Garden City Country Club always has had a knack for unique celebrations. In 1936, on the 25th anniversary of the first airmail flight from nearby Nassau Boulevard Air Field, the 14th fairway served as a runway for a re-enactment.
This year, the club is honoring its own 100th anniversary with a centennial dinner, historical displays, special bag tags and other attractions. The observance began recently with a distinctive tournament, a season-opening scramble in which all of the members used vintage hickory-shafted clubs, similar to the ones in vogue when golf icon Walter Travis designed the layout in 1916.
What happened was something that members might be talking about at the club’s 200th birthday. Frank DiMartino, a member for the past 20 years, got to the 167-yard par-3 13th hole and picked out a brassie — an early version of a 2-wood — because it just looked like the right club to hit. He took a swing and, you guessed it. Right in the cup.
“I hit it on the screws,” DiMartino said, meaning it literally. “You couldn’t do that with clubs today. It went straight as an arrow, landed on the front of the green, rolled to the back and made a left turn. My three buddies who I was playing with had never seen one, so they were jumping and cheering. I was excited but I said, ‘I’ve got to see it in the hole.’ ”
Sure enough, there was his ball (a modern-day one) with his signature three red dots. The 18-handicapper was surprised because, unlike most of the field, he never tried out the old-style clubs on the driving range. “The strength of my game is chipping and putting. I just practiced putting,” he said.
He did not need the putter in starting a historic season with an exclamation point. Garden City is one of three Nassau clubs celebrating its centennial, along with Cherry Valley and North Hempstead. In fact, it was because Cherry Valley went private (from its previous incarnation as Salisbury Links) that Garden City Country Club was formed. Metropolitan Golf Association historian Bill Quirin wrote in “Golf Clubs of the MGA” that residents of the Estate section of Garden City felt excluded. Led by Gabe Tarbell, who built the Westchester Country Club hotel, they organized their own club and hired Travis to lay out a course.
“Travis always talked about it as one of his special designs. He took a lot of pride in it, he lived in Garden City,” said current head pro John Kuntz, who wanted his members to get a feel for golf in Travis’ day, so he rented the hickory-shafted clubs.
“With these clubs, you can appreciate the Travis influence: open approaches, pretty fast greens, not a lot of forced carries. I think it gave the guys an appreciation of what we have and what Travis had in mind when he designed this course out here on the Hempstead plain,” Kuntz said.
He added that the celebration will be hearty but not over the top. The club has a hometown feel, with many members who live close enough to walk or ride their bikes to the course.
The closeness isn’t just geographical. DiMartino said that what he likes best is the camaraderie. One day recently, he invited a former member back from New Jersey. He said, “I made nine phone calls and I’ve got 10 guys coming for lunch.”
They heard a hickory-shafted hole-in-one story that might still be circulating 100 years from now, when members have a throwback scramble with old-fashioned graphite-head clubs.
The Knox School outing will be May 23 at Nissequogue Golf and Country Club, St. James. Visit knoxschool.org . . . The Rev. Msgr. Thaddeus Rooney Memorial Golf Outing for Saints Cyril and Methodius Church, Deer Park, will be June 2 at Timber Point Golf Club, Great River. Call 631-586-3600 . . . The 31st Annual John T. Mather Memorial Hospital Golf Classic will be June 6 at Port Jefferson Country Club. Call 631- 476-2723.
Morey Berkley, Bethpage Red, fourth hole, 158 yards, 6-iron
Mike Lavin, Pine Hills CC, 14th hole, 163 yards, 7-iron
Stephen Bucaria, Cherry Valley CC, 17th hole, 138 yards, 9-wood
Bill Lyons, Swan Lake GC, 16th hole, 90 yards, 9-iron
Robert Malaby (age 11), Colonial Springs Pines, eighth hole, 108 yards, 9-iron
Daren Roch, Sunken Meadow Blue, third hole, 121 yards, 9-iron
Jeff Burke, Town of Oyster Bay GC, eighth hole, 212 yards, 4-iron
Sal Minardi, Heatherwood GC, third hole, 157 yards, 5-iron
Mike Cullon, Heatherwood GC, 15th hole, 125 yards, 8-iron
John Runac, Heatherwood GC, 15th hole, 135 yards, 8-iron
Nancy Motto, Flushing Meadows GC, third hole, 60 yards, 8-iron
Ed Wiggins, Rock Hill G&CC, 13th hole, 148 yards, 7-iron