'Twas the week before Christmas, and a blizzard was on the way. In fact, there was a little snow on the ground. Even then, there was work going on at Glen Head Country Club. Even then, tree limbs were coming down and the place was being spruced up in anticipation of this Wednesday, when the club becomes the only course on Long Island this year to host a local U.S. Open qualifying tournament.
The club might have embarked anyway on the project to clear out trees that were crowding and suffocating the greens. But there was special urgency to get it done before becoming a stop on the Open road.
"It's our country's club championship," Glen Head club president Ted Tashlik said. "We considered it an honor to be asked."
Holding any sort of outside event can be seen as a sacrifice for a private club's members. They give up their course for the tournament and practice rounds, often during peak times of the season. Sometimes, they see the layout altered. More than sometimes, members are not thrilled.
But when "U.S. Open" is attached, the pluses overwhelm the minuses. "I've heard nothing but excitement from the members. Not one negative," Glen Head pro Scott Hawkins said.
Tashlik said, "We're all very proud of our golf course. We like the opportunity to show off our course. And we're all very interested to see how these pros do on it."
People like the idea that someone can come out of that local qualifier, make it through a sectional qualifier (in Summit, N.J. June 6) and make some noise in the Open (at Congressional, outside Washington D.C., June 16-19).
"There is a magic about the U.S. Open in people's minds," said Ed Kelly, head pro at Cherry Valley in Garden City, which has hosted local qualifiers. "It somehow gets everybody's attention if you're a part of that. I know our members get excited. They come out and watch and wonder about the scores. It's a prestige thing."
At Glen Head, the challenge is on the greens, which are fast and hilly. Superintendent Lyn O'Neil had them rolling at an impressive 13 on the Stimpmeter for the Long Island PGA Championship last year, Hawkins said, and the cut was 6-over par 77.
"Everybody wants fast greens," Tashlik said, adding that the only way to make that happen is to give the greens air and light. To prove the point, O'Neil last season cut down some trees around the 10th green, which was considered one of the course's weakest, and it became one of the best. So, as much as everyone respects foliage and ecology, Tashlik approved a project to cut down what he called "a considerable number of trees." The decision made him hold his breath, but he said, "the reaction by membership has been fantastic."
The project has reopened old vistas. "From the fifth tee you can see all the way across the golf course," the club president said.
Some feel as if they can see all the way back to the 1920s, when the place was established as the Women's National Golf and Tennis Club. Former U.S. Women's Amateur champion Marion Hollins founded it, signed Devereux Emmet to design it and hired the legendary Ernest Jones as head pro.
The course's reputation was so strong that when Hollins was planning to build Cypress Point on the West Coast, Alister Mackenzie agreed to design it. And while he was there in the 1930s, he played with Hollins and Bobby Jones and agreed to work on the ambitious course Jones was proposing for Augusta, Ga.
Glen Head doesn't have such national ambitions, but it does want to be a small part of something big. So the rough is growing high, the greens are getting slick and (for the fourth time in the past two weeks) the private club will be open tomorrow afternoon for any of the 144 Open hopefuls who want to practice. "They can come out after 3," Hawkins said, "and play as many holes as they want."