Forty-five years ago this week, New York State took ownership of the privately owned Montauk Golf and Racquet Club and named it “Montauk Downs State Park.”
The state was well into planning a public golf course at Hither Hills State Park, but an option to buy the existing 171-acre Montauk Golf tract for $1.325 million was a better deal. The seller was Montauk Country Club Inc., a subsidiary of the Montauk Improvement Company, which was representing the Bank of Israel.
The original, private golf course, which opened in 1927, had been one star in the constellation of developments in Carl Fisher’s attempted transformation of Montauk into a northern Miami Beach. It was, like the Surf Club on the ocean and the polo grounds at Indian Field, one of a number of attractions Fisher made available in particular to guests at the Montauk Manor. Capt. H.C. Tipper designed the golf course, taking advantage of Montauk’s natural moorlands, and Stanford White designed the colonial-style clubhouse, which eventually burned down. A second clubhouse also went up in flames before the present clubhouse – a distinctive, award-winning pyramid – was built in the late 1960s, around which time Robert Trent Jones modified the golf course itself. His son Rees added further modifications in 2008.
“There are some stretches of land that one has only to glance at to exclaim, ‘There’s a natural golf course!’” a writer at the New York Sun said in 1928. “Nature fashioned the Montauk peninsula in the mold of a gargantuan golf links. It’s the sort of broken country that just sits up and begs for tees, fairways, and greens.”
The 18-hole course is said to be quite challenging in certain weather conditions. “The ever-changing wind currents off the ocean and bay can change the way the course plays each day,” notes the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation on the state park’s website. After falling into disrepair and then being rejuvenated by the state, Montauk Downs has been rated one of the country’s top public golf courses.
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