Feature: games among the dunes and the heather.

AuthorGeus, Averill

The Maidstone Golf Course is East Hampton's Enduring Seaside Treasure

On the long lazy summer afternoons of more than a century ago, when eastern Long Island was beginning to see the potential benefits of a resort economy, amusements other than rocking on a boardinghouse porch were few and far between. But the ascendancy of gilded Newport to the forefront of American society promoted fashions that other resorts adopted. East Hampton society felt that garish expenditure and showy luxury was out of place in their seaside village, but was quick to learn the rules for a new game called lawn tennis, which became wildly popular after 1880.

Lawn tennis was the first organized sport enjoyed by summer visitors in East Hampton. Each summer, from 1879 until 1891, nets were stretched between apple trees in an orchard just off Main Street, approximately behind today's movie theater. Good games and good friends enlivened the vacation days of visitors and by 1890, the need for a "casino" of their own was voiced by many. A group of incorporators purchased 18 acres of farmland and cornfields from Mrs. Hedges, who lived in a pink house just south of St Luke's Episcopal Church. The new club with 90 members officially opened its doors on August 19, 1892 and was named, "The Maidstone Club."

It was inevitable that Maidstone became one of the premier golf courses in the United States. It didn't happen overnight, but those who watched the play at the Shinnecock Hills course, or learned about the new game in the metropolitan area, wanted to participate at their own club. These early golfers learned to play on a little three-hole course staked out in a former pasture in 1893. It's thought that Willie Dunn, the famous golf pro and architect of the course at Shinnecock, laid out the first holes. The cost of his afternoon's work was about $25.

Golf soon became the rage and two months later, four more holes were added on leased land. By 1895, more than half of the club's membership--including men, women and children as well as aging tennis stars--were playing golf. One enthusiast, Adrian H. Larkin, later president of the Metropolitan Golf Association, urged the club to enlarge the course. A golf committee was formed; the club acquired more land and hired William Henry Tucker, Sr., pro at St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, to design six additional holes. The new nine-hole course was completed in 1896 and its beauty was considered to be second to none.

Also that year, Maidstone hired its first golf pro: 16-year-old John Shippen, a former Shinnecock caddie and an enormously talented golfer. Shippen's mother was a Native American and his father an African-American, who ministered to the congregation of a church on the Shinnecock Reservation. Growing up on the reservation near the first 18-hole course in the country, Shippen mastered straight driving. A pro at Shinnecock named Charlie Thom stated, "He could control his club as if he had it on a string." Shippen is considered the first American-born golf pro. Prior to his appointment at Maidstone, all golf pros hailed from Scotland or England.

Developments and Crises

The popularity of the golf course seemed to create one crisis after another. The first arose when a larger course was needed to meet members' demands, but the financial structure of the club prohibited expansion. A few stockholders "owned" the club and those who used the facilities paid for a subscription or membership. There were no funds...

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