By Mark Herrman (Link to original article)
There is a big sign above the ticket office at Eisenhower Park: HOME OF THE 1926 PGA CHAMPIONSHIP. It is a lasting tribute to the fact that 85 years ago this week, the course in East Meadow was the center of the golf universe. Walter Hagen won his third consecutive PGA, a feat not done before or since.
A more profound tribute, though, is the steady parade of golfers coming in and out below that sign. All these decades later, the place is alive and open for business. The Red Course, which was called Salisbury Golf Club No. 4 in 1926, is closed for a few days, but that is merely a sign of life. The greens are being aerated, a standard procedure that pokes holes in the turf to let the soil breathe.
Eisenhower Red will reopen this weekend, a living, breathing testimony to the resilience of a quality course and Long Island golf in general.
“It has passed the test of time. It’s a facility that has been around since 1914. There is history around, but I don’t know that everybody knows the history,” said Ben Orlowski, superintendent of the three courses at Eisenhower Park, which are owned and run by Nassau County.
History says Salisbury had five courses — two private and three public. No. 4, designed by noted architect Devereux Emmet, was the most celebrated and the only one to survive the Great Depression. It was renamed the Red after the county salvaged the land in 1944 and carved the White and Blue from the remaining property in 1951.
The Red was altered only slightly — the first and 18th holes were moved across the road that now leads into the park, and the second and 13th were converted from short par-4s into par-3s. So, basically, a Nassau resident who plunks down $36 on a 2011 weekday plays the same course that Hagen did.
Hagen was a flamboyant, popular figure and contemporary of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. He won the 1926 PGA (his third of four in a row), 5 and 3, over Leo Diegel in a 36-hole final. According to the Sept. 26, 1926 New York Times, Diegel was doomed after he overshot the first green in the afternoon round. His brassie shot rolled under a car. The car was moved, but his ball was stuck in a tire track. He advanced his next shot only a few feet and never recovered.
Two weeks later, Salisbury No. 4 hosted the inaugural Met PGA Championship. Hagen wasn’t there (he was on a Canadian hunting trip), but Gene Sarazen and other big names were. Joe Turnesa won as the course burnished a tournament image that led to an annual Champions Tour event (2003-2008).
The PGA Championship might very well return to Long Island in the next 10 years, what with officials negotiating to hold it at Bethpage Black. Meanwhile, former tournament committee members are adamant about trying to get the Champions Tour back to Eisenhower Park. Orlowski, who worked at Shinnecock Hills and Winged Foot before he arrived in 2003 to assist Gene Contino, is all for it.
“It’s a solid design. It’s a course that the daily golfer can play. It doesn’t wear you out, it doesn’t beat you up. But with a few tweaks like you saw in the tournament — get the green speeds up, bring the rough up — it is a golf course that can become more challenging,” he said.
“Today,” Orlowski said, “these guys are walking the same ground that the pros walked almost 100 years ago. It’s pretty cool.”