Shinnecock, Shminnecock! (Golf & Jews, II)

Not that you should care, but I chose to live in Flatbush, out in Brooklyn's ass-end, for two reasons: to be near be near a pool where I could swim laps a couple times a week, and to be close to a golf course or a driving range.

Oddly enough, the place where I chose to rent this spacious but slightly dingy apartment, near Brooklyn College, was a golf course back in the 1920s, according to the old Brooklyn websites. Nowadays there's Marine Park, just down Flatbush Avenue, and a perfectly fine driving range a mile past that, so I'm living closer to a golf course than I have since I went to Haverford, not that I ever managed to get onto Merion.
So I was excited when a couple of months ago the golf architect Stephen Kay mentioned he had been inspecting Marine Park for a renovation. Opened in 1962, this Trent Jones design sits on inlets near Jamaica Bay on windswept land very suitable for links: sandy soil (though some of it seems like landfill), relatively flat but comparatively useless for anything but golf -- which is the way it should be. From the tips it plays at over 7,000 yards, and, with some investment and upgrading, could be a first-rate municipal golf course.
Last week the city announced it had terminated the contract of the winning bidder, Dominick Logazzo, thanks to Logazzo's connections with the Columbo organized crime family.
Which sucks. Marine Park is potentially a wonderful golf course -- the holes range from simply appealing to remarkable: the fourth, for instance, a very long and narrow dogleg-left with trees left, playing uphill to a pretty mound of a green. The land it's on is distinctively South Shore Long Island, and remarkably unsullied considering it sits at the corner of Flatbush Avenue and the Belt Parkway.
I'm not defending them, but ain't no two ways about it: Southern Brooklyn is thick with mob activity. From Bay Ridge to Sheepshead Bay, you might say the Italian mob isn't as well-ensconced as it used to be, but the Russians are doing ok, or so I hear.
So here's the problem; in a way it's almost hard to imagine anyone who 1) knows or cares about Marine Park and, 2) could afford to pay for the renovations and 3) is NOT in some way connected to the mob.
Well, anyone say, except some of my landsmen, the orthodox Jews, many of whom I often see hitting golf balls, enthusiastically if not particularly well, at the driving range down the block from Marine Park, at the Brooklyn Golf Center across from Floyd Bennett Field.
Lots of Jews play golf, you know, apart from Jesus and Moses. For some reason (outcasts striving to make it?), it's funny even if it's not Larry David doing it. As Alan Sherman, the oracle of mid-20th century Jewish life, put it in "76 Sol Cohens," sung to the tune of "76 Trombones":
Seventy-six Sol Cohens at the country club
And a hundred and ten nice men named Levine
And there's more than a thousand Finks
Who parade around the links,
It's a sight that really must be seen!
Out in the Hamptons, not long after Atlantic Golf Club came into existence twenty years ago -- membership cost $100,000, unheard of at the time, but now cheap -- the snoots liked to rattle off the names of the prestigious local clubs: "Maidstone, Shinnecock, National, and Hebrew National."
Al Barkow, my first golf editor, has never made a secret of his own origins as a Lithuanian Jew from Chicago, but used to point out with some spiteful satisfaction that Herbert Warren Wind, dean of American golf writers, was originally Jewish. At least one U.S. Open champion, Corey Pavin, was a member of the tribe, at least for a time -- even before he became 'born again" long even before he won the Open, people said he was uncomfortable discussing his "family origins." Morris Hatalsky, a fixture on the PGA Tour during the 70s and 80s, was also Jewish before he converted, thanks to the efforts of Don Pooley in what, despite my own skepticism is a genuinely touching story. (Gosh, I might not have like the Billy Graham part but the possibility of winning an Open -- now, that might get me into church.)
One might be tempted, if one cared to delve in these sorts of matters, that conversion was the price for social acceptance, but that is a risky business. On the other hand, speaking of miracles: Sandy Weill actually managed to get into Augusta National after he ran Citibank, which owned The Travelers, allied with the Masters since forever. To my knowledge, there has never been a Jewish USGA executive; however, in 1997 Quaker Ridge hosted the Walker Cup (joining a spectacular list of architectural gems) which counts as an achievement, and Atlantic is set for the 2010 Mid-Amateur.
To me, the most amazing triumph happened eighty-five years ago, when Inwood CC, a nice course out near Far Rockaway, hosted the first of two majors, the PGA Championship, in 1921, won by Walter Hagen. Two years later, the US was played here, which Bobby Jones won, for the first of his 13 majors. Thanks to Tom Doak's good work, Inwood's design virtues are still apparent and make it quite an enjoyable course to play lo these many years later, but I believe it's a tribute to the Inwood members as well as the PGA and USGA brass -- and the golf course -- that good golf triumphed over the social prejudices of the day. But I'd still be curious how this happened, and the Inwood club history doesn't give a clue.
Jews and golf makes for quite a remarkable social history, though it's one that will probably remain largely untold, because people, quite understandably, prefer their private indulgences to remain that way.