SI Vault
Jane Perry
August 22, 1955
Stooping, dawdling or arriving after 5 a.m. are invitations to disaster on Flatbush's only links
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August 22, 1955

Brooklyn's Mad Golf Course

Stooping, dawdling or arriving after 5 a.m. are invitations to disaster on Flatbush's only links

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The four in front will hold up the game by searching for balls, by mysteriously acquiring friends and becoming a sixsome; they will accuse the four behind of cutting in and trying to play past them. Sometimes they will charge at offenders with raised clubs—especially the females, who are, in this respect, the more deadly of the species Golfer Dykeriens.

The four behind will snap and snarl at the heels of the foursome ahead. If a player so much as stops to tie a shoelace, they will drive a warning ball whistling past his head. They are masters of the impatient stance, the sneering look, the "Hurry up, willya!" cries of outrage.


There are some players who have spent years trying to figure out various strategies of advancing their numbers on the blackboard. The powerful custodian of the numbers is the starter, a city employee of modest salary but heroic caliber, a man armed with only a piece of chalk, an eraser and a whistle, but capable of withstanding the deadliest bribes, insults and threats, often delivered simultaneously by the same golfer. The starter is able to handle minor emergencies himself—such as five players suddenly teeing off when only four have been called—but all requests for playing ahead of turn are referred to the supervisor of park operations who maintains a day-long vigil in the clubhouse.

Appeals to the director fall into several popular categories: The Professional Engagement—"I'm Dr. Smith, and I wouldn't ordinarily bother you but I have several patients coming to the office...or (variation) a serious appendectomy scheduled for one o'clock"; The Social Engagement—"Have a heart, pal, and let me tee off. I can just get in nine holes before my mother-in-law's funeral"; and The Train (Boat, Plane) Schedule—"You gotta let me play now. I'm sailing for Tasmania in two hours, and there ain't a golf course in the whole damn country." Not one request has been urgent or unusual enough to melt the supervisor, who after nearly 2 years at Dyker has observed human nature at its most mendacious. Before the 1930s, Dyker was a private golf club, first-called Dyker Fields and then the Marine and Field Course, but from the beginning it possessed a unique Brooklyn personality. In the earliest days of the motion picture industry, according to one old hand, when the Vitagraph Studio was located in Brooklyn, Lillian Russell enacted a notable golfing sequence at the old Dyker. The story called for Miss Russell to sink her putt, and this she was able to do adequately enough in the rehearsal. When the cameras went into action, however, Miss Russell's meager golfing skill failed. The crisis was solved by an ingenious Dyker caddy who tied a string around the ball, and as Miss Russell went through the motions, the caddy gently pulled the ball into the cup. This sort of maneuver became a specialty with some Dyker caddies, one of whom figured later in a tempestuous scandal when he was accused of picking up a client's ball, racing 20 yards to the green, and dropping it in for a hole-in-one.

Some old-timers recall that the old course was a popular dumping ground for hot goods during the days of Prohibition, and even for victims of gang rides. Bodies were promptly removed, but other inanimate objects often were not. A Ford that had been driven onto the 5th fairway remained there for years, unclaimed and gently rusting away, viewed by players after a while as simply another natural hazard.

The present enlarged city course was designed in 1934 by John R. Van Kleeck, who, with a great deal of foresight, retired to South America, thus removing himself from the range of the always-articulate Dykerites. During succeeding years Dyker became more and more streamlined, with most roughs minimized in the interest of speeding up play. Ten minutes wasted by one golfer searching for a lost ball can set off a chain reaction involving a hundred lost tempers, up to and including actual physical conflict.

One of Dyker's first pros was Brooklyn's Wiffy Cox, winner of the 1931 North and South Open. The five Strafaci brothers, including Frank, an amateur holder of many titles, and Tommy, the family's only professional, grew up in and on the course, starting their careers as Dyker caddies. Tommy, with his dark, John Garfield-type of good looks and impeccably tailored clothes, has raised the sartorial standard of Dyker an appreciable degree during the last few years. He and the assistant pro, Harry Dunn, give about 2,200 lessons a season, possibly a worldwide record.

Dyker has many low-handicap golfers but is famous for its beginners, especially those whose sole previous experience has consisted of hitting one pailful of balls at a driving range. Duffers have been known to take 55 strokes on Dyker's first hole. One beginner attempted to play with the covers still on his clubs; another lady duffer inquired at the pro shop for a box of divots. Then there was the caddy who came back to the clubhouse sobbing indignantly: "Dat guy tell me I gotta keep my eye on his ball, and then he hooks it into the swamp. He yells, 'Put down the clubs where ya seen the ball go in,' and I done it and found the ball. But now I can't find the clubs."

Golf ball snatching, a problem at all busy courses, has achieved the status of a science at Dyker. Among the most skilled snatchers are the small boys who operate on several fairways adjacent to the city streets. When directly accused, the boy might be standing on the ball or has just slipped it to an accomplice, but he is all snub-nosed, freckled and dirty-faced innocence. "I ain't got ya ball, mister. Wanna soich me?"

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