A masterpiece is in the eye of the beholder. Even an unassuming public par-3 course can be beloved by the likes of Alistair Cooke, the journalist and elegant host of Masterpiece Theater. Cooke had a house in Cutchogue and an affinity for the community's Cedars Golf Club.
He sent a "good luck" telegram on opening day in 1965 and was no stranger after that. "I wasn't here when it happened, but my uncle told me that Alistair Cooke used to come out here and play at nighttime under a full moon," said John Dennison, part-owner and nephew of the course's founder, Russell Case.
"He just wanted to be out here by himself, I guess," Dennison said of Cooke. "Apparently, it was light enough to see where the ball was going."
For some, daylight still is optional. Every Sunday morning, at or before dawn, a regular group comes out six (or more) strong. "It's a quiet place, it's our place. We like the people who run it, we like the people who play there," said Bob Scott, proprietor of the local Robert Jewelers store, adding that they not only play, but help get the course ready for everyone else. "One time, we even changed the holes."
With its homespun charm and $10 green fees ($12 on weekends, but always two dollars less for seniors), Cedars is still pretty much the same place that the late Case opened with partners Robert Bergen, Richard Cron and George Penny Sr. It still is essentially the layout designed on a former sheep pasture by Case and George Heron, a Scot who had been the pro at the original Meadow Brook Club and first superintendent of the current Meadow Brook.
Plainly, Cedars is a throwback. And it might be way ahead of its time.
As a course that can be played in an hour, it represents part of the answer to one of golf's greatest problems: young adults just don't want to invest five hours. Also, Cedars could be the model of a considerate, forward-thinking neighbor. In July 2006, Dennison and fellow heirs of the original owners sold Cedars' development rights to the Town of Southold, with the provision that it remain a golf course forever.
"We were all of the same opinion," said Dennison, a retired structural engineer. "That's the way the original owners wanted it and we want to honor that."
The heirs still own the course, but they deliberately have made the land less valuable. No housing developments ever will be allowed. Had they wanted to sell the 12-acre property during the East End real estate boom, they might have fetched $400,000 an acre. Instead, according to town board minutes, they received $46,000 an acre. At the time, Supervisor Scott Russell praised the owners' generosity and called Cedars "one of Cutchogue's defining landmarks."
"We call it Little Augusta," Dennison said this week.
Well, Cedars does have thousands of hibiscus and other flowers planted by club manager Henry Stasiukiewicz, a painter whose artwork is on display in the pro shop and whose game is on display outdoors. His 5-under par 22 is tied for the course record.
"It is a golf course," Stasiukiewicz said. "The greens are decent. You talk to anybody and they'll tell you scoring is from 100 yards in."
Cedars does between 20,000 and 25,000 rounds a year, enough to pay the bills and make a little profit. The place is nice and green without a crew. "I have a maintenance man who's like an independent contractor, and I emphasize the word independent," Dennison said.
Although it never reportedly did attract one of Cooke's neighbors, Albert Einstein, Cedars is an enduring tribute to people such as Case. "He wasn't so much interested in making a lot of money on it," his nephew said. "He wanted a place where people could come and play golf."