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Original Issue

Public Moments Every golfer has a favorite track, a place that is remembered because of family ties or personal milestones. Here are recollections of eight special public courses, and the people and the experiences that made them so


The Hole Story
Confessions of a teenage trespasser


You do a lot of things in college that you later come to regret.
In that spirit I would like to apologize to the good people at
Rancho Park Golf Course, in Los Angeles. During my undergrad days
at UCLA, sneaking onto Rancho was a favorite afternoon study
break. A few things fueled this practice--the impossibility of
snagging a tee time, the constraints of a student budget and, it
must be said, the low-grade thrill of trespassing.

My outlaw route was always the same: I'd park next to the public
tennis courts off Motor Avenue, duck behind a thorny bush and
squeeze through a hole in Rancho's fence, emerging near the 12th
hole, far from the watchful eyes in the clubhouse. If the tee was
open on this long par-3, I would rush through the inevitable
double bogey. Usually I would have to wait on the 10th tee to
find a group that needed a single. With a well-rehearsed spiel
alluding to the instructions of an unnamed starter, I was off and

The back nine at Rancho Park is a superb test, carved through
mature trees and zigzagging across gently rolling terrain. It was
a long way from the flat, dusty munis I had grown up playing in
Northern California's Steinbeck country. Still, the only hint of
Rancho's past was the plaque behind the 18th tee commemorating
the 12 that Arnold Palmer took on the hole during the 1961 L.A.
Open. I would barely give the memorial a glance, as I was usually
rushing to beat the sunset. Then it was back to the dorms for

It wasn't until my junior year that I played all 18 on the same
day. I was working on a story about an upcoming Senior tour event
at Rancho, and the pro hooked me up with a tee time. I was
delighted to discover that the front nine was as good as the
back, but reporting that story forever changed my feelings for
Rancho. I learned that it started out as a private club in the
1920s, catering to a glamorous Hollywood membership. The city
purchased the club in 1946, revamping it into its current
configuration, a 6,628-yard par-71. In 1953 and '54 members of
the men's club won the U.S. Public Links, and beginning in '56
Rancho hosted the first of 16 L.A. Opens. Palmer added the
requisite star quality by winning three times.

The Senior tour stuck around only from 1990 to '94, and Rancho is
now solely the province of the common man, a green oasis in a
land of mall and sprawl. During my final two years at UCLA, I
refrained from sneaking on. I had developed too much respect for
the place, and besides, I had interviewed all the marshals, and
they knew my name. During afternoons escaping English papers, I
would queue up at the 1st tee, like the other hopefuls.
Eventually I would get on, always smiling as I arrived at the
12th tee.

Leave 'Em Laughing
Up to the end, Grandpa's only rule was to have fun


I played with my maternal grandfather, Sid Charney, during the
last round of his life. It was the winter of 1995, and we were at
Hillcrest Country Club, the public course that ran through his
retirement community in Hollywood, Fla. ("Camp Hillcrest," he
called it.) The heart that would give out four months later was
already causing him trouble, so after Grandpa and I hit our
drives, I would pick up his ball and hit my approach shots alone.
He would walk onto the greens, drop his ball 15 feet from the
cup, two-putt and say, "Put me down for a 3."

"You got to laugh," he liked to say, and around him I usually
did. When we agreed on a tee time, he would remind me to "bring
your wallet and a fast backswing." After I lagged a putt to the
lip of the cup, he would say, "I'll give you the next two." I
must have heard a hundred times about the match he won because a
bird tossed his opponent's ball into the water. ("The guy says to
me, 'I can beat you, but I can't beat you and God.'") The only
thing he loved more than winning a few bucks from his buddies was
losing a few to me. He would strut into the locker room, point me
out to a friend and say, "Do you believe this guy took me for
$12? He's a huss-lah!"

But more than the quips, what I remember best was the sheer joy
he evinced simply to be playing. It showed in the way he'd look
up at a cloudless Florida sky, spread his arms and say, "See what
great weather I arranged for you?" And the times when he'd tell
one of his fellow retirees not to get so upset after missing a
short putt because "at least you're on the right side of the
grass." Or the quiet moments when, all kidding aside, he'd pat me
on the knee and say, "I love you, honey." Hard to stay mad about
making a double bogey when he did that.

Grandpa shot a remarkably low number during that final round--and
we had the scorecard to prove it. Sometimes, when I'm strolling
down a fairway under a cloudless sky, I like to think he's still
arranging good weather for me. Just his way of reminding me to
keep my head down when I swing, to laugh when I play and, no
matter how many short putts I miss, to always treasure my time on
the right side of the grass.

King of the Hill
I rose to new heights at Swope No. 2


When I was growing up in the 1950s, Kansas City's sprawling Swope
Park had two municipal courses. Swope No. 1, a hilly, demanding
layout with crowned greens and steep-faced bunkers, was designed
by A.W. Tillinghast, the creator of Bethpage Black. Swope No. 2,
a short course set mostly on the flood plain of the Little Blue
River, was designed by elves.

To reach holes 11 through 15 at No. 2 you had to climb a
switchback trail up a wooded bluff, keeping an eye out for
venomous snakes. Holes 6 through 9, on the other side of a park
road, took you under the forest canopy. No one took Swope No. 2
seriously. Senior golfers played 13-hole rounds, skipping the
exhausting hill holes. Teenagers made a beeline for the 15th tee,
which sat atop the bluff, 110 feet above the 15th green. (I used
to hit three or four balls there, mesmerized by the hang time.
When the course was wet, the balls would plug so deeply that you
had to dig them out.) My dad, a three handicapper with an
unhealthy fixation on swing mechanics, would go to the secluded
16th and 17th holes, short par-4s, and play them over and over,
hitting mulligans when necessary--and when they weren't. "Johnny,
I think I've got it," he'd say, waggling his five-iron over the
ball. "Swing 13-A. Take it back on the inside, and then bust the
hell out of it with the right hand." The greenkeeper knew my dad
had been there by the half-smoked Camels scattered on the
fairways and tees.

Above all--literally--No. 2 had its infamous 12th hole. It was up
on the bluff, an incongruously brutal par-3 of 228 yards. Your
tee shot had to carry a rocky ravine to a citadel green guarded,
left-front, by a big oak tree. Anything short of the green rolled
back into the ravine. Anything long or to the right bounced into
the woods. Even my older brother, Tom, who was the best player in
Kansas City, took a deep breath when he got to the 12th tee. "If
I draw a one-iron just so," he'd tell Dad, "I can slip it around
the tree and get on." My approach was more imaginative. I'd take
my driver and aim for the oak tree, because a ball in the upper
branches would sometimes pinball from limb to limb and drop onto
the green.

I'm 55 now and play at a private club on the other side of town,
but I still visit No. 2 from time to time. It's where I made my
first birdie and my first eagle. It's where I clubbed a snake to
death with a nine-iron. It's where I once hit a ball so far that
it vanished over the distant downtown skyline and never came

It's my home course.

Deer John...
My favorite course broke my heart--and then recaptured it


I lived in Milwaukee for 12 years and played mostly at Brown
Deer, the county's crown jewel and now the site of the Greater
Milwaukee Open. When I moved to town in 1977, it cost $3.75 to
play Brown Deer on a weekday. Today, at 6,759 yards, the course
seems short for a Tour venue, but trust me, 25 years ago it was a
6,668-yard brute. The opening hole was 426 yards, which doesn't
sound like much now, but try it with a persimmon driver, a
liquid-centered ball and no warmup. (Brown Deer didn't have a
practice range until the early '90s.)

Par at Brown Deer was 71, same as now, but it might as well have
been 72, because the 10th hole, a 456-yard par-4, was no
two-shotter. The 10th doglegged sharply to the right, with a
forest of 100-foot-tall trees guarding the corner. There were two
ways to reach the green in regulation: Bust a drive 280 yards
into the left rough and hit a long iron into a narrow green, or
pop up a drive into the right rough and rainbow a six-iron over
the trees, a nearly impossible carry. (When the Tour came, the
10th was reconfigured.)

I always thought that the par-5 18th, though, was the course's
ultimate test. The hole was 572 yards long, uphill and played
into the prevailing wind. If you wanted to hit driver, you had a
215-yard carry over a pond, a good poke when the wind was up.
Most golfers laid up, but that was no bargain either. You didn't
dare hit a shot of more than 175 yards, and the landing area for
a good second shot was a narrow neck of fairway, 130 yards from
the subtle, difficult-to-read green.

One September day in 1978, before I had ever broken 80 at Brown
Deer, I made the first hole in one of my life, at the 189-yard
11th with a four-iron. By the time I reached the 18th hole, I was
only four over and a lock to reach my magic number. I played
conservatively off the tee, taking an easy swing with a
six-iron--and flew the ball into the pond. I took a drop, then
lashed a three-wood into the trees on the right. After playing
pinball in the woods trying to hit a series of heroic recovery
shots, and a three-putt pity party on the green, I had a 10 and a
final score of 80.

I have never been more disheartened after a round of golf. I was
so disgusted, I didn't play again at Brown Deer that year. I came
back in the spring of '79. Of course I came back. There was no
challenge like Brown Deer, and no better way to spend $3.75.

Mother of Invention
Playing twilight golf with my mom is a bargain at any price


Three years ago I took my mom, Shu-Jen, to the U.S. Amateur at
Pebble Beach. "This is the best course in the world," I said. Mom
nodded blankly and suggested I practice tai chi to improve my

I don't blame her for not embracing Pebble Beach, because it's
such a departure from the type of course she has known since
taking up the game as a sprightly 60-year-old. My mother, bless
her frugal heart, works the muni circuit in Long Beach, Calif.,
with a simple strategy: Find the best deal possible. By her
logic, there's no reason to spend $27 to play 18 holes when the
twilight rate is $11 less. When she discovered that some munis
offered an even cheaper rate--super twilight for $10!--Mom was
hooked, and super twilight golf is now a mandatory family affair
in the Yen household.

Through my job I have played on some of the best courses in the
U.S., but I'm sure my pleasure on those occasions can't match my
mom's when she'd score a freebie at her favorite course, El
Dorado. For a while Mom had the run of the place, having
befriended a college kid named Dave who worked in the pro shop.
She brought him Chinese fortune cookies and shamelessly promised
that I'd write about him when he turned pro. When Dave left El
Dorado to try the mini-tours last year, Mom left too, decamping
for Recreation Park, across town. (Poor Dave is still waiting for
me to call.) Rec Park is a better, tougher layout, not that my
mom cares. What matters is that its super twilight rate is only

Playing super twilight golf with Mom at Rec Park is positively
nutty. Because of the course's first-come, first-served policy,
she bolts from the car and scurries across the parking lot to
secure our place in line. Once on the course Mom forces us to
hurry from hole to hole in a race against time. She will
sometimes splurge for a cart (an extra $8). She doesn't do it as
a luxury. "With a cart, we can get in more holes," she says.
Plus, if there is a backup on the 2nd or 3rd hole, Mom likes to
race back to the 1st tee and replay the opening holes. Often we
reach the 9th hole in total darkness, but Mom is not one to pack
it in. She insists that we use striped balls on the last hole in
case we lose them in the dark, which we invariably do. Trudging
to the parking lot last December my older brother, Yi-Fang,
groaned, "I've played this course so many times, and I have no
idea what the back nine looks like."

My brother has only himself to blame. He's the one who introduced
Mom to golf and bought her a set of clubs for Christmas. In 1999
Yi-Fang moved home for a year and spent every weekend playing
super twilight golf with Mom. "My handicap doubled from an eight
to a 16," he says, "and Mom said, 'Good for you. That means
you're getting your money's worth.'"

No Place Like Home
An annual golf trip soothes a son of the South


This is the story of a love affair that overcomes barriers of
distance and class. It is the story of me, a transplanted
Southerner, living a comfortable life in New England, and the
Isle Dauphine Golf Club, a once private beach beauty that's now a
daily-fee course, if you can call $13.50 for 18 holes a fee. It's
a pittance, really, for a round of golf washed in the breezes of
the Gulf of Mexico. The 6,600-yard course is located on Dauphin
Island, Ala., a sliver of land 33 miles south of my hometown of

Like a one-time starlet reduced to supper-club dramaturgy, Isle
Dauphine looks weathered, but let your eye linger and you can see
that the course has good bones. If you gave Pete Dye a load of
railroad ties and some sturdy grass seed, he'd create another
Kiawah in no time. Five holes run alongside the Gulf. Somewhere
between the 3rd green and the drilling platforms that dot the
Gulf is where, in 1864, Admiral David Farragut damned the
Confederate torpedoes in the Battle of Mobile Bay. As the course
turns away from the water and winds in and out of the pines, the
temperature rises and the local air force of mosquitoes buzzes
the unprotected. No golfer arrives at the 1st tee at Isle
Dauphine without sunscreen, an ice chest and a can of Deep Woods

I have played links golf on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and
the only thing that Isle Dauphine has in common with those
courses is the salt air. But my love for Isle Dauphine has as
much to do with my playing partners as it does with the course.
Every summer three generations of my family arrive on Dauphin
Island for several days of bonding. On a couple of afternoons my
brother and I gather various combinations of sons and nephews
(the women in my family are not golfers) and tee it up. We vow
not to take the golf seriously, although the inevitable wagers
often persuade us otherwise. Over the summers I have watched my
brother tutor his sons, and I have seen my father, a onetime
scratch golfer who quit the game long ago, lash at the ball
again. This summer I hope to introduce my kids to the course.
Career and marriage have stranded me among Yankees. Isle Dauphine
connects my love of golf with my repressed yearning for home. The
well-kept courses of Gulf Shores will seduce the tourists. My
heart belongs to Isle Dauphine.

The City Game
You really have to want it to play golf in the Big Apple


A couple of years ago I was talking golf with then New York City
mayor Rudy Giuliani. I asked where he played, assuming that he
used his executive privilege to wangle invitations to the swanky
suburban clubs. "I play mostly here in the city," he said.
"People are stunned when I tell them this, but we have 13 public
courses within the five boroughs--13!--and a lot of them are darn

I first discovered Gotham golf in the summer of 1990, a year
after having moved to the city. An assignment compelled me to
attend a junior clinic at Mosholu Golf Course in the Bronx. I
didn't know Mosholu from Mozambique but was surprised to learn
that it had a decent driving range and a ragged, but serviceable,
nine-hole layout. I spent the rest of that summer riding the No.
4 train uptown to the last stop (Woodlawn), then walking a few
blocks along 213th Street to Mosholu. I can still recall the
curious looks I routinely got from the other straphangers. Those
subway stares taught me that fuchsia hair and a body full of
tattoos won't draw attention in the Big Apple, but carrying a
golf bag will.

Urban golf took on a new dimension in the spring of 1992, when I
played in my first (of what would be many) New York City
Amateur. Qualifying was held at various sites around the city,
and I randomly selected Clearview Golf Course in Queens. It was
love at first sight; the morning of the qualifier my taxi pulled
up to the course, and I was dazzled by the sight of the Throgs
Neck Bridge. Very cool and very New York, I thought: a course in
the shadow of a bridge. The 6,470-yard, par-70 course was
straight and tree-lined--but the greens were true, and the views
of nearby Long Island Sound were stunning. I shot a 75 and
earned a berth in the 54-hole final, at LaTourette Golf Course
on Staten Island.

I had an 8:30 a.m. tee time for the first round. An early start
is normally preferable in a tournament, but not when you live on
92nd Street and First Avenue in Manhattan and don't own a car.
The trip to the course took two hours, including a 45-minute
subway ride to Wall Street, a 30-minute ferry across New York
Harbor to Staten Island and then a 25-minute bus ride to the
course. By the time I arrived, my eyelids were droopy and so was
my game. I don't recall exactly what I shot, but I finished near
the cellar.

Still, that City Am earned a special place in my heart. Only in
New York would you have to take a subway, a bus and a ferry to
play in a golf tournament, but like so much about this
challenging city, the extra effort made the experience that much

Rock of Ages
Coach Sifaneck taught us to love the game


When I was growing up in Patchogue, a village on the south shore
of Long Island, baseball was king. Basketball was a close second.
The only golfers I knew were my dentist and Mr. Greenlee, a gym
teacher at my middle school. One year Mr. Greenlee decided to
introduce us to golf. Before the third marking period was over,
in the spring of 1974, I had a new game. With borrowed clubs from
my dentist's wife in hand, I headed to Bellport, Patchogue's
neighbor to the east, by bus. Bellport had a public course. I'll
go to my grave loving it.

In my years there, a kid could play all the
Monday-through-Thursday golf he wanted for $50 a year, which I
could earn in a day of clam-digging. The course was (and is)
short--6,200 yards, par-71--and some of the holes were crammed
in, but the only thing I felt there was freedom. I caddied there
and putted for quarters on the practice green and hung out in
the men's locker room. If you watched and listened, you learned:
how to gamble, how to dress, how to talk to an adult.

The most carefree golf I've ever played was with my friend Larry
Lodi at Bellport on summer evenings 25 or so years ago. Sometimes
we would play with John Sifaneck, our golf coach and a math
teacher at Patchogue-Medford High. We played Sifaneck for money,
and debts were paid at the 19th hole. He treated us as adults.

Sifaneck loved golf more than anybody I've ever known. I can
imagine his crooked grin when he made a hole in one in 1986 at
Bellport's 6th, nearly 200 yards. A few months later he was in a
hospital. He was to lose a foot, a consequence of diabetes. While
waiting for surgery, he had a heart attack and died. He was 44.
His ashes were scattered on the site of his final golfing glory.

When I play Bellport on visits home, the smells of distant
summers come flooding back: cut grass, brackish air, Sifaneck's
cologne, a date's perfume. A smart young girl once defined
wistful as being a little happy and a little sad. Golf for me at
Bellport is wistful, as wistful as life itself.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHUCK SOLOMON COMMON GROUND In the well-worn locker room at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, the oldest public course in the U.S., Adrian Miller contemplates his round.

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK MISSING LINKS To this day, the fence at Rancho is tempting.

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF DAVIS FAMILY PERFECT FINISH Charney was in good form at Camp Hillcrest.

COLOR PHOTO: ELI REICHMAN NEW LOOK No. 2's hill holes are now a course for juniors.

COLOR PHOTO: ANDY LYONS/ALLSPORT TOUR TOUGH Brown Deer has hosted the Greater Milwaukee Open since 1994.

COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF YEN FAMILY GO-GO GIRLS Shu-Jen (left) and the author are always in a rush.

COLOR PHOTO: JASON PARKHURST SOUTHERN BELLE At Isle Dauphine, Gulf views dominate.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON SEE SPAN The Throgs Neck Bridge looms over Clearview.

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA FINAL GLORY Sifaneck died shortly after making a hole in one at this spot at Bellport.