Saturday, January 28, 2006

Garden City Golf Club

Garden City Golf Club (#55 in the world) founded in 1899, not to be confused with nearby Garden City Country Club, is one of the most unique courses in the world top 100. Generally referred to as "The Mens Club" or "Garden City Mens" it prides itself on being exclusively a club for men. There are many stories about Garden City related to how women are not allowed on the property, let alone on the course; this includes the driveway and parking lot. When we played Garden City and casually asked the member how many members Garden City had, he gave an unusual answer: 399. Apparently, the laws in New York State governing private clubs regarding equal access issues, employment law, etc. have certain provisions that kick in when there are more than 400 members. Thus, the carefully crafted strategy. The laws are also such that the club has to be for social and non-business purposes. Garden City is not the place to go to hammer out business deals, as this is strictly enforced. Likewise, your company cannot pay for your dues, you must pay them yourself.

There is a reason why Garden City has not hosted a U.S.G.A. event since 1936. While there are many courses in the top 100 that do not have female members including Augusta, Pine Valley, The Golf Club (Ohio) and Garden City, Garden City's exclusion is total. It is the only one that won't let women play.

While many stories about Garden City are no doubt apocryphal, it has indeed evolved into an all male club with attitude. According to the New York Times, although never allowed in the clubhouse, up until the 1950s women were allowed to play the course before eleven o’clock on Monday and Friday mornings. When Garden City celebrated their annual “open house” on New Years day, the women guests had to drink their eggnogs outside the clubhouse in the parking lot.

The bar area at Garden City Men's

I don't consider myself to be discriminatory in any fashion. In fact, I quite enjoy the company of the fairer sex. But, I am a firm believer in the First Amendment right to free association and Garden City has created a unique atmosphere. I found Garden City to be a charming place. Since this is after all a club for gentleman, one of its rules is that you must always wear a jacket when you enter through the front door of the club house. We find that New Yorkers in general and certainly those from Long Island in particular, often times have an 'edge', shall we say. This is certainly the case at Garden City. On the morning we played, upon arrival, a member was walking through the parking lot approaching the clubhouse wearing boat shoes, shorts, and a golf shirt; but he had on the requisite blue blazer. Once inside, as long as you are not in the dining room or bar area you can take the jacket off, however, you must wear it into the club. Although the rule is to wear a jacket, this is not to be confused with Muirfield or Royal St. George's where the decorum is different and a jacket and tie are the proper attire to be respected. Welcome to New York.

In any event, entering the clubhouse at Garden City is like entering a museum. You enter and the locker room is to the right hand side through two saloon-style swinging doors. The old low slung open metal green lockers are the originals, as is almost everything. There is a large moose head mounted high up in the arching ceiling at the far end of the room. The main part of the clubhouse is one of the more genuinely warm and cozy rooms I've been in. In this regard, Garden City is more like a traditional English or Scottish club. If you were filming a period movie about a golf club at the turn of the century, you'd use the inside of the clubhouse at Garden City without changing a thing. There is no indication in the room that you are still not in 1899. The place is right out of central casting, with green leather chairs and sofas, a fireplace and dark wood.

The golf course has a great pedigree, designed by Devereux Emmett and Walter Travis. Travis was one of the top amateur golfers of his day and Garden City is a shrine to him. The "Travis Room" in the clubhouse includes a lot of original memorabilia and clubs used by 'The Old Man' as he is affectionately known. The Amateur Championship was held at Garden City four times and the U.S. Open once. Charles Blair Macdonald was one of the founding members of the club, which had a great appeal to New York City residents in the early years because it was built across the street from the railroad and it was a much shorter train ride to Garden City than to the other grand New York courses located in the Hamptons.

The course itself is a natural style layout on flat terrain. The first hole is short (302 from the tips) and quirky with a semi-blind tee shot. The second hole is a great par three of about 150 yards. It features a green set at a diagonal with a "bottomless pit" of sand set in front. It is not a long hole, but plays much tougher than it looks.


The view from the fairway to the first green at Garden City

What you see is what you get at Garden City. The course is all right there in front of you. Avoid the penal fescue, seen in the picture above, and you will have an enjoyable day. Many of the approach shots to the greens are either flat or slightly up hill. The greens themselves are subtely contoured away from you or slope downhill. One of the secrets to playing Garden City is figuring out how to hit your approach shots to the greens so they don't roll off. A Scotsman would be right at home, bumping shots onto the green as well.


The par five 4th hole with its elevated green

8th green
The fabulously bunkered and difficult 8th hole at Garden City

16th green
The par four 16th hole's green

The meat of the course are holes thirteen through seventeen, a tough collection of par fours and fives. The course has only three par threes and plays to a par of 73. The par four fifteenth hole has one of the most canted greens I have ever seen and slopes sharply from left to right.

Although this part of Long Island is quite congested, the middle part of the course has parts that offer isolated seclusion that catches you by surprise, and the neighborhood surrounding the course is quaint with a lot of tudor style houses. Other parts of the course are near roads, some of the views are of industrial buildings and the course is on a flight path into JFK, so it is not a complete walk in the park.
18 green
The par three 18th green with the porch right behind it

Garden City also features a par three finishing hole with a pond on the right side, next to the green. Shades of your tee shot at Merion, the outside dining area is right behind the eighteenth green, creating more pressure than you would imagine when playing the hole with a gallery watching.

After the round, you can sit and enjoy the ambiance of the place and watch groups coming in playing seventeen and eighteen. Your food and drink orders are written on a computer punch card, another quirky and unique aspect of the place. Also, in how many golf clubs in the world do they have German Peach Pancakes and Palatschinka with Wild Lingonberries on the menu? I think that if the founding members came back to Garden City they would be very happy to see that it hasn't changed at all. Long Island is, mile for mile, I believe, the best golf region in the world and Garden City is one of the reasons why.

Post Script

After posting on Garden City I have received a number of emails regarding Garden City's policy of women playing. Apparently, members wives can play on select days (Mondays) or a woman can play at the discretion of the executive committee, which they have selectively granted in the past. Nevertheless, Garden City remains a male-dominated bastion of the golf world that we hope they continue to proudly defend.


Anonymous said...

You need to add Butler National to the list of those not allowing a woman through the gate. Our limo driver was female and the assistant pro drove out to use on the 17th to say she was very upset. He told us why. When we got into the car she was fuming. We calmed her down.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you had a nice time playing the course. Although the course is short. It really is the closest to playing traditional golf in Scotland. The club's history is one of the best parts of the experience.

Anonymous said...

Another male only theme, is that the course is the home of the National father-son turnament. The alternate shot format features the son hitting the tee shot off the number one hole, talk about pressure !

Anonymous said...

I find it deeply hypocritical that you applaud Garden City's ridiculously sexist and backward policy and then bash Fishers Island on the basis of perceived elitism.

Anonymous said...

Add Gator Creek outside Sarasota to the all mens list. They allow women only on one day, the day before x-mas to buy husbands gifts.
Quite a riot when you walk into the clubhouse and men are walking out of the womens rest room (apparently for building codes you need a womens restroom).

Anonymous said...

The Generla Manager of this club is the rudest man I have ever met in my life. They should be ashamed to have someone like that running their venue.

Anonymous said...

i know for a fact that members are allowed to have their daughters play as guests, it has to be on mondays.

golfnut said...

great course used to caddy there someday ill be a member , hey the girls have their 2 golf courses down the block

Anonymous said...

Great experience for golf... From requiring sports coats to lunch on the patio after the round... did I mention how fun the course is?

Anonymous said...

This is truly a great track, as I have had the honor to play Garden City Men's. Daughters are allowed to play occassionaly. It is strange to see members play with their shirts off once they get away from the few houses that sit on the border. It is imperfectly perfect.

Ole what's his Name said...

The name "Garden City" is truly accurate for this golf course, in that it is a Garden of Eden.. from the unassuming 1st hole to the short 9th, then around and down to the 16th, up and across the 17th to get to the Garden Spot, Walter Travis's and Deveraux Emmett's 18.. the walk thru the 'Garden' is something worth the visit..Ladies or no ladies
Ole what's his name

Anonymous said...

seriously...these people need to over themselves. no women in the club...
no wonder it looks like shit
and probably smells like shit too!

Anonymous said...

Add another - Preston Trails Golf Club in Dallas, Texas allows female play once a year - on Valentine's Day.

Anonymous said...

Burning Tree is all male and when past US Presidents have played if they have a woman on his secret service she can't come up the driveway. Once you walk in the front door of the building that's the last "door" you see. It's still one of the great golf experiences

Anonymous said...

This must be a course that one has to play in order to truly appreciate it. I've seen it in person and have seen plenty of pictures and it's hard to see why it is rated so high.

Unknown said...

Pictures do not do it justice. I have been lucky enough to play this course numerous times over the years and am always challenged. This is a true thinking mans course. It defies all attempts to categorize. Garden City members' handicaps travel very well due to its difficulty.

Anonymous said...

Re: The poster who says the GM is the rudest person they have encountered. Get a life . I believe you were a guest,and your manners were deplorable. I am female. The GM has been there over 30 years. EM