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Woodmere Club celebrates 100th anniversary

Jeff Cowell, golf pro at The Woodmere Club,

Jeff Cowell, golf pro at The Woodmere Club, poses for a portrait on the course's 16th Hole. (April 17, 2012) Photo Credit: James Escher

People at the Woodmere Club like to tell of the time 30 years ago when Ben Crenshaw dropped in to play the signature water-guarded par-3 16th hole during a helicopter tour of a Met Section "Dream 18." He made a 6.

Club officials also recall the day Jim Furyk led an outing for 32 on his way to nearby Kennedy Airport. Members are proud that their caddies were pioneers in 1925, carrying grass seed in their pockets to refill divots. The clubhouse still has echoes of the era when "Diamond Jim" Brady and William Fox (owner of 20th Century Fox) were mainstays.

"It was a retreat for the rich and famous and it kind of grew from that," said Don Mollitor, the club's general manager for the past 13 years.

The story that people at Woodmere like to tell most of all is that the club still is growing; that after 100 years it still is looking forward.

For now, Woodmere is looking forward to a spring and summer of celebrating the club's centennial. A coffee-table book is in the works, as are a commemorative flag and bronze plaque. An official kickoff luncheon will be held on Memorial Day weekend and, coincidentally, three weeks later, club officials will accept the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association's Club of the Year Award.

This year will be like perusing a family album. "We try to make Woodmere an extension of your home," club president Lee Israel said. "One of the things we've noticed is that our guest revenue is very low. A lot of our members don't bring many guests. We found out that the reason is that their friends are already at the club."

At 43, Israel is the youngest president in club history, which is more than symbolic. In a tough economic climate and competitive environment for golf clubs, Woodmere is determined to keep evolving. The dress code is more relaxed, the catering side has taken more emphasis and some of the holes have been lengthened.

Evolution has been a Woodmere tradition since it began as a tennis club in 1908 and started drawing the likes of Henry Ziegler of Steinway Pianos and actress Lillian Russell. In 1947, the club bought land from the adjacent Rockaway Hunting Club and two years later, commissioned Robert Trent Jones to redesign the course. "That really propelled the club," Mollitor said.

Claude Harmon once called the par-70 layout, "the longest short course" he had ever played. It has hosted many qualifiers and tournaments, most recently the 2008 Long Island PGA. It has had only six head pros, comprising a distinguished group: Jack Pirie, Jay Hebert, Al Brosch, Joe Moresco, Fred Knoebel and the incumbent, Jeff Cowell.

Members are proud to know the club has survived World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. Mollitor has heard that during the latter, the women's tees were moved so golfers wouldn't have to try to hit over water. "There was a shortage of golf balls," he said.

So the centennial is a tribute to staying power. As new superintendent Tim Benedict tells vendors when he orders materials, "We've been here for 100 years. We're not going anywhere."

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