyed the 18th hole, and ended up in a playoff with Bobby Cruickshank.

This day was different. Jones and Cruickshank were even after 17 holes. Jones hit his drive into the right rough and faced a 190-yard approach over a pond. Without hesitation, Jones hit a long iron 6 feet from the hole to win his first major championship. A plaque marks the spot of the shot.

Women’s National Golf and Tennis Club, Glen Head, 1924

The Women’s National Golf and Tennis Club was the dream of Marion Hollins, U.S. Women’s Amateur champion in 1921, the first USA Curtis Cup captain in 1932, and a successful businesswoman. Hollins envisioned a golf club exclusively for women and channeled her considerable energy toward making it a reality.

Hollins engaged designer Devereux Emmet to create a course that wouldn’t frustrate the better women players with excessive length, yet would continually challenge them with clever placement of hazards. The locations of the hazards were determined by the average carry of the drives of three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Alexa Stirling.

Women’s National opened in 1924 but, like many other clubs, ran into financial problems during the Great Depression. In 1941, it merged with The Creek Club, as their membership lists frequently overlapped. Six years later, the property was purchased by the newly formed Glen Head Country Club, whose mixed membership renovated and redesigned the course. Hollins’s dream was over.

Salisbury Country Club, 1926

The 1926 Metropolitan Open resulted in a 54-hole playoff between Macdonald Smith (U.S. Open runner-up in 1910) and Gene Sarazen. After the pair tied at 286 over 72 holes they proceeded to tie two separate 18-hole playoffs.

Returning to Salisbury a week later to continue the playoff, Smith finally emerged the victor after a third extra round, shooting a 66 to his rival’s 70. It would be a banner year for Salisbury. Later that year, the club hosted the PGA Championship and the inaugural Metropolitan PGA Championship. Alas, Salisbury was another club wiped out by the Great Depression. Its land, taken over by Nassau County, is now known as Eisenhower Park, a three-course public complex.

Fresh Meadow Country Club, Flushing, NY, 1932

Gene Sarazen was the professional at Fresh Meadow for six years, from 1925 to 1930. But he left that year for an odd reason. The 1930 PGA Championship had been played at Fresh Meadow. Sarazen had lost to Tommy
Armour in the final and thought the “home-pro jinx” had cost him the title.

When Sarazen returned to Flushing for the 1932 U.S. Open, he appeared to still be bedeviled by the course. In his third round, as he reached the ninth tee on the morning of the final day, he stood seven strokes off the pace.

The ninth was a par 3 near the clubhouse, and Sarazen had spent many hours practicing his putting on its green. He knew its contours well. After his tee shot finished 15 feet behind the hole, Sarazen sank the putt for a birdie to spark one of the great charges in U.S. Open history. He would play his final 28 holes in 100 strokes, including a then-Open-record 66 in his final round. Sarazen won the championship on his old home course by three strokes.

Pine Hollow Country Club, East Norwich, 1958

In June 1958, Pine Hollow hosted an event called the Pepsi–Boys Club Open — the first official PGA Tour event held on Long Island. With a purse of $50,000, it was one of the richest events on that year’s tour calendar, with the proceeds benefiting the Boys Club of New York. The tournament was won by Arnold Palmer, the 1958 Masters champion, who led all the way, with rounds of 66-69-67-71—273.

Afterward, runner-up Jay Hebert, five strokes back at the finish, told Palmer, “You were so far ahead that the rest of us were playing in our own tournament.”

Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, 1995

One of the most memorable shots in U.S. Open history was played on the east end of Long Island. Corey Pavin, a player known for his grit but hardly for his brute strength, faced a long approach to the final green in the final round of the 1995 U.S. Open. Holding a one-stroke lead and with the weight of the national championship on him, Pavin laced a 4-wood that came to rest 7 feet from the hole. He would miss the birdie putt but he still won by two strokes over runner-up Greg Norman, who bogeyed Shinnecock’s 17th hole.

Pavin’s reaction to his shot was priceless. After he struck it, he ran up the upward-sloping 18th fairway to see where his ball would come to rest. “When I saw it come off the clubface, I knew I’d hit a good shot,” Pavin said afterward. “It was low, and it was starting to hit the right-center of the green, drawing right at the flag, and I couldn’t resist. I wanted to see the ball land.”

It landed close enough for Pavin to win the U.S. Open.

Dr. William Quirin is a political science professor at Adelphi University on Long Island and the historian for the New York Metropolitan Golf Association.

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