Writers Ring Lardner and Grantland Rice, Broadway producer George Abbott, artist John LaGatta and illustrator Fontaine Fox were among the most creative people of their time, yet even they had no idea what a legacy they were creating when they opened five holes in a Port Washington cow pasture 100 years ago next week.
Nothing suggested they envisioned North Hempstead Country Club’s course being shaped by A.W. Tillinghast, reshaped by Robert Trent Jones and refined by Gil Hanse. The celebrities and fellow founders never dreamed the course would lose acreage and still grow in stature. They could not have imagined a centennial celebration that included hosting the Met PGA Head Pro Championship this week, and that the course still would be a challenge to local pros a century later.
“It’s short, but it’s got some devilish greens, where you really have to hit the ball in the right spot. You’ve got to control the spin. It’s really good for the 6,300 yards. I played really well and shot 2 over,” Mark Brown, head pro at Tam O’Shanter said after his round Tuesday, when only four of the 114 pros broke par.
The club was created by characters, who wanted a place to play golf and cards and whose legendary parties once resulted in an elephant prowling the grounds. They established the course’s character in the early 1920s when they hired Tillinghast to design a layout. That served North Hempstead into the 1950s, when the club lost 7.5 acres it was leasing from McCormick Sand and Gravel.
When the Long Island Expressway was being expanded, there was a great need for sand, and McCormick needed the extra land, said John Adamovich, a member who is preparing the 120-page centennial book. The club hired Jones to redesign four holes to fit on the remaining property. Adamovich added that, in the 1990s, Hanse was brought in for a redesign to fit longer-hitting modern golfers. He also recaptured some of the Tillinghast flavor.
“It’s amazing. That was part of my remarks at the gala: The club started on the brink of World War I and survived the Depression and World War II,” said Don Dunphy Jr., former executive producer of Eyewitness News, head of the centennial committee and a second-generation member, following his dad, a legendary boxing announcer. “With the recession back in ’08, we lost a lot of members. We’ve had to come up with strategies. The club has changed to meet the needs of the members.”
Under current president Bob Weppler and head pro Greg Hurd, North Hempstead has more than 500 members, including radio personality Mike Francesa. They all have much about which to reminisce.
Bobby Jones played there after his Grand Slam. His scorecard, showing a 66, is displayed just inside the clubhouse’s front door. Jones’ childhood friend Alexa Stirling, a U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, was a women’s club champion. Babe Ruth played as a guest numerous times. LaGatta revised his mural in the grill room, painting clothing on nude goddesses to satisfy Prohibition-era sensibilities. There was skeet shooting during winters in the 1930s. When gas was rationed in World War II, golfers came by horse-drawn carriage from the Plandome train station.
The place was still going strong this week. “There’s a premium on hitting fairways and on hitting it on the greens in the right places. If it gets away from you at all, the golf course can bite you in a hurry,” said Piping Rock pro Sean Quinlivan, who had a rare sub-par round Tuesday. Added Deepdale’s director of golf Darrell Kestner, “It has stood the test of time.”
And Steve Scott of Paramount Country Club won the Head Pro with a two-round total of 135, five under par.
St. Joseph’s School in Garden City will hold its 13th Annual Golf Outing June 13 at Cherry Valley Club, Garden City. Register online at sjspta.com . . . The Nassau County High School Athletics Hall of Fame will hold its outing June 22 at Bergen Point Golf club, West Babylon. Call 516-319-0557 . . . Tee Off 4 Autism will sponsor a Golf Clinic, featuring instruction from Tam O’Shanter pros Mark Brown and Anthony Cancro at Tam O’Shanter Club, Brookville, at 3 p.m. on June 18. Visit FamilyCenterforAutism.org.
Pat Saunders, Maidstone Club, fourth hole, 156 yards, 4-hybrid
Sandy Schoenbach, Friars Head, 17th hole, 145 yards, 4-rescue
Bob Dudonis, West Sayville GC, eighth hole, 143 yards, 6-iron
Bob Wagner, Spring Lake GC, 13th hole, 138 yards, 9-iron
Jack Levy, Southward Ho CC, 17th hole, 203 yards, driver
Brian Frank, Engineers CC, 14th hole, 120 yards, pitching wedge
Chuck Schlapp, WindWatch G&CC, eighth hole, 168 yards, 6-iron
Mike Forman, Indian Hills CC, 16th hole, 159 yards, 6-iron
Gary Dailey, Brookville CC, 11th hole, 132 yards, 8-iron
Paula Hill, Woods at Cherry Creek, sixth hole, 140 yards, 7-wood
John McGrady, Glen Cove GC, 16th hole, 177 yards, 5-hybrid
Jay Chudnoff, Lake Success GC, third hole, 180 yards, 4-hybrid