By BRETT CYGRALIS (link to the Post article here)
There’s a tree that stands in front of 50-11 228th Street in Bayside, Queens, which very few people stop to look at anymore. It’s tall and spreads its shade from sidewalk to sidewalk, people stopping underneath in their cars and hustling into their homes, all in the name of haste.
“I don’t know nothing about no golf course,” one resident said recently as he came out onto his screen-enclosed porch shirtless, holding back his barking dog and refusing to give his name.
Not many know about the course that used to be here, and, as old as the tree is, it might only have the faintest memory.
That’s because Oakland Golf Club not only has disappeared physically, it has disappeared from the consciousness of a golf-crazed region. Right there in northern Queens was a cog in the early-American golfing landscape, a course that was home to the famed amateur Walter Travis, that hosted the legendary Harry Vardon on his American tour of 1900, and that was redesigned by the master Golden Age architect Seth Raynor in 1921.
Yet, in the post-WWII suburban expansion of New York City, ground was sacrificed in the name of progress. The death knell for Oakland came with the construction of the Long Island Expressway in 1952, the final nail in its coffin driven in by the Clearview Expressway in 1960.
“We look at it from our perspective, and back then the population wasn’t that big and there was land,” said George Bahto, golf historian and author, who is in the process of writing a comprehensive history of Raynor’s life. “Now, how do you justify a city course between taxes and everything else? It’s tough.”
Oakland — which by all accounts was spectacular and just short of Raynor’s creations at The Creek Club or Piping Rock, heralded courses on Long Island — was not the only great course within the city limits to meet its end with little fanfare or remembrance.
“Ask anybody to name the first [A.W.] Tillinghast course to host two major championships, and I’ll bet no one gets it,” said Phil Young, historian for the Tillinghast Society. “They might guess Baltusrol or Winged Foot, or if they’re young, Bethpage Black. It was Fresh Meadow.”
Young is referring to Tillinghast’s signature design in Queens that hosted the 1930 PGA Championship, followed by the 1932 U.S. Open, and then was sold to real estate developers in 1946. The membership moved farther east, and now occupies a course in Nassau County that once was called the Lakeville Club.
Tillinghast also had a part in the redesign of St. Albans Country Club, just north of where JFK Airport is now, which hosted the 1930 Met Amateur, won by Maurice McCarthy, Jr. It was consumed by suburban expansion in the 1950s.
“I always thought it was impressive that Queens had more great golf courses than most great golfing counties in all of the country,” said Dan Wexler, who wrote “Missing Links,” a book describing dozens of courses designed by famous architects throughout the U.S. that have disappeared. “The best architects in America, at one time, almost all had courses in New York City or the very close environs.”
This list also includes two courses by the most prolific architect in the area, Devereux Emmet. The more famous design was Pomonok Country Club in Flushing, host of the 1939 PGA Championship that was sold to developers 10 years later. The other was Queens Valley, which Emmet wrote was “the most desirable club near New York,” but never held any major championships.
To round off the list of great city courses gone missing, look upon another tree that currently sits in front of 230-41 28th Avenue, just north of Bayside High School. If the tree goes back about 60 years, it would have stood next to the wonderful green complex of the 16th hole at Dr. Alister MacKenzie’s Bayside Links.
MacKenzie designed Bayside just before going to help out Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts with Augusta National, and he built it as a playable track with the same spirit as his beloved municipal courses in his homeland of Scotland.