“A Tale of Two Clubs”
Late in the summer of 1921, representatives of the Golf Course Construction Company approached the Unity Club, a social organization serving Brooklyn, with a proposal to purchase 106 acres of farmland in Queens and build an 18-hole golf course. The idea appealed to the club even though the vast majority of its members knew little about the sport and the round-trip between Flushing and Brooklyn would have turned a round of golf into an all-day affair.
By late November, interest was lagging, and the Company was entertaining other offers. Encouraged by Nathan Jonas, a respected community leader and member of the Unity Club, the deal was consummated. Although the new club was named for an area northeast of Flushing, it was located just south of what is now the Long Island Expressway, near 183rd Street.
From the beginning, Fresh Meadow traveled first class. The members wanted their course to be one of the country’s great examinations of golf, up to testing the leading players in major competition. To this end, they engaged A.W. Tillinghast to design the course, which opened in 1923. The following newspaper report is typical of the reception it received:
“News of the Tillinghast Course” in Flushing, New York, had started to spread throughout the golfing world. When the course was officially opened large numbers of golf celebrities and experts came from far and near to test its rigors. What they found was a course in exquisite condition, as though it had been groomed for a decade, and of scenic delight. It contained holes of fascinating variety, some fairways finding their way through groves of towering trees, others with water obstacles on the way to the greens; doglegs with treacherous sand traps as they curved around corners to the left and to the right; out-of-bounds galore to plague the ‘hooker’ and ‘slicer’ alike; the famous Tillinghast pear-shaped greens fiercely trapped. All these features created one of the finest tests of golf anywhere.”
The new course was dedicated on September 8, 1923. Nine days later, the clubhouse burned to the ground. Typical of the membership, it was rebuilt on an even grander scale, and opened late in 1924.
Gene Sarazen was hired as professional in 1925. The Squire brought along his mentor, Al Ciuci, to teach and run the shop. Ciuci remained until 1972.
Fresh Meadow gained national prominence during the 1930 PGA Championship. Tommy Armour won the title after a back-and-forth struggle with Sarazen in the finals.
With the 1931 U.S. Open scheduled at his home club, Sarazen resigned his position at Fresh Meadow and took a similar position at nearby Lakeville. Sarazen believed the “home pro jinx” had cost him the 1930 PGA, and he was taking no chances.
Sarazen is said to have played conservatively during the first two rounds, a tactic that seemed all the more questionable in light of his mastery of his newly devised sand iron. He considered himself even money to get up–and–down from any greenside bunker. Nonetheless, Sarazen found himself seven strokes back heading for the ninth tee Saturday morning. A birdie there touched off one of the great finishes in Open history. Throwing caution to the wind and shooting for the flag on every hole, Sarazen played the final 28 holes in 100 strokes, finishing the tournament with rounds of 70-66 to equal the Open record of 286.
In the 1940s, the realities of advancing civilization arrived on Fresh Meadow’s doorstep, bringing the threat of increased real estate taxes. A move was in the club’s best interests, so in 1946 the property in Flushing was sold and the financially troubled Lakeville Club purchased. Tillinghast’s great course soon became a housing development.
Lakeville’s genesis began in the early 1800s, when the area around Lake Success became a fashionable summer resort for New Yorkers and Long Islanders, a recreational center featuring dense forests, babbling streams, and ponds. It once had been the home of the Matinecock Indians, a tribe of the Algonquin nation. Matinecock graves have been found behind a small church on Community Drive, off to the right of today’s 12th tee.
Lakeville was another Nathan Jonas creation, 171 acres of rolling, heavily-wooded land where he planned to build a private estate. Instead, he used it to form the Lakeville Golf & Country Club for the enjoyment of his friends in the entertainment world, including Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, and Oscar Hammerstein. Charles Alison designed the golf course, producing an outstanding layout, “one of the most beautiful and exclusive clubs in America.” One golf writer termed Lakeville “the peer of American inland courses.” It opened on Memorial Day, 1925.
The clubhouse was as magnificent as the course. Situated on the highest point of the property, the Colonial-style stucco building’s features were of unusually large dimensions. On the grounds were flowering gardens, a marble swimming pool framed in evergreens, and a toboggan slide.
The Depression eroded club membership. The Club was reorganized in 1933, but eventually fell into the hands of financial institutions. During the war, Lakeville was leased to nearby Glen Oaks, whose grounds were taken over by the U.S. Navy. After the war, Glen Oaks returned home and Lakeville was sold to Fresh Meadow.
Fresh Meadow is a delightful parkland course. Its fairways follow the natural roll of the forested terrain, the trees intruding dangerously close to fairways. Several tees are elevated well above the fairway, presenting vistas hardly conducive to keeping one’s eye on the ball. Almost every hole spotlights the artistry of Alison’s bunkering. The deep-faced “alisons” that gained him everlasting fame in Japan are in evidence.
The 11th is a beautiful par three. The elevated tee is well above the green, which is set in a natural amphitheater. Tall dogwoods tower over the green, which is flanked by six artistically shaped bunkers.
The 12th is one of Long Island’s great par fours. From an elevated tee, it plays into a valley once used by the local Indians for councils. A forest close on the left threatens the drive, as do bunkers right. The hole then doglegs left around protruding trees and climbs sharply to an elevated green protected by a pair of bunkers on the right. A bit of hillside falls in front of the green, confusing the golfer trying to judge distance remaining to the pin.
The 13th is a beautiful par three played from a raised tee over water to an elevated green surrounded by bunkers. In the middle of the lake is an island complete with a pagoda and a large weeping willow.
The home hole is a classic example of Alison’s bunkering. A row of three high-lipped bunkers rise like a wave across the fairway about 75 yards ahead of the green. It is a fitting finish to an exquisite golf experience.