New highways have doomed many a course. To build state parkways back in the '20s we tore a strip off the Wheatley Hills Golf Club and chewed up a considerable part of the Meadow Brook Country Club, one of the oldest in this country and famous for its hounds. The golf members at Meadow Brook were outraged. They probably should have moved right then, but they didn't. Some 25 years later the new Meadow-brook Parkway cut through the golf course and polo fields and forced them out. They moved only another five miles away—which was a mistake. This fall the Long Island Expressway will take part of their new land.
But what generally happens to a private suburban golf course as the county or town is populated by commuters? The fate that befalls them all is a rapidly rising property assessment and tax collection (jealously watched by small nonmember neighbors who insist that the clubs pay their share of the cost of schools and other services), steeper upkeep and sharp reductions of the number of nearby well-to-do eligibles.
Look at some assessment figures covering the last two or three decades and bear in mind that even the last records do not anywhere near reflect true values. In most instances assessed valuations have more than doubled and some have more than tripled.
A municipality can do just so much to alleviate the situation. In the last quarter century New York City has built two new 18-hole courses—Kissena in Queens and Split Rock in The Bronx. In addition, nine holes were added to the existing La Tourette course in Richmond and an 18-hole pitch and putt course was built at Jacob Riis Park in Queens. The city also has a 27-hole golf course under way at Marine Park in Brooklyn, proposes to build a 27-hole course at Idlewild Park in Queens and an 18-hole pitch and putt course at Great Kills Park in Richmond. It should be noted that the first municipal golf course was built at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City in 1889. We reconstructed it later, also rebuilt the adjacent course, known as Mosholu, and both links are now functioning and, I may add, overcrowded. A total of 700,187 rounds were played on the 10 city courses last year.
On Long Island, we arrived just in time to put a halt to rampant subdivision of one good golf property. We learned that the Lenox Hills course at Bethpage in the Manetto foothills, 20 miles from New York, might be disposed of. I persuaded the owners to take 5% income tax exempt bonds of a state authority, hastily rigged up for the purpose, for the land. We took title and improved the existing course and built three additional public courses with Harry Hopkins' relief money. Now there is a fifth course with a clubhouse at the hub of the wheel, the only layout of 90 holes in the world. All it required to achieve this was ingenuity.
The net score for future city and nearby golf in a sense isn't bad, but it by no means meets the increasing public demands. Obviously, this leaves a great deal to the private clubs. But when a private 125-or 175-acre city or suburban golf club is assessed for $1.5 million or more and has to pay annual real property taxes of $60,000 or $70,000, you can be sure it assumes the mantle of responsibility with some timidity.
To meet the challenge, some clubs have been forced to take in more and more boarders, many of the nongolf house members. Other links have moved out farther, taking advantage of the new parkways, expressways and thruways, out to Exurbia, which begins 20 miles from town and extends to 50 miles. (Beyond this radius, we are dealing largely with vacation 'and weekend people.) There are also some interesting and promising trends toward industrial ownership. For example, the private Guggenheim Golf Course at Sands Point on Long Island, not far from the city line, was acquired by IBM for its employees. This company can, no doubt, afford to pay taxes indefinitely, so the course seems to be a fixture.
Unfortunately, not all clubs are as well set financially as IBM, nor are they always as enterprising. Let me give you an illustration to show how nearsighted the private golfers can be when they face an emergency. There is no use in being mysterious about it. The club I refer to is Deepdale, which nestled on relatively high land on the north side of Long Island right at the line which divides New York from Nassau County. The Long Island Expressway had to go through the club property. What to do? Some of us suggested the club go into court and bridge a cut or slot into which we offered to put the expressway. Nothing doing, they said. Fortunately, the local village authorities were smart. They rose to the occasion, acquired the club and accepted our proposition. They now have a nice municipal course. Instead of moving out another 10 or 15 miles, Deepdale acquired the Grace estate and mansion, attractive and with as good topography, but only about two miles from the city line. I doubt that the club can stay there very long.
What are the answers? Golf clubs, private and public alike, must learn to cater to whole families including women and children little concerned with golf. One hundred fifty acres of valuable urban or suburban land, taxable or exempt, is too much to devote to three hundred or four hundred players a day. There must be tennis, gymnasiums, indoor and outdoor swimming, baseball, polo, day camps for children, maybe riding, skating, picnicking and what-not for nongolfers. The number of house members of clubs will increase as will the number of year-round users. Clubs in outlying territory will tend more and more to be community parks.
Meanwhile private golf clubs and big estates must move farther out from town and sell their land for public courses, parks or subdivisions. I personally hope they will look for something more than quick money. They should seriously consider selling cheap to the park department, state or municipal, subject to say five or 10 years' occupancy as a tenant. This will give them a period of grace during which they can figure out a new golf course. More important, they will have a better opportunity to gauge population trends and, when the time comes to move, to select a site that will not be inundated by housing developments the minute they settle down. They needn't and shouldn't insist on the last nickel they can get from the most rapacious realtor. The advantages, should they sell to municipal authorities, are obvious. Rather than mile upon unrelieved mile of houses and apartments, they will be able to set aside the land for the recreational use of their citizens.