The 1919 PGA Championship was such a hit at Engineers Country Club that the U.S. Amateur -- then one of the most prestigious events in golf -- was held there the next year. The combined result was Engineers' reputation as one of the best courses in the country. "The bones of it are still there,'' said Tripp Davis, the course architect who has been hired to put meat back on those bones.
Davis was in Roslyn Harbor Wednesday, at the club (established 97 years ago by the Engineers Club of Manhattan) to outline his master plan for restoring the course's original glory while keeping it current in the 300-yard drive era.
"It has a lot of similarities to Merion," he said, referring to the venerable Pennsylvania course that held up fine for the 2013 U.S. Open. "The greens are just amazing, but what had been lost over time were some of the bunkering and style characteristics."
So he is here for a revival, recapturing an "inland links" feel with native grasses and fescues.
The history of Engineers is full of peaks and shallows. Two years after it was designed by Herbert Strong, it held the first post-World War I PGA. Jim Barnes, defending the title he had won pre-war in 1916, beat Fred McLeod, 6 and 5, in the final. Bobby Jones, then 18, played in the 1920 Amateur, later admitting he wasn't focused enough to prevent a 6 and 5 defeat in the semifinals to Francis Ouimet, who lost the championship match to Chick Evans. Like Jones, Engineers appeared headed for sustained greatness.
But the club was rocked by the Depression. It closed temporarily, then was operated by a bank, had a turn as a public course called Rolling Hills and went private again in 1952. Four years ago, the club was in serious negotiation with Donald Trump, who planned to make it Trump National-Long Island. He withdrew amid conflict among members about the sale.
Since then, the members have chosen to emphasize their roots. Davis, an Oklahoma-based designer who had done some work at Engineers in 2000, was brought back. "What we want is for players -- members or guests or in tournaments -- to feel that they're playing something that is old. We want them to feel like they're taking a step back in time," he said.
The new/old Engineers will play firm and fast, with a more open look now that many trees have been removed. Strategic angles to traditional hole locations will be highlighted. Bunkers will be in spots more likely to catch shots from high-tech clubs. Davis also is refining the heavily contoured putting surfaces that were built when green speeds were half of what they are now.
Balancing the past, present and future is the lifeblood of Davis' business. His company rarely designs a layout from scratch now because hardly anyone is interested in opening one. Instead, his job is to make existing courses more interesting.
"Not to knock anybody, but the modern movement in the game has been based on how you play it physically: Hit it long, find it and hit it again," said the architect, a prominent amateur golfer who will play in the Travis Invitational at Garden City Golf Club this weekend. "We want to get it back to where players are more interested in strategy, where you require the player to think."
The Southampton Lions Club will hold its outing, benefiting its Girl of the Year Scholarship Fund, June 11 at Noyac Golf Club. Call 631-283-0929 . . . The Eighth Annual Knox School Golf Outing will be June 23 at Hamlet Golf & Country Club, Commack. Visit knoxschool.org.