Bunkers of another kind: remnants of the old Governors Island gold course
Comedian George Burns liked to say that golf is a good walk spoiled. This adage comes to mind when looking at the remnants of what was once the Governors Island nine-hole course. It was a short executive style set-up laid out on the glacis to the south and west of Fort Jay. The course measured about 1,900 years and played to a par thirty. It is easily recognizable today if one knows what to look for. The sand traps, putting greens, and tee boxes look almost like archaeological ruins. These are now choice spots for picnickers and sunbathers. Note how close the golf course is to both Fort Jay and the neighboring residential houses and apartments. Army officers stationed on the island liked their golf course and played frequently. Still, golf being what it is, even the best of them sometimes had their off days. According to one account it was on the links here at Governors Island that “young West Pointers were taught to swear.”
The course dated back to 1903 and was in use through the Coast Guard years in the 1990s. It was the only golf course in Manhattan’s jurisdiction, as the island is technically part of that borough. The course received considerable use. The 1920s seemed to have been a particularly busy time; with the Great War over and the army downsizing to pre-1917 levels there was more time for leisure. The course was sometimes called “the world’s crookedest” because it was shoe-horned into such a small area with lots of twists and turns.
When General Robert Lee Bullard commanded the Department of the East from Governors Island he received a serious eye injury when his shot ricocheted off Fort Jay, bounced back, and struck him in the eye. He had survived Cantigny and Chateau-Thierry unscathed, but the bunkers on Governors Island proved too much. In 1927 Gene Sarazen, Francis Ouimet, Walter Hagen, and Jess Sweetster played a fundraiser here to raise funds for the Army Relief Society.
A postage stamp green: with land at such a premium on the island such small greens were the norm
Bullard was injured when he attempted to bounce a shot off the walls of Fort Jay. Speaking of the general, note that his full name was Robert Lee Bullard. He was an Alabamian born in January 1861. Robert E. Lee was not yet a universal household name, but one cannot help but wonder if Bullard was named after that military leader.
Tee boxes: again note the closeness to residential housing
Another bunker: that is Fort Jay directly behind and the new World Trade Center off in the distance
Gene Sarazen as he was in the late 1920s around the time he came to Governors Island for an Army Relief Society fundraiser. With the Great War over for almost a decade the Roaring Twenties were on. Sarazen is one of only five golfers to win the modern Grand Slam.
Uniformed service persons stationed on Governors Island were proud of their golf course. As this 1930s postcard shows, they even put it on stationary. Here too one can see the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
(images/Sarazen and postcard from Digital NYPL)