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120 years of golf and community on Goat Hill: Shelter Island Country Club is set to celebrate

The Shelter Island Country Club’s 9-hole public golf course was founded in 1901, but the first round of golf on Goat Hill wasn’t played until a year later.

So, it made sense to Mary Fran Gleason, chair of the 120th Anniversary Committee, to celebrate the 120th anniversary of the oldest continually-operating golf club in these parts over the course of an entire year. That celebration kicks off with a benefit on Sept. 18, with hors d’oeuvres, raw bar, a raffle and door prizes.

Over the next 12 months, the celebration will include parties, talks and a vintage golf tournament where participants will use hickory clubs.

The Shelter Island Heights Association created the club at the turn-of-the-previous-century so the young people of Shelter Island would have something to do. As the demographics of the Island have shifted, Goat Hill has become a place where older people can also have something to do, and much of the fundraising in this anniversary year is toward the goal of bringing more first-time golfers into the sport.

Reaching the $120,000 fundraising goal will make possible a new program to introduce golf to beginners — one that doesn’t require hiring a pro, and can be taught by any good golfer. Improvements to the grounds and driving range are also planned.

A healthy rivalry between Gardiner’s Bay Country Club and Shelter Island Country Club has long existed. Gardiner’s Bay was started about four years earlier than Goat Hill, but stopped operating for 10 years during World War II. That decade-long hiatus allows Goat Hill to claim victory as the oldest golf course in continuous operation on Shelter Island.

In 1942, the Heights Association was ready to close Goat Hill, but Bill and Olive Congdon stepped in to run it during the war and for decades after, finally turning it over to George Blados in 1976. In the late 70’s the Heights Association decided to sell the entire property, and the Town stepped in to buy it, running it as a public course with a board made of volunteers since that time.

The golf course is an authentic gem from the past, built to the landscape with shovels, horses and donkeys rather than the bulldozers used to construct modern courses. PGA Hall of Famer George Lewis has said of this venerable course that you learn to play it by “feeling” the landscape.

Mr. Lewis will be the featured speaker on Friday, Sept. 17 at Shelter Island Library’s Friday Night Dialogue on Zoom.

Goat Hill has long been the recipient of well-deserved affection and respect. Golf there is a particularly strategic game, true to the game as it was originally intended to be played.

Generations of Island children grew up there, whether serving as caddies (some employed before child labor laws intervened), rolling along in an electric cart in July, or sliding down the third hole on a toboggan in January.

Goat Hill is the course of the people, and sits at the beating heart of the community.