Saturday, January 28, 2006

Garden City Golf Club

Garden City Golf Club (#55 in the world) founded in 1899, not to be confused with nearby Garden City Country Club, is one of the most unique courses in the world top 100. Generally referred to as "The Mens Club" or "Garden City Mens" it prides itself on being exclusively a club for men. There are many stories about Garden City related to how women are not allowed on the property, let alone on the course; this includes the driveway and parking lot. When we played Garden City and casually asked the member we were playing with how many members Garden City had, he gave an unusual answer: 399. Apparently, the laws in New York State governing private clubs regarding equal access issues, employment law, etc. have certain provisions that kick in when there are more than 400 members. Thus, the carefully crafted strategy. The laws are also such that the club has to be for social and non-business purposes. Garden City is not the place to go to hammer out business deals, as this is strictly enforced. Likewise, your company can't pay for your dues, you must pay them yourself.

There is a reason why Garden City hasn't hosted a U.S.G.A. event since 1936. While there are many courses in the top 100 that do not have female members including Augusta, Pine Valley, The Golf Club and Garden City, Garden City's exclusion is total. It is the only one that won't let women play.

While many stories about Garden City are no doubt apocryphal it has indeed evolved into an all male club with attitude. According to the New York Times, although never allowed in the clubhouse, up until the 1950s women were allowed to play the course before eleven o’clock on Monday and Friday Mornings. When Garden City celebrated their annual “open house” on New Years day, the women guests had to drink their eggnogs outside the clubhouse in the parking lot.

We don't consider ourselves to be discriminatory in any fashion. In fact, we quite enjoy the company of the fairer sex. But, we are firm believers in the First Amendment right to free association and Garden City has created a unique atmosphere. We found Garden City to be a charming place. Since this is after all a club for gentleman, one of its rules is that you must wear a jacket when you enter through the front door of the club house. We find that New Yorkers in generally and certainly those from Long Island in particular often times have an 'edge', shall we say. This is certainly the case at Garden City. On the morning we played, upon arrival, a member was walking through the parking lot approaching the clubhouse wearing boat shoes, shorts, and a golf shirt; but he had on the requisite blue blazer. Once inside, as long as you are not in the dining room you can take the jacket off, however, you must wear it into the club. Although the rule is to wear a jacket, this is not to be confused with Muirfield or Royal St. George's where the decorum is different and a jacket and tie are the proper attire to be respected. Welcome to New York.

In any event, entering the clubhouse at Garden City is like entering a museum. You enter and the locker room is to the right hand side through two saloon-style swinging doors. The old low slung green lockers are the originals, as is almost everything. There is a large moose head mounted high up in the arching ceiling at the far end of the room. When you are in the main part of the clubhouse, it is one of the more genuine and cozy rooms we've been it. In this regard, Garden City is more like a traditional English or Scottish Club. If you were filming a period movie about a golf club at the turn of the century, you'd use the inside of the clubhouse at Garden City without changing a thing. There is no indication in the room that you are still not in 1899. The place is right out of central casting with green leather chairs and sofas, a fireplace, dark wood.

The course has a great pedigree, designed by Devereux Emmett and Walter Travis. Travis was one of the top Amateur golfers of his day and Garden City is a shrine to him. The "Travis Room" in the clubhouse includes a lot of original memorabilia and clubs used by The Old Man as he is affectionately known. The Amateur Championship was held at Garden City four times and the U.S. Open once. Charles Blair Macdonald was one of the founding members of the course, which had a great appeal to New York City residents in the early years because it was built across the street from the railroad and it was a much shorter train ride to Garden City than to the other grand New York courses located in the Hamptons.

The course itself is a natural style layout on flat terrain. The first hole is short and quirky and the second hole is a great par 3. It features a green set at a diagonal with a "bottomless pit" of sand set in front. It is not a long hole, but plays much tougher than it looks. Garden City also features a par 3 finishing hole with a pond on the right side next to the green. The outside dining area is right behind the 18th green, creating more pressure than you would imagine when playing the hole with a gallery watching. Although this part of Long Island is quite congested, the course itself has an isolated seclusion that catches you by surprise. The course is all right there in front of you with many of the approach shots to the green being either flat or slightly up hill. One of the secrets to playing Garden City is figuring out how to hit your approach shots to the greens so they don't roll off. A Scotsman would be right at home, bumping shots onto the green as well. Many are slightly contoured away from you or slope downhill.

After the round, you can sit and enjoy the ambiance of the place and watch groups coming in playing 17 and 18. Your food and drink orders are written on a computer punch card, another quirky and unique aspect of the place. We think that if the original founding members came back to Garden City they would be very happy to see that it hasn't changed at all. Long Island is, mile for mile, we believe, the best golf region in the world and Garden City is one of the reasons why.

Post Script

After posting our article on Garden City we have received a number of emails regarding Garden City's policy of women playing. Apparently, members wives can play on select days (Mondays) or a woman can play at the discretion of the executive committee, which they have selectively granted in the past. Nevertheless, Garden City remains a male-dominated bastion of the golf world that we hope they continue to proudly defend.

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