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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Fire at National Golf Links recalls iconic clubhouse’s beginning

The Shinnecock Inn was slated to be National’s first clubhouse, but it burned down before course was finished.

The clubhouse at Southampton's National Golf Links of

The clubhouse at Southampton's National Golf Links of America was damaged by a rooftop blaze possibly ignited by a spark from a worker's saw, officials said. Photo Credit: Fully Involved Media Group

Southampton Town and fire department officials said there were no injuries but there was “significant” damage done by the fire at the 106-year-old clubhouse at the National Golf Links of America on Wednesday. A look into the club’s rich history reveals that the building came into existence because of a fire.

The original plan was to convert the old Shinnecock Inn, near the ninth and 10th holes, and use that as a clubhouse, according to “Golf Clubs of the MGA” by William Quirin of Garden City, a leading local golf historian and mathematics professor at Adelphi. “But,” he wrote, “it burned to the ground before the course was finished.”

So, work started on a new facility that was completed in 1912. It is not the landmark most associated with the National. The property’s windmill holds that distinction. Still, the clubhouse is well known, with visitors having told of its renowned lobster lunch.

National is ranked among America’s top 10 courses on just about all such lists and is considered one of the nation’s most exclusive clubs (there was perhaps sad symbolism in the fact the gate is so narrow that fire trucks could not get through and had to find an alternate way).

The clubhouse was the hub of activity during the 2013 Walker Cup Match as the U.S. team, which featured current PGA champion Justin Thomas, defeated Great Britain and Ireland. Former President George W. Bush stood near the building, greeting fans at the amateurs event established by his great-grandfather, George Herbert Walker, a National Golf Links member.

Jimmy V Golf Party

A quarter century after his death, Jim Valvano’s memory will be the life of the party. In fact, organizers are not calling the golf event at Bethpage Red on May 16 an outing or a tournament. It is officially labeled the First Annual Jimmy V Golf Party.

“Jimmy was always the spirit of any gathering,” said Pat Kennedy, his assistant and successor as head basketball coach at Iona, adding that even at functions involving Michael Jordan and David Robinson, “as soon as Jim Valvano showed up, everything would light up.”

Kennedy, who went on to coach Florida State, DePaul and other schools, said that some of his old friends wanted to pay tribute somewhere close to where he grew up in Seaford. Numerous basketball figures are expected to attend, including Chris Mullin. “Jimmy is sorely missed by so many people,” he said.

Proceeds will go to the Jimmy V Foundation, which was set up to fight cancer. Information is available by contacting organizer Linda Bruno, who was the Iona team’s academic advisor in the Valvano years, at linda.brunosports@gmail.com. Kennedy said that for anyone who can’t make the golf portion, tickets are available for the cocktail party that night. Not that the honoree would object to golf.

“Jimmy was a good golfer,” his former assistant said. “He was competitive at anything he did.”

Double eagle for Benner

William Benner of Seaford built huge momentum for this golf season by what he did at the end of last season. A good golfer with a solid 5.1 handicap index, he always goes for the green in two on the par-5 eighth hole at Pine Hills in Manorville. Oct. 6 happened to be his lucky day, as well as his birthday. Playing alongside his dad, his uncle and a friend, he laced a 5-wood 238 yards from the left rough into the cup for a double-eagle 2.

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