Sunday, June 10, 2012

History of the Hempstead Golf & Country Club Part II

In our previous post we focused on the early history of the Hempstead Golf & Country Club property, and the former owners of the estate, CC Parsons and his son Theophilus.  The following paragraphs will trace back the history of the golf club.

At the turn of the 20th Century, the sport of golf was quickly becoming a favorite pastime and leisure activity for the well-heeled set.  On Long Island in particular, an explosion of clubs began to dot the landscape over the next decades to the point where today, it is home to more than 160 public and private corses.   In 1899 a group of Hempstead locals were given permission by the Garden City Company to develop a nine-hole course as the Midland Golf Club, on a vacant plot of land just south of 4th Street between Cathedral and Hilton Avenues. That course was short-lived, however, because in 1907 Garden City decided to reclaim the property for real-estate development.  That same year, another public course was being laid out just to the west named the Salisbury links, and Midland members were invited to join.  However, rather than being absorbed by Salisbury, Midland retained their separate identity and remained listed in the US Golfers Association directory as the only chartered club in America without a course.

When Salisbury became a private club and changed its name to Cherry Valley in 1916, the old Midland members found themselves in a quandary: either they would soon need to find their own course or their club would disband and disappear. 

As mentioned in my last article, in late 1919 former Hempstead Village Mayor and WWI veteran Theophilus Parsons moved his family down to DC to pursue his career as a patent lawyer, and looked to sell his 122-acre estate in the southwest corner of the village.  By April 3, 1920, it was reported that a small part the estate was sold to Mineola developer Richard T. Childs and the Mineola Homes Co., upon which 3 homes were built, and it was assumed that the remainder of the estate would be developed for homes.  Fortunately, perhaps because of the efforts of some fast moving citizens, that plan never materialized.

The creation of the Hempstead Golf and Country Club can be traced back to a meeting held on Saturday, June 25, held at the Hempstead Bank Building (at the corner of Fulton & Main Sts.)  Earlier that week, a group of men from the old Midland club organized to explore the suitability of acquiring and redeveloping the estate into a golf course. They solicited the advice of golf champion and designer of the Salisbury course, Walter J. Travis, who affirmed that the soil and terrain would make for a championship-caliber course.  A committee was formed under the leadership of Jesse Richards, a manager at the NY & Queens Electric Light & Power Co. and WH Eaton, a junior partner at Doubleday, Page & Co., and shortly thereafter, a lease agreement was made with the property owners that included an option to buy the site outright. 

By August, work was started on the course, under the supervision of master architect Peter Lees.  When Lees got to work, he found a property two-thirds of which was highly cultivated farmland, which held down construction costs.  The remaining third was wooded. The sod was a sandy loam about eighteen inches deep, similar to those of the Garden City courses, which figured favorably for the drainage of the greens and fairways, after heavy rains.  Lees laid out a course 6,334 yards long in total, and designed the unique feature where the first, ninth, tenth and eighteenth holes would be in full view of the veranda of the clubhouse.  (The course has since been redesigned). 

Membership fees were modest in comparison to other area clubs - the cost was set at a $100 initiation fee and a $100 annual membership, and soon the predetermined 350 member quota was quickly filled.

The old Parsons Homestead (circa 1704 - see previous article) was renovated into a stately clubhouse in time for a grand opening on Memorial day, 1921, while work continued on the course. By late Summer, nine holes were made ready and on a rainy Saturday, on Sept. 17, 1921 the golf course formally opened as Jesse Richards drove first ball.  By afternoon the clouds let up and the late Summer sun bathed the course in sunshine. 

In May 1922, the club exercised their option to purchase the property outright for $134,000, and the following year all 18 holes were ready for play.  A couple years later, an additional 18 acres was added to the property and the course underwent a complete redesign by A W Tillinghast and readied for the 1927 season.

Over the years, the clubhouse and grounds have undergone major renovation and changes. In 1934, a major fire destroyed a portion of the house, but the club regrouped and rebuilt that section.

Over 90 years later and still going strong, the Hempstead Golf and Country Club continues to provide leisure to its members and beautiful scenery to its community.

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