Wheatley Hills Golf Club Excerpts from “Parkland by the Parkways” by Dr. William Quirin
In the early years of this century, the Garden City Company came to realize the need for a golf course available to the guests of the Garden City Hotel, which they owned, and other residents who were not members of the Garden City Golf Clubs. So they commissioned Walter Travis to design an 18-hole golf course on a tract of land south of the hotel whose terrain resembled that of the Golf Club to the north. The course, called the Salisbury Links, opened for play in 1907 as a public subscription facility, available to all approved players, male and female. To quote Travis, the 5838 yards course offered “a good game for all classes of players from the very top-notcher to the veriest duffer”.
Located within a ten minute walk of the hotel and railroad station, the new club proved very popular. Too popular, in fact, and by 1915 the course had become heavily congested. In May of 1916, the Garden City Company decided to re-organize it as a private club, which it called the Cherry Valley Golf Club, after the road which ran through the course. In fact, a group of golfers using the name “Cherry Valley Golf Club” had been playing at the Salisbury for years. To replace the public facility, a new course was built on 1916 at the foot of Stewart Ave, just to the east of Garden City in what is now called Eisenhower Park. It opened in 1917.
Aside from its present three clubs, Garden City’s past included the Midland Golf Club, an informal neighborhood club organized in 1899. The club’s 45 members (men and women) maintained their own clubhouse and 9-hole golf course. The latter was situated just a few blocks east of Cherry Valley, between Franklin and Hilton Avenues, south of Fourth Street. It occupied prime real estate in Garden City, and was used on “free lease” from the Garden City Company. After their course fell victim to real estate development, the Midland Club members played at the Salisbury Links, but in 1912 they decided to build their own course in East Williston. Although some backed out, the majority proceeded to found the Wheatley Hills Golf Club, which opened its doors in 1913. Those who stayed behind continued on at Salisbury until 1920, when they helped form the Hempstead Golf Club.
The Wheatley Hills Golf Club was organized on February 1, 1913, then incorporated on May 23rd of that year. The “movement away from Salisbury” was lead by R. W. “Pop” Turner, the club’s first president. The founding group consisted of about some forty men, former Salisbury players all, many of them members of the Midland Club. They were joined shortly thereafter by another group of the same size, mostly Brooklynites, who had tried unsuccessfully to organize the Glenwood Country Club. The latter were a part of a group that formed the Glenwood Holding Company, which purchased the 189 acres in Glenwood Landing, intending to lease part of it for a new golf course. That deal fell through, however, and the newly formed North Shore Country Club took over the property in 1914. Part of the Glenwood group then joined Wheatley Hills, others eventually turned up at Bethpage, and still others, members of Brooklyn’s Crescent Athletic Club, ultimately formed the Huntington Crescent Club.
The name “Wheatley” chosen for the club dates back at least as far as the middle of the 18th century, and is familiar throughout nearby Old Westbury. Indeed, the land immediately to the west of the club was known as Wheatley Ridge.
The club’s first official act was to lease some farm land from a farmer named A. H. Titus and engaged golf architect Devereux Emmett to design an 18-hole golf course. Emmett had nine holes ready for play by the fall of 1913, and the full course completed by the following year. The bunkering was added in 1916. The original course was a par 74 test of 6022 yards, and in true Emmett style featured significant carriers over deep rough to reach the fairways.
The Titus farmhouse, a white, two-story, Southern Colonial structure situated to the north of the present clubhouse, served as Wheatley Hills’ first home. An old ship bell, located behind the house and used to signal farm workers at mealtime and the end of the workday, is the only reminder of that period. Now located in the middle of the practice putting green, it once was used to salute the victor in the club’s championship tournament, and is now used to signal the start of shotgun tournaments.
When the club purchased the land from the Titus estate in 1926, the present clubhouse, designed by J. H. Phillips, was built at the cost of $134,000. It was seriously damaged by fire on February 6, 1976, but quickly restored.
Emmett and his partner, Alfred Tull, revised the golf course extensively after the 1931 season. Five new holes were built at that time, and the course yardage extended from 6205 to 6505 yards. The occasion for the change was the building of the Northern State Parkway – as far as nearby Jericho Turnpike at that time. The new roadway cut across the eastern end of the club property, destroying a few holes in that area. The land for the new holes #1 through #5 was donated by member Alfred Valentine.
Through its early years, the club’s property was bisected by the Long Island Motor Parkway, which divided the golf course in two nearly equal pieces. The Parkway was the vision of William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. and was constructed during the years of 1906-1910. A millionaire industrialist and sportsman, Vanderbilt initially viewed the Parkway as a safe place to conduct the Vanderbilt Cup automobile races, and annual contest of international import that originally and been routed through the streets of Nassau County – Hempstead and Jericho Turnpikes in particular. Ironically, auto racing was outlawed on Long Island in 1911, and the Motor Parkway became fenced-in toll road connecting Flushing with Lake Ronkonkoma, with bridges and overpasses over existing roads and all rail lines, that became antiquated, superseded by the new Northern and Southern Parkway’s right – of - way, had it landscaped, but did not revise the golf course. In the meantime, LILCO’s power lines had been installed across the course, paralleling the Motor Parkway’s right of way.
Wheatley Hills’ history is closely tied to that of two men: Willie Klein, the club’s golf professional from 1926 – 1957; and member Gene Francis, seven time Long Island Amateur champion.
Klein won the first two Long Island Opens, in 1922 at Cherry Valley and the following year at the Garden City Country Club, then won again in 1933 at the great Lido course. He held the course record (64) for the original Wheatley Hills layout, and also held the record for the revised course at the time of his retirement.
The Wheatley Hills’ pro shop was tended for the three decades following Klein by Jack Mallon (1957 – 1973) and his son Mike (1973 – 1987). Jack Mallon was one of the region’s greatest golf instructors, president of the Metropolitan P. G. A., and vice –president of the national P.G.A. organization. Mike Mallon had spent a couple of years on tour before coming back to the club after his father’s death.
Francis’s Long Island Amateurs spanned a quarter of a century (1963, 1969, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1988), the latter two coming at Wheatley Hills. He also won the 1971 IKE individual championship, again at Wheatley Hills, and established the record (65) for the present course in 1961. He was club champion nine times during the years (1961 – 1978), starting as a junior member.
Other notable club champions include future tour winner George Burns (1972 –1973), who was a student of Jack Mallon’s, and Mal Galleta, who was nearly seventy years old when he won the 1982 club title.
Wheatley Hills hosted the 1975 Met Amateur, won by present – day professional Bill Britton 7&5 over Jack Dalrymle of Sinoway. Britton, 19 years old at the time and the reigning National Junior College champion, became the first publinx-er ever to win the championship. The previous year he had lead his Silver Lake team to victory in the IKE at Wheatley Hills. George Burns won the individual trophy that year.
Wheatley Hills has been the battle field for six Long Island Amateurs and two Long Island Opens over the years. Al Brosch won the first of his record Long Island Opens in the 1939 renewal. Among the Amateur winners, in addition to Francis (twice), have been Mal Galletta and Art Silverstone.