Tucked into the south shore of Long Island, built on a broad swath of marshland more than a century ago, Inwood Country Club is a golf course steeped in tradition. Walter Hagen won his first of four PGA Championship titles at this spot in 1921; Bobby Jones claimed his first of four U.S. Open victories here two years later. To this day, both men remain immortalized on plaques commemorating their achievements that can be found nestled into the course’s terrain.
As with most real estate in the metropolitan New York area, one of Inwood's greatest assets has always been its location. On numerous holes, golfers can spend time in between shots gazing at the silvery jumbo jets taking off from nearby JFK Airport or admiring the Manhattan skyline across Jamaica Bay on a clear morning.
There’s never been a clearer morning than that of Sept. 11, 2001.
As part of that year's Met PGA Championship, longtime club professionals Darrell Kestner, Rick Hartmann and Frank Bensel teed off Inwood's first hole at precisely 8:48 a.m. The opener is a dogleg par-4 that begins in the cool shade of adjacent trees, then winds around to the right, leaving that unmistakable view of the city completely visible as players approach their second shots.
It's an image every man in the group had witnessed many times in the past – which is exactly why each knew something was seriously wrong that morning. Looking out across the bay, they realized the World Trade Center was on fire.
“We saw the smoke coming from the buildings,” Hartmann recalls, “and we said, ‘My God…’”
Still without knowledge of the terrorist attack that had crashed a plane into the North Tower minutes earlier, the golfers continued playing the first hole. Hartmann was standing over his par putt as the others watched the scene unfolding in the background.
“It was so crystal clear of a day, you could not only see the buildings, it looked like you could reach out and touch them,” Kestner remembers. “I just happened to be staring at the buildings and saw the blast come out our side of them.”
They heard it, too, the cacophonous explosion piercing through the air. It was the result of a second plane being flown into the South Tower.
Bob Regan was caddying for Hartmann that day. An off-duty firefighter who worked at a station on Tillary St. in Brooklyn, he understood immediately how grave the situation was becoming and knew he could help. While mass amounts of people were fleeing from Manhattan any way possible, Regan left the golf bag next to the first green and excused himself.
He needed to be there.
“It’s just one of those things that’s part of the job,” Regan explains. “You swear to do your job, you take an oath. It’s like if you go into the military. Once you’re in there, you’re there to protect each other.”
Regan raced to the firehouse in Brooklyn, where he gathered up supplies and equipment that would be necessary at the scene. Using an old Suburban that had been parked nearby, he and some fellow off-duty firefighters drove toward Ground Zero. Once there, they unhesitatingly went to work, saving lives and putting out fires in the midst of the most critical act of terrorism the U.S. has ever witnessed.
The contrast was especially stark for Regan, who in the span of just over two hours had caddied for one hole of a professional golf tournament, then dropped the bag and headed for the disaster.
“It was surreal to me,” he says, “but you go through so much training that you just do it.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Regan’s wife, Elizabeth, was a flight attendant, working the shuttle from Washington D.C. to New York that morning. He didn’t find out she was safe until his journey toward the destructed buildings was near completion. And he didn’t see her again for three days, when he returned home for the first time after arriving on the scene that morning.
“It really hit me when I came home,” he recalls. “I hadn’t been home for three days. I just grabbed my wife and started crying. I couldn’t do it while I was working, but when I left work, all that I had experienced and gone through – you’re a person like anyone else. It was sad. A lot of people I knew died…”
Regan’s voice trails off and when he tries to speak again, he gets choked up.
“It’s always kind of like, ‘Where were you when 9/11 happened?’” he says. “You never forget. I’ll always remember where I was.”
Inwood Country Club remains known mostly for the two major championships it held nearly a century ago. Those plaques honoring Hagen and Jones are still visible, but they have been joined by a more recent, more impactful memorial.
Planted to the left of the 13th green and right of the 14th fairway is a lone tree. Underneath lies a small plaque with a simple inscription: “IN REMEMBRANCE OF THOSE WHO LOST THEIR LIVES ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001.” In the distance, the Manhattan skyline can be seen across Jamaica Bay on a clear morning. The view was irrevocably altered that day. It will never look the same.