Memorable speeches share that trait of circling back on themselves, bringing diverse references around, weaving disparate elements together, allowing the audience to connect the threads and join the dots. If this were a memorable speech, it would take the rain, the birth grounds of the writer, the arrival of the author, and the presence of the supporting cast, along with the US Open lineage of the golf course, and unite them in a magical way that leaves the reader in a thoughtful state of longing. This is not, however, a memorable speech, but if you’d like to continue reading, it may prove to be worth time spent.
Let’s see if I can get my chronology straight. Tom Coyne wrote a golf travel book at the end of the 2000s, titled A course called Ireland. This author read that book, then read Coyne’s previous works, A gentleman’s game and Paper Tiger. Coyne published a 4th golf novel, 2nd in a series, called A Course Called Scotland. Rumor has it that A course called the Kingdom was a working title, but seemed to smack too much of religion to deliver. Finally, Coyne announced plans for the 3rd book in the series, A course called home, along with a farewell golfing tour around his country, the USA. This writer makes fortunate plans to join said author at the course where writer learned the game, Grover Cleveland golf course.
At approximately 12 pm today, June 5th, 2019, I arrived at the course of my golfing birth. I joined a group of regulars on the patio, at their behest. One of them, Larry, knew and worked with my father before the latter passed on to the tennis court in the sky. This was nice. This was needed. The others spoke of the usual things golfers debate: course conditions, funding for the course, what a rainy spring this was, beer. It’s what we do, and we do it with strangers, friends and family, usually in that order. Around 1 pm, I was joined by the threesome that included the author, Sir Robert Thomas of Coyne, house of the sharpened cudgel. I didn’t scream BTS screams (what were once called Beatles screams) but I would have forgiven myself if I had. Meeting Tom was a long time coming.
We settled on a nassau, Tom and I pitted against the other two members of our group. One represented the Flower City of Rochester, RS. The other carried the honor of the country of Erie, MP. Neither shall be identified by any more than their initials, as they prefer it that way (contractual obligations and anonymity clauses, you know.) Over the course of a quick three hours, hastened by the rain, we played unremarkable golf. One of the two teams won the match, but neither of us kept score, so the results are lost to history.
What is not lost to history, is John McDermott’s 1912 US Open title, his 2nd consecutive, won over the golfing grounds of the Country Club of Buffalo. The 2nd site of CCB, the club would move out to its present location in Williamsville, in the 1920s, leaving its little course at the corner of Main and Bailey to the fair Queen city of Buffalo. The course was rechristened Grover Cleveland golf course, in honor of the mayor and sheriff who reached the White House from Buffalo, and would host one more national championship, the 1925 US Amateur Public Links, making it the only course that will ever host that pair of championships. The USAPL was ended in 2014, ensuring the CCB/Grover Cleveland place in history.
A couple of facts from that 1912 US Open: McDermott was the first homebread champion of the US Open; Walter Hagen played the course in practice rounds, but was sent home, and did not debut in the tournament proper until 1913; the course contained the only Par 6 hole ever written on a US Open scorecard. McDermott and Hagen have since passed on, but 480 yards of that par 6 remain, the 8th hole along Bailey avenue.
In the 1970s, something that should be lost to history took place. This writer, fresh off the tearing of a pitching-arm rotator cuff, took on golf in earnest. I would say took up, but it was more combat than courtship. His three-hole loop of choice, free to those who knew where the holes in the fence were, was the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes at Grover Cleveland. He and his school-age chums knew exactly how much space they needed to outrun the greenkeeper, and reach the border gap that would lead them safely home.
As we moved around the course, the rain began as a rumor, as snow begins in Verlyn Klinkenborg’s The last fine time, required reading for all Buffalonians and western New Yorkers of Buffalo affection. It caressed our cheeks on the 8th green, patted our shoulders in the 10th fairway, and loosened our grips on the 12th tee. By the time we reached the home stretch of this Walter Travis/Donald J. Ross truncation of a golf course, we had all donned rain gear, helpless against the waters that marked the spring of 2019 as the wettest in anyone’s memory. Like the game’s founders, we battled against the elements of rain and wind, not so much caring for score, but valuing the day’s offerings well beyond return on investment.
We moved boisterously toward the parking lot, bemoaning our lack of fortune and good weather, celebrating our time together, laughing at our decision to play the 8th as a par 6, in honor of McDermott and his fellow competitors so long ago. For the record, we all made birdie. I plan to follow Tom Coyne’s golfing travels around the USA. I was fortunate to make such a trip myself, briefer, with less fanfare, in 2015-16. I know a bit of what he’s in for, and I envy him all of it. If fortune smiles, we will reconnect when he returns to the northeast, to visit course in New England.
The next time, or the first time, that you visit Grover Cleveland golf course, you should play a round of golf. You will recognize the resting bones of a once-touted, championship golf course, now beloved by the members of the Buffalo Golf Club, who call it home. You should stop in to the clubhouse, and if fortune again prevails, Jim Jurek will have hung the poster presented to him by Tom Coyne, that details the small fraternity of courses and clubs to have hosted this country’s grandest championship. Included therein is the emblem of the Country Club of Buffalo, and that source of pride fills the hearts of all who call Grover Cleveland home.