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Lost Courses

Among the global pantheon of lost wonders, a few loom large: New York City’s original Penn Station, London’s Crystal Palace, the Church of the Archangel Michael in Warsaw, Franny’s pizza in Brooklyn…
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Lost Courses

Among the global pantheon of lost wonders, a few loom large: New York City’s original Penn Station, London’s Crystal Palace, the Church of the Archangel Michael in Warsaw, Franny’s pizza in Brooklyn…

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ell, Franny’s might not be as mourned as the others (unless you’d tried the pizza) but it carries the point. Transcending their essential purposes, some structures come to define their communities and to engender personal relationships with individuals, and so when the wrecking ball swings it creates emptiness beyond the skyline. A fact of life in big cities, such losses come to golf too, with game-defining courses sometimes replaced by lesser updates, condos and the like. To paraphrase Confucius, it might be worthwhile to study golf’s past if we would define its future, and so here, in a game that’s about moving forward, we offer a look over golf’s shoulder with six U.S. courses pulled from a global list of plenty more. Feel free to find us online and to let us know which course you miss the most…

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View of the Island Hole green, which was the first island green built in the United States.

Baltusrol Golf Club’s Old Course

Yes, we know that the club named for murdered farmer Baltus Roll still exists in Springfield, New Jersey, and that it’s been around for 126 years. We also know that it’s on the National Register of Historic places and that the visionary 36 holes originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast are pure class. However, those holes sit atop a different golf course, one designed by George Hunter in 1895 and later revisited by George Low, who as Baltusrol’s golf pro and greenskeeper improved the course tremendously, by all reports. This “Old Course,” which no longer exists, was no weed-strewn sand lot. Rather, in fine fashion it hosted the U.S. Open in 1903 and 1915, the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1901 and 1911, and 1904 U.S. Amateur.

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The green of the 1st

Following the major in 1915, Baltusrol’s Green Committee noted in its annual report that “In June we held the Open Tournament of the USGA which was described by the officers of that Association as one of most successful ever held.” The course and its conditioning were credited for the tournament’s success, making it perhaps even more incredible that, just three years after hosting a successful (second) major, the Old Course would be plowed under to make way for a
new design.

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Aerial shot of The Lido in its heyday

The Lido

Of all of the lost courses on golf’s ofrenda, Charles Blair Macdonald’s The Lido occupies a frame gilded as much by legend as by plaudits. After its 1917 opening on Long Island, NY, Hall of Fame golf writer Bernard Darwin called it “the finest course in the world” while 1948 Masters champ Claude Harmon offered that it was “the greatest golf course ever.” The U.S. Navy used The Lido as a base during WWII, and eventually the course was demolished. 

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Today, Long Beach High School sits on what used to be No.16 and there are condos where the clubhouse once stood. Its demise and apparent desecrations elevated The Lido from “praised” to “venerated,” and its legend has only grown over the years, with the tone of people in some online forums making one wonder if The Lido’s water hazards weren’t instead running with milk and honey, the bunkers filled with gold dust, and the breezes somehow scented rose. Such a shame that mortals today cannot experience this ethereal track—but wait! Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and a bit of well-funded nostalgia, The Lido is getting a second act. The entrepreneurial Keiser Brothers have engaged Tom Doak and historian Peter Flory to resurrect The Lido in the sand hills of Wisconsin, far from the cry of Long Island’s gulls. Lido2 is set to rise from the ashes in 2023 as “a faithful re-creation of the original course,” as the developers have it, and reportedly will be open only to guests of the Keiser’s Sand Valley resort. Press your plus fours and stay tuned.

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Sam Snead on the ninth green in the 1938 Metropolitan Open

Fresh Meadow Country Club 

Long before the New York City borough of Queens hosted frantic travelers rushing to make planes at JFK and La Guardia airports, it held Fresh Meadow Country Club and one of the country’s finest golf courses. Designed by A.W. Tillinghast and opened in 1922, the club featured Gene Sarazen as its head pro and hosted not one, but two major championships: the 1930 PGA Championship and the 1932 U.S. Open. Sarazen finished runner-up to Tommy Armour at the 1930 event but took the 1932 tournament (after having left to work at another club), further adding to Fresh Meadow’s lore. The course reportedly featured clever doglegs and cruel bunkers, as was Tillinghast’s style, and earned praise from the likes of Horton Smith, who won the inaugural Masters and the third Masters as well. He called Fresh Meadow’s 578-yard No.5 “one of the finest he had ever played,” and the club’s longevity seemed assured. However, as anyone in New York City knows, and as countless authors have written in various forms, just about the time you fall in love with something in NYC they tear it down, and so it was with Fresh Meadow CC. 

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Gene Sarazen tees off at the 1932 U.S. Open.

City expansion and housing needs—not to mention wildly increasing land values—compelled the club to sell in 1946 and relocate to Long Island, where it operates today. Though Flushing lost an American golf gem, at least it continues to host
the US Open of tennis, and then there are the Mets… 

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A victorious Julius Boros at the 1968 PGA Championship, having beaten Arnold Palmer [below], whose heroics weren’t enough to close the one-shot gap

Pecan ValleyGolf Club

For golfers of a certain age, this loss in San Antonio, Texas, still stings. In 1968, at a PGA Championship played over Pecan Valley’s tight layout and quick greens, a 48-year-old Julius Boros became the then-oldest winner of a major, beating Arnold Palmer by a single stroke (Phil Mickelson took the “oldest” record this year at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course, winning the same event at 50 years of age). Palmer hit what was arguably one of his best-ever shots during the tournament: a 3-wood out of deep rough on No.18 that traveled 230 yards and settled 12 feet from the hole. The shot earned him a plaque on the course marking the spot where the shot occurred, but Palmer missed the putt (and a chance at the major he never won), tying for second at 2-over with Bob Charles.

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 It wasn’t Pecan Valley’s only event, as the club also hosted the LPGA’s Alamo Ladies Open from 1963 to 1966, the Texas Open Invitational in 1967, ’69 and ’70, and the USGA’s 2001 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. Generally regarded as one of Texas’ better courses, Pecan Valley was acquired by the ironically named Foresight Golf, which abruptly closed the course in 2012, making Pecan Valley the first major championship venue to shutter in the U.S. since the 1939 PGA Championship-hosting Pomonok Country Club in Queens, NY, in 1949. As of press time, the land was still vacant and the course overgrown, while plans for a veterans’ community (talked about since 2012) continued to inch forward. 

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Englewood Golf Club

Just over half an hour from Baltusrol, straddling the border of Englewood and Leonia in New Jersey, Englewood Golf Club was another major host that fell, although it wasn’t replaced by golf. The track was built in 1896 as nine holes but by 1900 had 18 and was regarded as one of the area’s finest venues. Consider that it hosted both the 1906 U.S. Amateur—arguably the most prestigious event in golf at the time—and the 1909 U.S. Open, becoming New Jersey’s only other course to date to host that major, along with Baltusrol. A U.S. Open scoring record was set at the 1909 event, when English victor George Sargeant made 290 and took $300 for his work. The tournament featured two other notable moments as well, when Tom McNamara (69) and David Hunter (68) became the first two competitors to break 70 in U.S. Open play. Two years after the major, the club hosted the Met Open, and shortly after that Donald Ross was brought in to sort new bunkers and new green contouring. Despite the club’s optimism for the future, its national event days were over. Englewood’s relatively short length (6,205 yards during the U.S. Open) and a 1920s boom in course development likely kept it out of the running for more majors and, as writer Daniel Wexler had it, the club eventually became “a ‘colorful’ place featuring many show-business and Mafia personalities.” Still, Englewood wasn’t done-in by its changing audience. Rather, the lauded venue was bisected by Interstate 95 in the 1960s, with the on-ramp to the George Washington Bridge cutting right through the course. Play continued for a while, but by 1976 the economics weren’t working and the club closed. Cross Creek Point condominium complex was built on the Englewood side of the property while homes appeared on the Leonia side, the latter keeping the only remnant of the course alive with a street named “Golf Course Drive.”

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Edgar Rice Burroughs at home in Tarzana

El Caballero Country Club

Located in Tarzana, California, this William P. Bell design opened in 1924 on land once owned by writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. Burroughs was on the club’s Board of Governors along with several prominent developers, including Alphonzo Bell, who developed Bel Air, and so El Caballero didn’t lack for VIP visitors and events. The course itself wound its way through a couple of large canyons and generally pleased the media, with the Los Angeles Times lauding its “pair of famously diminutive par threes, the 144-yard fifth and the 115-yard 17th. At the former a mid-iron generally was required to find an L-shaped green perched just above the canyon; the latter was notorious for its tiny, bunker-ringed putting surface.” Sports-writing legend Grantland Rice said El Caballero was one of the West Coast’s most amazing courses, and the national press regularly praised El Caballero as well. It hosted the 1927 Los Angeles Open (won by Bobby Cruickshank) and seemed destined to be a classic, but the Great Depression hit it hard and WWII dealt the final blow. The course was converted to housing during the postwar real estate boom, although a club of the same name opened in 1957 at a different location.

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