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.
 
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner
 
Related Links:
  • Rich Lerner's Archives
  • Getty Images

    Putting prepared Park's path back to No. 1

    By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 12:13 am

    Inbee Park brings more than her unshakably tranquil demeanor back to the top of the Rolex Women’s World Rankings this week.

    She brings more than her Olympic gold medal and seven major championships to the Mediheal Championship on the outskirts of San Francisco.

    She brings a jarring combination of gentleness and ruthlessness back to the top of the rankings.

    Park may look as if she could play the role of Mother Teresa on some goodwill tour, but that isn’t what her opponents see when she’s wielding her Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball mallet.

    She’s like Mother Teresa with Lizzy Borden’s axe.

    When Park gets on one of her rolls with the putter, she scares the hell out of the rest of the tour.

    At her best, Park is the most intimidating player in women’s golf today.

    “Inbee makes more 20- and 30-footers on a regular basis than anyone I know,” seven-time major championship winner Karrie Webb said.

    All those long putts Park can hole give her an aura more formidable than any power player in the women’s game.

    “A good putter is more intimidating than someone who knocks it out there 280 yards,” Webb said “Even if Inbee misses a green, you know she can hole a putt from anywhere. It puts more pressure on your putter knowing you’re playing with someone who is probably going to make them all.”

    Park, by the way, said Webb and Ai Miyazato were huge influences on her putting. She studied them when she was coming up on tour.

    Webb, though, believes there’s something internal separating Park. It isn’t just Park’s ability to hole putts that makes her so intimidating. It’s the way she carries herself on the greens.

    “She never gets ruffled,” Webb said. “She says she gets nervous, but you never see a change in her. If you’re going toe to toe with her, that’s what is intimidating. Even if you’re rolling in putts on top of her, it doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s definitely a player you have to try not to pay attention to when you’re paired with her, because you can get caught up in that.”


    Full-field scores from the LPGA Mediheal Championship


    Park has led the LPGA in putts per greens in regulation five of the last 10 years.

    Brad Beecher has been on Park’s bag for more than a decade, back before she won her first major, the 2008 U.S. Women’s Open. He has witnessed the effect Park can have on players when she starts rolling in one long putt after another.

    “You have those times when she’ll hole a couple long putts early, and you just know, it’s going to be one of those days,” Beecher said. “Players look at me like, `Does she ever miss?’ or `How am I going to beat this?’ You see players in awe of it sometimes.”

    Park, 29, won in her second start of 2018, after taking seven months off with a back injury. In six starts this year, she has a victory, two ties for second-place and a tie for third. She ended Shanshan Feng’s 23-week run at No. 1 with a tie for second at the Hugel-JTBC LA Open last weekend.

    What ought to disturb fellow tour pros is that Park believes her ball striking has been carrying her this year. She’s still waiting for her putter to heat up. She is frustrated with her flat stick, even though she ranks second in putts per greens in regulation this season.

    “Inbee Park is one of the best putters ever,” said LPGA Hall of Famer Sandra Haynie, a 42-time LPGA winner. “She’s dangerous on the greens.”

    Haynie said she would rank Park with Kathy Whitworth, Mickey Wright and Nancy Lopez as the best putters she ever saw.

    Hall of Famer Joanne Carner says Park is the best putter she has seen since Lopez.

    “I thought Nancy was a great putter,” Carner said. “Inbee is even better.”

    Park uses a left-hand low grip, with a mostly shoulder move and quiet hands.

    Lopez used a conventional grip, interlocking, with her right index finger down the shaft. She had a more handsy stroke than Park.

    Like Lopez, Park prefers a mallet-style putter, and she doesn’t switch putters much. She is currently playing with an Odyssey White Hot 2-Ball putter. She won the gold medal with it two years ago. She used an Oddysey White Ice Sabertooth winged mallet when she won three majors in a row in 2013.

    Lopez hit the LPGA as a rookie in 1978 with a Ray Cook M1 mallet putter and used it for 20 years. It’s in the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

    “I watch Inbee, and I think, `Wow, that’s how I used to putt,’” Lopez said. “You can see she’s not mechanical at all. So many players today are mechanical. They forget if you just look at the hole and stroke it, you’re going to make more putts.”

    Notably, Park has never had a putting coach, not really. Her husband and swing coach, Gi Hyeob Nam, will look at her stroke when she asks for help.

    “When I’m putting, I’m concentrating on the read and mostly my speed,” Park said. “I don’t think mechanically about my stroke at all, unless I think there’s something wrong with it, and then I’ll have my husband take a look. But, really, I rely on my feel. I don’t think about my stroke when I’m out there playing.”

    Hall of Famer Judy Rankin says Park’s remarkably consistent speed is a key to her putting.

    “Inbee is definitely a feel putter, and her speed is so consistent, all the time,” Rankin said. “You have to assume she’s a great green reader.”

    Beecher says Park’s ability to read greens is a gift. She doesn’t rely on him for that. She reads greens herself.

    “I think what impresses me most is Inbee has a natural stroke,” Beecher said. “There’s nothing too technical. It’s more straight through and straight back, but I think the key element of the stroke is that she keeps the putter so close to the ground, all the time, on the takeaway and the follow-through. It helps with the roll and with consistency.”

    Park said that’s one of her fundamentals.

    “I keep it low, almost like I’m hitting the ground,” Park said. “When I don’t do that, I miss more putts.”

    Beecher believes the real reason Park putts so well is that the putter brought her into the game. It’s how she got started, with her father, Gun Gyu Park, putting the club in her hands as a child. She loved putting on her own.

    “That’s how she fell in love with the game,” Beecher said. “Getting started that way, it’s played a huge role in her career.”

    Getty Images

    Teams announced for NCAA DI women's regionals

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:50 pm

    Seventy-two teams and an additional 24 individuals were announced Wednesday as being selected to compete in the NCAA Division I women's regionals, May 7-9.

    Each of the four regional sites will consist of 18 teams and an extra six individual players, whose teams were not selected. The low six teams and low three individuals will advance to the NCAA Championship, May 18-23, hosted by Oklahoma State at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

    The four regional sites include Don Veller Seminole Golf Course & Club in Tallahassee, Fla., hosted by Florida State; UT Golf Club in Austin, Texas, hosted by the University of Texas; University Ridge Golf Course in Madison, Wis., hosted by the University of Wisconsin; TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, Calif., hosted by Stanford University.

    Arkansas, Duke, UCLA and Alabama are the top seeds in their respective regionals. Arizona State, the third seed in the Madison regional, is the women's defending champion. Here's a look at the regional breakdown, along with teams and players:

    Austin Regional Madison Regional San Francisco Regional Tallahassee Regional
    Arkansas Duke UCLA Alabama
    Texas USC Stanford Furman
    Michigan State Arizona State South Carolina Arizona
    Florida Northwestern Kent State Washington
    Auburn Illinois Oklahoma State Wake Forest
    Oklahoma Purdue North Carolina Vanderbilt
    Houston Iowa State Colorado Florida State
    Miami (Fla.) Virginia Louisville Clemson
    Baylor Wisconsin N.C. State Georgia
    Texas A&M Campbell Mississippi Tennessee
    BYU Ohio State Cal UNLV
    East Carolina Notre Dame San Diego State Kennesaw State
    Texas Tech Old Dominion Pepperdine Denver
    Virginia Tech Oregon State Oregon Coastal Carolina
    UTSA Idaho Long Beach State Missouri
    Georgetown Murray State Grand Canyon Charleston
    Houston Baptist North Dakota State Princeton Richmond
    Missouri State IUPUI Farleigh Dickinson Albany
           
    Brigitte Dunne (SMU) Connie Jaffrey (Kansas State) Alivia Brown (Washington State) Hee Ying Loy (E. Tennessee State)
    Xiaolin Tian (Maryland) Pinyada Kuvanun (Toledo) Samantha Hutchinson (Cal-Davis) Claudia De Antonio (LSU)
    Greta Bruner (TCU) Pun Chanachai (New Mexico State) Ingrid Gutierrez (New Mexico) Fernanda Lira (Central Arkansas)
    Katrina Prendergast (Colorado State) Elsa Moberly (Eastern Kentucky) Abegail Arevalo (San Jose State) Emma Svensson (Central Arkansas)
    Ellen Secor (Colorado State) Erin Harper (Indiana) Darian Zachek (New Mexico) Valentina Giraldo (Jacksonville State)
    Faith Summers (SMU) Cara Basso (Penn State) Christine Danielsson (Cal-Davis) Kaeli Jones (UCF)
    Getty Images

    Leach on grizzlies, walk-up music and hating golf

    By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2018, 10:47 pm

    He's one of college football's deepest thinkers, and he has no time to waste on a golf course.

    Washington State head football coach Mike Leach created headlines last week when he shared his view that golf is "boring" and should be reserved for those who, unlike him, need practice swearing. The author and coach joined host Will Gray on the latest episode of the Golf Channel podcast to expand on those views - and veer into some unexpected territory.

    Leach shared how his father and brother both got bitten by the golf bug as he grew up, but he steered clear in part because the sport boasts an overly thick rule book:

    "First of all, the other thing I don't like is it's pretentious. There's a lot of rules. Don't do it this way, don't do it that way. You walked between my ball and the hole. This guy has to go first, then you go after he does. I mean, all these rules, I just don't understand."

    Leach also shared his perspective about what fuels the vibrant fashion choices seen on many courses:

    "You can tell there's a subtle, internal rebellion going on with golf, and where that subtle, internal rebellion manifests itself is they really liven up the clothes. I mean, they're beaten down by all the little subtle rules, so they really liven up the clothes. Maybe have knickers, maybe they'll have a floppy hat or something like that."

    Leach on the advice he would sometimes offer when friends explained their rationale for hitting the links: 

    "They say, 'Well I don't go there to golf or go to take it seriously. When I go golf, I just like to have some beers.' And I'm thinking, 'You know there's bars for that? There's bars for that, and at those bars they have, often times, attractive women and music going on?'"

    Leach is heading into his seventh season at Washington State, and he also described a unique hazard that can sometimes pop up at the on-campus course in Pullman, Wash.:

    "In the spring the grizzlies come out, and the grizzly preserve is right across the street from the golf course. So they’ll be out, you’ll see them running around on the hills inside the preserve there. But there is this visual where, all of a sudden you drive up this hill on your golf cart, and you’re at the tee box and you’re getting ready to hit, and on the hill just opposite of you it’s covered with grizzly bears. And as you’re getting ready to hit your ball, it occurs to you that the grizzly bears are going to beat you to your ball."

    Other topics in the wide-ranging discussion included Leach's proposal for a 64-team playoff in NCAA Division I football, his chance encounter with Tiger Woods before a game between the Cougars and Woods' Stanford Cardinal, his preferred walk-up music and plans for "full contact golf."

    Listen to the entire podcast below:

    Getty Images

    Post-Masters blitz 'exhausting' but Reed ready for return

    By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2018, 8:24 pm

    AVONDALE, La. – After briefly suffering from First-Time Major Winner Fatigue, Patrick Reed is eager to get back inside the ropes this week at the Zurich Classic.

    The media blitz is an eye-opening experience for every new major champ. Reed had been told to expect not to get any sleep for about a week after his win, and sure enough he jetted off to New York City for some sightseeing, photo shoots, baseball games, late-night talk shows, phone calls and basketball games, sitting courtside in the green jacket at Madison Square Garden next to comedian Chris Rock, personality Michael Strahan and rapper 2 Chainz. Then he returned home to Houston, where the members at Carlton Woods hosted a reception in his honor.

    With Reed’s head still spinning, his wife, Justine, spent the better part of the past two weeks responding to each of the 880 emails she received from fans and well-wishers.

    “It’s been a lot more exhausting than I thought it’d be,” he said Wednesday at TPC Louisiana, where he’ll make his first start since the Masters.

    It’s a good problem to have, of course.

    Reed was already planning a family vacation to the Bahamas the week after Augusta, so the media tour just took its place. As many directions as he was pulled, as little sleep as he got, Reed said, “We still had a blast with it.”


    Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


    There are few places better to ease into his new world than at the Zurich, where he’ll partner with Patrick Cantlay for the second year in a row.

    Reed wants to play well, not only for himself but also his teammate. After all, it could be an important week for Cantlay, who is on U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s radar after a victory last fall. That didn’t earn him any Ryder Cup points, however – he sits 38th in the standings – so performing well here in fourballs and foursomes could go a long way toward impressing the captain.

    “There’s maybe a little extra if we play well,” Cantlay said, “but I’m just trying to play well every week.” 

    Reed got back to work on his game last Tuesday. He said that he’s prepared, ready to play and looking forward to building off his breakthrough major.

    “A lot of guys have told me to just be careful with your time,” he said. “There will be a lot of things you didn’t have to do or didn’t have in the past that are going to come up.

    “But first things first, you’ve got to go out and grind and play some good golf and focus on golf, because the time you stay and not focus on golf will be the time you go backward. That’s nothing any of us want. We all want to improve and get better.”