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Timeless Golf

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Quogue Field Club

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By Benjamin S. Litman

September 2015

 

A view out over the aptly named “Marshes” hole at Quogue Field Club, with a distinctive orange flag punctuating the horizon.

A view out over the aptly named “Marshes” hole at Quogue Field Club, with a distinctive orange flag punctuating the horizon.

Situated in the heart of “The Quiet Hampton,” Quogue Field Club (QFC) offers nine holes on superior flat golfing terrain. The course—initially attributed (at least on the Internet) to James Hepburn and R.B. Wilson in 1887, but now attributed (by the club itself) to Tom Bendelow in 1901—is one of the oldest in the United States. Like the Village of Quogue itself, QFC is part of the Town of Southampton and located immediately to the east of Seth Raynor’s Westhampton Country Club. Unlike the more tony Hamptons, Quogue and Westhampton benefit from their proximity to New York City—generally a 90-minute trip by car, with convenient train and bus options not much longer. For those more familiar with the better-known courses of the area, Quogue is equidistant—and only 15 miles—from Friar’s Head (to the north) and Shinnecock Hills, National Golf Links of America, and Sebonack (to the east).

QFC’s par-3 4th offers what might be a one-of-a-kind green in the world of golf: a titled Biarritz with Redan-like playing properties. Two large mounds on the right side of the green (here, viewed from behind) are responsible for both its right-to-left tilt and its two distinct tiers. Tempting though it is to attribute the green to Wilson (his predecessor at Shinnecock Hills, Willie Dunn, Jr., did design the original Biarritz in the late 1880s in France, after all), the current design is a modern creation.

QFC’s par-3 4th offers what might be a one-of-a-kind green in the world of golf: a titled Biarritz with Redan-like playing properties. Two large mounds on the right side of the green (here, viewed from behind) are responsible for both its right-to-left tilt and its two distinct tiers. Tempting though it is to attribute the green to Wilson (his predecessor at Shinnecock Hills, Willie Dunn, Jr., did design the original Biarritz in the late 1880s in France, after all), the current design is a modern creation.

Unlike in my other photo tours on the Discussion Group, I am including a bit of history here both because it interests me and because QFC, based on my extensive searching, is at once a source of intrigue and a mystery to all but a select few GCAers. In his profile of Westhampton Country Club, Ran notes that “[w]ith so many world-renowned courses of historic importance, it is a tough neighborhood indeed for a course to gain its fair share of recognition.” That is even truer in the case of Quogue, whose very existence as a village, to say nothing of its golf course, is unknown to many.

Chester Murray, a member at QFC and Co-Chair of the Quogue Historical Society’s Board of Directors, is in the process of writing, in book form, an illustrated history of golf at the club. The brief history I set forth here reflects my best efforts based on publicly available information, almost all from online sources.

QFC might be flat, but it hardly lacks for excitement; here, the natural grasses and low-profile bunkering around the 8th green.

QFC might be flat, but it hardly lacks for excitement; here, the natural grasses and low-profile bunkering around the 8th green.

A Brief History of the Golf Course at Quogue Field Club

Quogue—originally, “Quawquannantucke” or “Quaquanantuck,” the latter being the current name of the 8th hole—dates to 1659, when an English colonist named John Ogden purchased the land from the Shinnecock tribe of Native Americans. Sometimes referred to as the “Second Purchase,” Ogden’s Quogue Purchase was the second largest of Native American land on Long Island, trailing only Southampton, to which Quogue was eventually sold. Since its emergence as a summer resort village in the 1890s, Quogue has remained a haven for those who want the natural beauty of the “East End” of Long Island without the glitz and glamour that have come to define the Hamptons experience. The result is a village with precious few commercial establishments but enough charm to fill a metropolis. As the village’s website proclaims, “Quogue proudly stands apart from the ‘Hamptons Scene’ focusing, as it always has, on wholesome family oriented activities.”

Architecturally, the history of the Field Club’s golf course is not straightforward—and that’s without accounting for the loss of nine holes after the great hurricane of 1938. Conventional wisdom holds that Quogue originally had 18 holes and that its present nine-hole configuration represents the leftovers from the hurricane. Not so. According to an illuminating Ian Andrew post in Sven Nilsen’s 2014 “Breaking Down the Bendelow List” thread, the Suffolk County News reported at the time Bendelow’s course opened in 1901 that “it is a nine hole course.” That suggests that the other nine holes were built sometime after the opening and before the 1938 hurricane.

The bunkering at Quogue, here guarding the right side of the home green, calls to mind other classic early American golf courses, such as Garden City. Note the bike rack, immediately inside the club’s entrance, next to the first tee off on the right—a clear reminder that QFC is a neighborhood club.

The bunkering at Quogue, here guarding the right side of the home green, calls to mind other classic early American golf courses, such as Garden City. Note the bike rack, immediately inside the club’s entrance, next to the first tee off on the right—a clear reminder that QFC is a neighborhood club.

According to the Quogue Historical Society, moreover, the original nine holes were designed by Wilson, not Bendelow, but were open for play only from 1896 to 1900—and on a different, smaller plot of land several blocks to the west of the current course and farther from the bay and ocean. The 1896 opening date of the original Wilson design makes Quogue the third-oldest golf course in the Hamptons, behind Shinnecock Hills (1891) and Maidstone (1894). In June 1897, the USGA elected Quogue as an “allied member” of the association. Little information about the original Wilson nine is publicly available, but we know the hole names and lengths from an 1899 edition of the Official Golf Guide, which cites July 1895 as the date Wilson laid out the course:

“Requiesate,” the name of the original closing hole at Quogue, appears to be a misspelling of either the plural imperative or the hortatory subjunctive of the Latin word “requiescere,” typically translated as “rest,” but also as “quiet down” and “end.”

“Requiesate,” the name of the original closing hole at Quogue, appears to be a misspelling of either the plural imperative or the hortatory subjunctive of the Latin word “requiescere,” typically translated as “rest,” but also as “quiet down” and “end.”

After the 1900 season, Bendelow was brought in to build a replacement nine, which opened on the current site in 1901, a year after the clubhouse had been moved to the same location in anticipation. Interestingly, the Bendelow hire almost didn’t happen, as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on August 27, 1900 that “[t]he course of the Quogue Field Club at Quogue, L.I., is to be increased to eighteen holes by John Dunn [nephew of Willie Dunn, Jr.] at an early date.” But within two months, the club apparently had settled on Bendelow instead of Dunn—and a new, replacement nine instead of a new, additional nine—as the same newspaper reported on October 18, 1900, in an excerpt posted by Sven Nilsen last year, that “[w]ork on the new golf links at Quogue, L.I., is progressing rapidly, and the greens are being prepared for next season” and “[t]he course was laid out by Bendelow.” Citing a 1902 photograph from the Quogue Historical Society, Phil Carlucci reports in his 2015 book Long Island Golf that a little-known man named Otto Kammerer was QFC’s first golf professional.

According to Mr. Murray, the expansion from Bendelow’s nine to a full 18 took place after the 1921 season, when “[t]he new nine holes were designed by James Hepburn.” That description accompanies a recent painting by Mark Ruddy, whom Mr. Murray “commissioned to paint the golf course as it appeared just before the 1938 Hurricane.” As Ruddy’s painting reflects, Hepburn’s nine included a heavily bunkered Redan, two other par-3s along the water, a short par-4 Valley hole, and back-to-back par-4s, including a short Plateau hole, with diagonal water carries off the tee. Given that Hepburn was the professional at National Golf Links of America at the time, one wonders how much Macdonald’s work there influenced him in designing his own nine holes at Quogue. Those holes opened for play on July 29, 1922, according to the County Review, one month before National hosted the inaugural Walker Cup 15 miles away.

“Quogue Field Club 1938,” by Mark Ruddy (Courtesy of Chester Murray). Although the numbering of the Bendelow nine (the front in Ruddy’s painting) changed a few times after the Hepburn nine opened for play in 1922, Bendelow’s routing has remained largely the same, the sequencing has not changed at all, and the numbering has reverted to the original. In 1901, as now, the 1st hole (the 7th in Ruddy’s painting) left from the clubhouse, while the 9th hole (the 6th in Ruddy’s painting) returned to it.

“Quogue Field Club 1938,” by Mark Ruddy (Courtesy of Chester Murray). Although the numbering of the Bendelow nine (the front in Ruddy’s painting) changed a few times after the Hepburn nine opened for play in 1922, Bendelow’s routing has remained largely the same, the sequencing has not changed at all, and the numbering has reverted to the original. In 1901, as now, the 1st hole (the 7th in Ruddy’s painting) left from the clubhouse, while the 9th hole (the 6th in Ruddy’s painting) returned to it.

In preparation for the 1927 season, “many improvements on the club’s eighteen-hole golf course [were] effected, following the plans of Captain C. H. C. Tippet, noted [English] golf architect,” according to the weekly magazine Brooklyn Life and Activities of Long Island Society. That same summer—when Tippet’s original 18-hole layout at Montauk Downs also opened for play some 45 miles to the east—the New York Times reported that Phillips Finlay, a decorated, long-hitting 19-year-old amateur and Harvard freshman, shot 67 (34-33) to set a new course record on the 18-hole QFC layout. Finlay, who also won several club championships at QFC, eclipsed the record previously held by an assistant professional at Westhampton. Three years later, in 1930, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle lauded QFC with the headline “An Excellent Example” in light of the club’s decision to “adopt an idea which conservationists have repeatedly urged upon country clubs”—namely, to designate its land a “sanctuary” for wildlife.

In 1928, a year after setting the course record at Quogue, Phillips Finlay—having been “out-driven, out-pitched and out-putted with monotonous regularity,” according to the Associated Press—lost 13 and 12 to Bobby Jones in the semifinals of the 32nd U.S. Amateur, which Jones went on to win (Credit: Library of Congress).

In 1928, a year after setting the course record at Quogue, Phillips Finlay—having been “out-driven, out-pitched and out-putted with monotonous regularity,” according to the Associated Press—lost 13 and 12 to Bobby Jones in the semifinals of the 32nd U.S. Amateur, which Jones went on to win (Credit: Library of Congress).

Much has been written about the prolific Bendelow, but what do we know about Wilson and Hepburn? Both were accomplished players, clubmakers, and leaders in the game—and Scottish. Robert Black (“R.B.” or “Buff”) Wilson was born in Anstruther and learned clubmaking in St. Andrews as an apprentice to Old Tom Morris in the 1880s. In 1888, Wilson became the professional and greenkeeper at Minchinhampton Golf Club in Gloucestershire, where he also designed the club’s acclaimed Old Course. Following stints as the professional at three other English clubs, Wilson journeyed to America in 1895 to succeed Willie Dunn, Jr. as the professional at Shinnecock Hills, where Wilson would place ninth, besting his predecessor by three strokes, in the following year’s U.S. Open. An 1898 Outing article, entitled “Golf and the American Girl,” called Wilson “one of the best players with the iron clubs ever seen in this country” and credited him with converting the legendary Beatrix Hoyt’s “natural gift to a finished game.” Hoyt, who had “the most beautiful follow-through to be imagined” and “simply superb” nerve, won the second U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1896 at the age of 16 (as well as the third and fourth the next two years, before retiring from the game at 20), and held the record for youngest female USGA champion until 1971, when Laura Baugh broke it.

Wilson, at back middle, was a well-known clubmaker in St. Andrews before coming to America. After serving as the head professional at Shinnecock Hills, he moved on to the Hartford Club in Connecticut (Credit: Golf Illustrated).

Wilson, at back middle, was a well-known clubmaker in St. Andrews before coming to America. After serving as the head professional at Shinnecock Hills, he moved on to the Hartford Club in Connecticut (Credit: Golf Illustrated).

James P. Hepburn, meanwhile, was the secretary of the PGA of Britain for 12 years before Charles Blair Macdonald recruited him to come to America in 1915 to serve as the professional at National Golf Links of America. In his “Our Foreign Letter” dispatch from early that year, Bernard Darwin warned Americans of “the invading army that is soon setting out from our shores to yours” for exhibition matches and that summer’s U.S. Open at Baltusrol. Among the “invaders” was Hepburn, whom Darwin described as “a thoroughly good player,” one “who has for years been hovering on the edge of the very first rank that the Triumvirate and one or two more have so wonderfully kept to themselves.” Once in America, Hepburn not only set the course record at National (a 35-34 69 in 1916), but quickly became the chair of the committee charged with drafting a constitution and bylaws for the PGA of America. He also had stints, during winters, as the professional at Macdonald’s and Raynor’s Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda. Apart from designing the nine additional holes at Quogue after the 1921 season, Hepburn also served as the club’s professional during the 1933 season, according to the June 3 edition of the County Review from that year.

Born in Carnoustie, Hepburn had “many pleasant struggles” with Bernard Darwin when Hepburn was the professional at Royston Golf Club and Darwin was an undergraduate at nearby Cambridge (Credit: Golf Illustrated).

Born in Carnoustie, Hepburn had “many pleasant struggles” with Bernard Darwin when Hepburn was the professional at Royston Golf Club and Darwin was an undergraduate at nearby Cambridge (Credit: Golf Illustrated).

To recap, Wilson designed the original nine-hole course at Quogue in the summer of 1895, but that course, which opened for play a year later, yielded to a new Bendelow nine, on a different plot of land, after being open for only four years. Bendelow’s course opened for play in 1901. Hepburn designed the also-defunct second nine after the 1921 season, with play opening on them the following summer, and Tippet made “many improvements” to the 18-hole layout between the 1926 and 1927 seasons. Hepburn’s nine unfortunately fell victim to the 1938 hurricane, although not for the reasons (e.g., flooding) traditionally cited. According to Mr. Murray, the hurricane destroyed the village’s two bridges to the beach. A new single bridge required the extension of a street—Post Lane—directly through the Hepburn nine. As the Mid-Island Mail reported on December 21, 1938, “[t]he proposed approaches involve a right-of-way through the Quogue Field [C]lub’s golf course, and this displeases some.” Unfortunately, Mr. Murray notes, “[t]he Club made a valiant, but ultimately not very successful, effort to restructure the holes around the extended Post Lane and new bridge.” By “reciprocal arrangement,” QFC members played their golf at Westhampton Country Club in the summer of 1942, according to the New York Times. Thereafter, according to Mr. Murray, QFC closed down entirely until 1945, owing to World War IIand the steady decline of active Club membership. When it reopened, it did so only on Bendelow’s nine, where it has remained—albeit with modifications by several architects, including Frank Duane, Stephen Kay, and, most recently, Ian Andrew—ever since.

The punchbowl green at QFC’s 2nd, surrounded by moat bunkering on all sides, was among the first of its kind in the United States.

The punchbowl green at QFC’s 2nd, surrounded by moat bunkering on all sides, was among the first of its kind in the United States.

The date once attributed to the supposed Hepburn and Wilson design, 1887, doesn’t square with several facts, including that Wilson and Hepburn didn’t come to this country until 1895 and 1915, respectively. Bendelow, originally from Aberdeen, Scotland, arrived earlier, in 1892. It is the club’s incorporation, rather than its course, that dates to 1887. Together with the above-cited October 18, 1900 pre-opening article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle—which described a “very attractive” course with “a number of natural hazards”—the August 10, 1901 post-opening edition of the Brooklyn Life confirms that Bendelow is now properly considered the architect of record, noting both the relocation of the clubhouse and “a fine golf course laid out by Bendelow—starting from the front and winding in the direction of the ocean, and then to the shores of Shinnecock Bay and back to the club, with bunkers and water hazards second to none anywhere on that part of the island.”

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