Last week I received a call from my son Lane, who is a member of the Riverhead Volunteer Fire Department. I listened in disbelief to the news that the clubhouse at National Golf Links was on fire.
The clubhouse at National fits right into any conversation regarding iconic clubhouses around the world, including Augusta National, and even St. Andrews. It was such a relief to learn that thanks to the outstanding volunteer fire departments on the East End, the blaze was rapidly contained and the damage was held to a minimum.
The golf artifacts and golf memorabilia housed in that clubhouse are regarded as some of the finest and rarest in the world. The collection is so awesome that a visit to the clubhouse is nearly as enjoyable as playing the course. It truly is a blessing this golf shrine was only slightly damaged.
After I digested the good news, my thoughts drifted back to the early 1960s, when I was lucky enough to play National in a tournament. At the time, I was a student at Southampton College and my sole source of income was derived from a self- dispensing ice machine located next to my parent’s store in Sag Harbor. It was an ideal occupation for a golf nut like me. After all, it only took an hour a day to reload the machine and bank all those quarters.
After the tournament draw was announced, I saw that my first opponent was a National member by the name of Lord Taylor. If the name sounds wealthy, that’s because it is. I had never met Mr. Taylor, and to say that I was nervous would be a huge understatement.
I was on the first tee cleaning my “game ball” in the ball washer. When Mr. Taylor arrived on the first tee, he asked his caddie for two sleeves of new golf balls, which he promptly launched into the Peconic Bay. There I was getting my “gamer” ready to go and Lord Taylor pumped SIX brand-new Titleist golf balls into the Peconic Bay just as part of his warm-up routine. Yes, I was intimidated, however, I played very well and despite the shattered nerves on the first tee, I won my match. It was not going to get any easier in match number two.
As we walked off the first tee in my second match, in my attempt at small talk, I casually asked my opponent, Sandy Piper, what line of work he was in. Nonchalantly, he simply responded . . . aircraft.
Yes, you guessed it, his family owned Piper Aircraft. Sandy then asked me the same question. Boldly, as any proud owner of a self-dispensing ice machine would respond, I announced, “Well Sandy, to be honest with you, all of my assets are frozen.” I won that match also.
My next opponent was a great golfer by the name of George Burns who was so good that he went on to play, and win, on the PGA Tour. I lost to George in a classic David vs. Goliath match, except that in this version, Goliath came out on top.
Last week, as I learned about the clubhouse fire, all these fond memories came flooding back to me and now I can share them with you.
US Open Update: The grounds are already a beehive of activity with the huge merchandise tent now almost complete.
Fun fact for you: Jack Nicklaus won 18 majors and finished second 19 other times. Jack lost only one golf ball in all the majors he played in. Can you guess when and where that was? If you said 1986, 10th hole at Shinnecock, his first shot of the championship, you’d be correct.