Wheatley Hills Golf Club celebrates 100th anniversary
Mark HerrmannMark Herrmann
Herrmann has covered the Mets and Yankees since 1988,
GalleriesLong Island U.S. Open qualifier
These names might ring a bell: Robert Moses, Devereux Emmet, Willie Klein, William K. Vanderbilt, George Burns and Keegan Bradley. All of those people have been part of the 100-year history of Wheatley Hills Golf Club, which has its own bell, too.
When members of the Midland Club broke away from the Salisbury Links in 1913 and bought the old Titus farm in East Williston for their own new course, they saw on the property an old ship's bell. The Titus family had used it to tell farm workers that lunch was served or that it was quitting time. For some unknown reason, the golfers decided to keep it.
That bell is still there, alongside the practice green, and it clangs to mark the start of tournaments. This year, it also has been ringing in a lot of memories.
"We're just so proud of what the group of founders here had the vision to do," said Dick Kearns, one of four generations in his family who have belonged to Wheatley. "Like a lot of clubs, we've had a lot of turnover the past five or six years. So this gives us a chance to kind of recreate the culture by letting them know the great things that have happened here."
So far, the club has held a Centennial Cup tournament, in which each of the tee markers was shaped like a bell. There was a throwback outing, in which everyone used hickory shafted clubs. "You'd be surprised how far you could hit it," said Perry Vascellaro, a member who did much of the work on the eye-catching 114-page hardcover centennial book.
All season, stories and old photos have been circulating, like the early race cars that once cruised Vanderbilt's original Motor Parkway, a patch of which is still visible behind the third green. A local favorite is the picture of Klein at the 1935 Masters, which was during his 31-year run as Wheatley's head pro (he often brought Gene Sarazen over to play).
Members have been reminiscing about the seven Long Island Amateurs won between 1963 and 1988 by perennial club champ Gene Francis. There has been talk of how Burns, a four-time PGA Tour winner, was a Wheatley member. The commemorative book salutes Susan Peters' 12 women's club titles and the two men's club championships apiece by Gary DeRosa and his son Greg.
What makes members proud is in knowing that the century-old design by Emmet (architect of Garden City Golf Club and several other Long Island classics) still is relevant enough to have hosted the Long Island Open and U.S. Open local qualifier in recent years.
What makes members grin is in knowing that they put one over on Moses, the master planner who insisted on clipping part of the course in 1932 to build the Northern State Parkway. He grabbed 13 acres, but gave another 21, and cash. "It wasn't often that Robert Moses got taken, but I think he was just so desperate to get that land," said Kearns, who is a senior adviser for Zurich Insurance Group's global golf sponsorships. In that role, he oversees two PGA Tour events and works with seven Zurich golf "ambassadors."
One of those is Bradley, the 2011 PGA champion, who is an honorary Wheatley member. He worked his way up from the bag room under the guidance of Dr. Glenn Muraca and others.
"There are really a lot of cool members there," Bradley said after he shot 63 at The Barclays on Friday. "I owe a lot to Wheatley Hills. I owe a lot to Doc. Those guys are still great to me, to this day."
Every day, members are confident that golfers still will be ringing that bell 100 years from now. "Absolutely," Kearns said. "It's going to be even better."