Niagara Gazette

August 18, 2013

Ken Ruggiero's Golf: Winged Foot and the Red Nine

By KEN RUGGIERO
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — The following is the first in a two-part series on the Red Nine Golf Course at Hyde Park in Niagara Falls, NY. The writer’s intention is to illustrate the historic significance of this golfing venue and to assist in its resurrection rather than its demise.

THE SETUP

What do Winged Foot West, the San Francisco GC, the Bethpage Black course, Baltusrol, Quaker Ridge, Somerset Hills, and Winged Foot East all have in common?

In the latest issue of Golf Magazine, each of these legendary golf settings is regarded as one of the Top 50 golf courses in the United States. And, all seven venues have one other common thread.

Each of these celebrated cathedrals to golf was calculated at the hands of Albert Warren Tillinghast, perhaps the most prolific golf course builder in the sport’s history.

Not one ‘Top Fifty’ golf course architect has more illustrious layouts attached to his talents than “Tilly”. None. Not Pete Dye, not Alister MacKenzie, not Donald Ross.

And how might this information have implication to us on the Niagara Frontier?

The celebrated A.W. Tillinghast, golf’s equivalent to Rembrandt, walked what was at the time the twenty-seven fairways of Hyde Park in 1935 and took an active role in its total redesign. That’s right! Tillinghast touched both Winged Foot and the Red Nine.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter I’ve uncovered (thanks to Dave Stefik, golf enthusiast, friend, and proud grandson of well-known Hyde Park professional Wendell Kay) dated August 25th, 1935 that will confirm this fact. It reads in part:

“To the President of the United States Golf Association: Dear Sir, Arrived according to schedule at Niagara Falls at noon on Saturday. I had hoped for a day of rest on Sunday but (Niagara Falls) Parks Superintendent Ward Dean was detained away from town on Saturday and my inspection of the municipal course had to go over until this Sunday morning, when Parks Superintendent Dean had returned.”

“The intent of my visit is especially for the examination of Hyde Park’s ‘new course.’ I met with Superintendent Ward and Wendell Kay (PGA professional and sectional secretary) together with Hyde Park greenskeeper Albert Bulges. The entire twenty-seven holes were covered. I also advised them of the elimination of several superfluous hazards, typical Duffer’s Headaches.”

And so we have established a credible connection between the Red Nine, which by 1935 had been integrated into a “new course,” and the famed Tillinghast. Let’s now step back another 35 years to the turn of the 20th century and to the very origin of the Red Nine Golf Course.

Gleaning information from “Niagara Falls Country Club-100 Years-1901 to 2001”, penned by local golf historian Tom Sheeran, I learned that on April 3, 1900, Arthur Schoellkopf and a handful of the Niagara Falls upper crust at the time (Frank Dudley, Alfred Gray, Peter Porter, to name a few) toured via automobile what was then called Sugar Street (now known as Hyde Park Boulevard) and came upon properties they deemed suitable for a golf course. The game was becoming quite popular, especially among the wealthy at the time.

Out of that car ride and subsequent discussions, the original Niagara Falls Country Club was founded on this Sugar Street area property in 1901 and, by 1906, it was well-established. By 1912, the golf club was deemed “prosperous” according to news reports of the period. The yearly initiation fee for a member at that time was a measly seven dollars and fifty cents!

By the summer of 1916, the NFCC membership had outgrown the existing nine holes at Sugar Street and the Evans Estate, owned by the Lewiston Heights Company, was purchased by the club as the next site for a newly planned NFCC. That course opened for play on June 1, 1919. Alfred “Alf” Campbell was the club’s esteemed first head professional. He was thoroughly admired by the nation’s golfing society and played with the likes of Walter Hagen before taking on NFCC.When the club moved to Lewiston, the Niagara Falls mayor during that time, William Laughlin, had the forethought to see something special in the now-discarded Sugar Street layout. He saw it as a means of introducing the popular game to the general public. He called on Campbell to evaluate the conditions of the (Red) nine. Campbell stated emphatically in news accounts that the Red Nine course was “splendidly adapted” for the game.

As a result, Mayor Laughlin persuaded the NFCC membership to give over their property to the city.

THE TAKEAWAY And so, the early history of the Red Nine course is revealed. We see at the turn of the century that the wealthy and powerful of Niagara Falls well-addressed their pressing desire to participate in amateur golf. We see a thoughtful and resourceful mayor who possessed the insight to leap at an opportunity to bring recreational golf to municipal residents. We see the linkage of great men of the period and what can be accomplished when purity, productivity and professionalism is the order of the day.

And we see that an evolving Hyde Park golf course, all twenty-seven holes, was significant enough to city administrators of that time to employ one of the greatest golf course architects in history to elicit improvements to the property.

It’s not easy attempting to piece together a century of information. And perhaps, it’s not all that necessary. It is enough simply to take away from what we have learned, that the nine holes presently referred to as the Red Nine is a special place and a historical monument to our past.

Now the truth. Today, and over the past decade, our Red Nine has been treated more like “an ugly stepsister” (forgive the metaphor) by its caretakers. Be certain that this expose will in no way place any blame on anyone. That will never be my intention. My objective is transparent. See a problem and solve it.

Next week, in part two of this story, I’ll provide my FOLLOW-THROUGH, that is, what we can do to rectify this inattention to history and to simply celebrate beauty where there is beauty.

Until next week, keep it in the fairway.

Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and has been writing this column for the past 28 years. He can be reached at radiomaniac1949@yahoo.com.