Requiem for a Country Club

By Rich LernerOctober 31, 2007, 4:00 pm
Berkleigh Country Club died last week. It ended by auction -- pin flags, tee markers, club championship boards, hole-in-one plaques and kitchen equipment. As collectibles go, were not talking the 86 Masters, but for those of us who loved the modest Pennsylvania course, it was a sad occasion.
Berkleigh was 81 years old. People die at 81, not lush golf courses with rich history. At 81 they get curvier and prettier. So many clubs, though, struggle now, desperate for members and families. Who has time, what with kids and jobs and the Internet and TIVO and 300 channels? Who goes to dinner dances anymore? Dressing up these days means Lucky Brand jeans with a Banana Republic t-shirt.
The Berkleigh
A plaque at The Berkleigh shows past Club champions, including one Rich Lerner (1981, '87).
My generation had kids later in life. And either because we really wanted to be better dads or were driven through societal pressure, we went to Little League baseball games and soccer matches on Saturday mornings, joining the fitness craze and the $70-a-month gyms instead of country clubs.
Today, I travel more than 20 weeks a year and because of my job get more than enough invites to quality clubs to keep me satisfied. Most guys I know play a couple of times a month, maybe at a high-end daily fee or as a guest at a nice club. Many of us know at least a few of the generous and fortunate who belong to great places, those with gilded reputations that put them beyond the reach of economic downturns.
Berkleigh suffered because it was situated midway between two declining, mid-sized Northeastern cities, Allentown and Reading. Immigrant Jews, having attained hard-won success in the 1920s but excluded from joining already established clubs, built The Berkleigh. Most of their children went to college and then into the family business.
After the Second World War, the Morts and Shirleys were eager to enjoy what appeared to be an uncomplicated life -- a good and steady job, a nice house, and some leisure time. It was that way with the Ozzies and Harrietts at predominantly Protestant clubs, the Nicks and Marias at predominantly Italian clubs, and the Franks and Kathleens at predominantly Irish clubs. Prejudice was more pronounced than it is today, and people sought status and comfort with their own kind. Country clubs flourished along with industries like steel and automobiles.
But the next generation after the greatest generation, with the flames of the 60s lapping at their backs, embarked on something of a Diaspora. Four Lerner boys live in four places -- New Jersey, Kentucky, Florida and the Philippines. By the 90s the handwriting at The Berkleigh was on the walls, the fairways and the greens. My fathers cronies had moved south or passed on. The doors that had been opened for some years to all faiths were slowly coming unhinged. The price of initiation had dropped considerably. Nothing worked. Deeply in debt and with a dwindling membership, the club was sold to a cement company earlier this year.
As with any passing, attempts to determine exactly what happened wrestle with reflection.
At 15, I hit my first really flush, wow-I-might-actually-be-able-to-play-this-game kind of drive at Berkleigh and I remember the moment vividly. Scant sunlight remained, but is there ever enough when youre 15 and falling in love with golf? I was on the practice tee bangin balls with Tank and Halpo and Gilly and my brother, Theo. No one went by their real names; they still dont, except in business. Thirty years later were all still pals.
The head pro, Jeff Steinberg, encouraged us while sitting on his golf cart. With a slight twang, hed say, Half the swang is physics. We listened to his theories because hed won a Pennsylvania State Open and because we liked the idea that we were students of the game even if we didnt know a swing plane from an airplane.
I was fortunate to have received know-how from other men of character and wisdom, too. Once, in the darkness, Izzy Heicklin gave me a lesson on spot putting by shining the lights of his Oldsmobile on the practice green.
Guys named Izzy are never young. In fact, for the 20-odd years I knew Izzy he was always about 80. He sold tobacco products at the local farmers market. Every day, and I mean every day, Izzy could be found in the same chair at the same table in the mens grill; our own lovable George Burns, ordering a bagel with cream cheese and marmalade, and coffee. Hed then play nine holes, minimum, enough over his lifetime, he used to tell us, to have gone to the moon and back.
Even when his body finally refused to let him play, Izzy would be at his table or at his locker holding court, wearing a smile, droopy boxers with knee high socks, forever in a state of dress or undress, we never really knew. But always he greeted me like family in that unmistakable voice, high pitched and a little wobbly, Hey Ricker how are ya? It never took long for the conversation to land on one of his favorite subjects, 1947, a very good year for Izzy. Ricker, back in 47 I won the club championship when it was only nine holes.
At the auction, my lifelong friend, Tank, paid $1,200 for the club championship board with Izzys name on it. Tanks real name is Adam Leifer, and his name is on the board eight times, six more than mine.
Too often, 'Country Club' suggests a level of snobbery, but it wasnt like that at all at The Berkleigh. Sure there were a few self important types but mostly hard working, decent people who sold uniforms and wallpaper and carpeting and drapery and womens clothing and stocks.
In addition to Izzy we had Stanley and Marvin, Henry and Harvey, Lou and Lenny and Lester, Marty and Mickey, Jack and George and Judy, Annette and Elaine, Roz and Jean and Zena, and Ellie and Myrtle. There were no Jareds or Taylors or Seths or Brittanys or Ashleighs. They came later, grandchildren splashing in the kiddy pool.
My mentors were guys with tempers, guys who plumb bobbed from 240 yards, guys who dared to wear checks mixed with stripes, guys who cursed and smoked and gambled and laughed and hit grounders and pop ups and shanks and snaps. But when it was goin right, with their handicaps of 8 and 11 and 15 and 22, they could slip your wallet out from your back pocket without you knowin exactly how it all happened.
I laugh at the picture of my pop peeking from behind so many trees as I squandered talent and club championship leads until finally winning a couple. Mostly there were losses to respectable men with respectable games--Howard and Elliot and Scotty and Herman and myriad Jewish attorneys.
I loved the Calcutta, all that action, and the best partner Ive ever had, Gary Jack Freedson, once fierce but now a victim of father time.
There was a spring and fall ABCD. My pop used to joke that he was the R player and the R stood for rotten. I once won the better ball of partners with Elmer Hertzmark. I was 16 and he was close to 50.
Naturally, there were lots of card games, gin for a penny a point with men as serious as senators, bifocals down on the bridge of their noses and mostly silent staring at their hands through the wafting smoke of a cigar or cigarette, occasionally muttering, shouldve trown the #%&*in king.
Into my early 30s (Im almost 47 now), until my career pulled me westward and then south to GOLF CHANNEL, I made the drive to the club through Maxatawny and Topton and Kutztown and Virginville, rows of corn taller than Yao Ming and a patchwork quilt of tan and green squares filling up the distant, beautiful farmland. The ride was long enough--22 minutes--for the anticipation to build -- breakfast first with my pals and then a match for some small change.
I couldnt be at the auction. Im not sure I couldve picked at the remains. Forty-six years on this planet and I finally believe that old adage that change is inevitable. Hesss Department Stores, my dads driving range/mini-golf/par-3, Bethlehem Steel and The Berkleigh were the ironclad institutions of my youth, places you just knew would be around forever because you cant possibly kill something thats six blocks of concrete, or six miles of molten steel, or rolling fairways 80 years in the making. All are now gone.
Time, another adage says, heals. Time, Im old enough to know now, also hurts.
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  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

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    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''