Mary Fran Gleason’s wonderful recent interview with George Lewis (“One tough little golf course,” Aug. 13) about his delightful and poignant memories of the Shelter Island Country Club, put me in mind, as great stories will do, of some memories of my own related to that place, affectionately known as Goat Hill.
As an aside, I’ve been asked many times how it was that I decided to choose dentistry as my profession, and this is actually true: My Mother worked as a bookkeeper for a large dental laboratory while I was in high school, a time that coincided with my falling hopelessly and entirely in love with the game of golf. I was good enough in 8th grade to be on my high school’s varsity golf team.
One day my mother came home from work and said that since I liked playing golf so much, maybe I should become a dentist. It seems that every time she tried to get one of her dentists on the phone to discuss their account, they were out on the golf course.
I was 14 at the time, but with a little hard work, 12 years later, in 1983, I became a dentist.
I came to Shelter Island to practice dentistry in 1987. Two of the first great friendships I had in those days were with George Lewis’s father, George, and his uncle, Ken Lewis. One would be hard pressed to find two men more knowledgeable about golf. To add to my happiness at meeting George, it turned out he also loved poetry. (That is another story altogether.)
George was always ready to give me advice, and one thing he told me early on was to “never take another man’s bet.” That seems to have worked out well over the years, mostly because I never bet on anything, anyway. Sadly, I never got to play with George because he had long been past playing due to crippling arthritis. Still, each time I played, I was to call him on the phone and recount every shot, why I played it, and how it turned out.
George’s interest included personal instruction, and many times I would go to his house and he would have me putting on his living room carpet, offering pointers. It always helped. He often spoke with enormous pride about his son George, his mastery of the game and also its history.
I was fortunate to have played hundreds of rounds with Ken Lewis over the years. He was a gentleman to the definition of the word, and he loved Shelter Island as well as any person I ever met. On the course at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club, he would be beside me as I contemplated a shot and ask me where I was going to hit it. I might answer that I was going over the top of some big tree and he would ask me what kind of tree it was. I rarely knew the answer. He informed me about the species of tree it was, and asked me which leaf on the top of the tree I was aiming at and I had to describe it to his satisfaction before he let me play the shot. And, well, Ken Lewis remains the only man in the history of Gardiner’s Bay C.C. to make a double eagle on that course, a two on a par five. He gave me an old driver of his years ago and I would like to believe it was the one he used that day.
But let me tell a brief story and say something important about the Shelter Island Country Club. Bill and Olive Congdon were patients of mine for years. I recall meeting Bill in my office when he presented himself one day and said that Olive thought I should make him a new set of dentures. She felt it was time.
I asked how long he had been wearing the present set and he said 53 years. I was astounded, and more than concerned at trying to make him a new set, but somehow it worked out and I was proud to think after that, when Bill Congdon smiled at someone, I had a hand in it.
But here is the thing about that wonderful golf course that Bill and Olive looked after for all those years. The people I knew who played on that course all the time were exceptional players. But there were many who considered themselves great players elsewhere, who quickly found themselves more than humbled by that little gem of a course.
When I think of people like Tom Young, Jr., Scott Lechmanski, George Blados and Carol Taplin, among others, I’m thinking of some of the best players to ever play the game on Shelter Island.
I was glad to have known them all and grateful to have seen them play. There are people who play golf and there are golfers. That is something the Lewis brothers taught me. Those folks from the Shelter Island CC were golfers.
Daniel Thomas Moran is the author of 12 collections of poetry and his work has been published in 20 countries. He served as Suffolk County Poet Laureate from 2005-2007. A retired Clinical Assistant Professor from Boston University’s School of Dental Medicine, he practiced dentistry on Shelter Island from 1987-2009.