Note: the original version of this article can be found at The Sentinel.
Metuchen Golf & Country Club circa 1932
Dr. William Ainslie — known as “Doc” by his compatriots at the Metuchen Golf & Country Club — makes himself at home among friends in the club’s lobby. As the country club marks its centennial this year, those with ties to the landmark have taken on the task of looking back at its history. Ainslie need only look within.
“My mother and father were members,” the longtime Metuchen resident, now of Edison, recalled. “I first remember playing here as a kid, and that was in 1927.”
The longtime member knows just how much the club — and the game — have changed.
“Golf in those days was totally different,” he said, harkening back to the sandboxes from which golfers would fashion tees made of little mounds, as well as the wood-shafted clubs that dampness could warp. “The weather had a great influence on your game.”
And, as Andy Brock, head golf professional at the club, noted, “Doc” had a great influence on the membership there. As an OB-GYN in Metuchen for many years, Ainslie delivered many of the club’s current members.
Thomas Edison’s experimental electric railway makes its way from his Edison laboratory for a test run in May 1880. He would later test the train on what became the 15th hole — also known as the “Edison Hole” at the Metuchen Golf & Country Club. PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
But the rich history of the Metuchen Golf & Country Club dates further back than Ainslie’s early memories, and even beyond its 1915 inception. A major figure in the area’s history also figured into the backstory of the country club.
Thomas Edison ran the first trial of his new invention, the electric railway, in Edison in 1880, according to a historic account written by Kelly Brock, Andy’s wife. Two years later, the “Wizard of Menlo Park” sought to further test his creation. He laid an 8,000-foot track from his laboratory on Christie Street, where the Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park stands, to near Pumptown, on the grounds of what is now the Metuchen Golf & Country Club, Kelly wrote. “He had to run the train several miles back and forth to make sure it worked,” Andy said, adding that to this day, the 15th hole — where the tracks ended — is known as the “Edison Hole.” It was dedicated as such on Oct. 7, 2014.
Over the years, golfers discovered rail ties and spikes from Edison’s undertaking near the famed hole. The items will be framed for the centennial celebration.
A planning committee began meeting monthly in May 2014 to prepare for the 100- year milestone. Since then, Kelly — a freelance writer and graphic designer — has been hard at work compiling the club’s history for a book that will be unveiled at a black-tie gala on Sept. 19, the main event to mark the centennial.
There, a majority of the club’s approximately 430 members will hobnob as they collectively take a look back.
Established Nov. 22, 1915, the Metuchen Golf & Country Club started with 120 members. Its founding trustees — a group of five men — were each notable in their own right. “All those founding men, almost all of them were very wealthy,” Ainslie said.
George S. Silzer
George S. Silzer, the most renowned of the five, was the 38th governor of New Jersey, according to Kelly’s account.
The club’s first president, Walter Williams, was a buyer for F.W. Woolworth, which had a small office near the borough’s train station, the book states. The President Cup tournament was established at the club because of Williams’ donation of the trophy in 1916. He and his wife, socialites in Metuchen, could walk to the club from their sprawling estate, dubbed “Roselawn,” on Park Avenue.
“He had a fleet of limousines,” Ainslie recalled.
Two other founding trustees, Washington Wilson and Alexander Litterst, both served as mayors of Metuchen.
Wilson, mayor in 1908 and 1920, also helped establish the Metuchen Club, an “immensely popular social organization,” in 1890, according to the book.
Litterst was mayor in 1902, and was friends with Thomas Edison. His post as head of the Improvement Society of Menlo Park had him communicating with Edison about various local issues. He also served as a trustee of the Woodwild Park Association, according to Kelly’s account.
Edward Burroughs, one of Metuchen’s early postmasters, rounded out the group. Also a pharmacist, he owned and ran the Metuchen Pharmacy. He was lauded at the club’s first meeting for volunteering to supervise labor when the course was first built. His former home still stands at 335 Middlesex Ave., Kelly’s research states.
Dr. William Ainslie, a longtime Metuchen Golf & Country Club member who remembers golfing there as a child in the 1920s, delivered many of the club’s current members in his work as an obstetrician. Andy Brock, center, the club’s golf professional, and General Manager Joseph Kuntar listen in as he recounts memories. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR
Along with a nine-hole course on 60 acres of rented land, the club’s beginnings came with its first, modest clubhouse, built at a cost of $800.
“The dues, I think, were $25 way back then,” Ainslie said.
Joseph Kuntar, the current general manager of the club, was tight-lipped about what the dues are now.
By 1924, the club had its second clubhouse, a larger building that would provide the foundation for the current clubhouse.
Unsatisfied with nine holes, the club’s expanded membership acquired more land on which to build an 18-hole course. The management hired Scottish golf pro Charles Laing, who collaborated with then-Plainfield Country Club golf pro Marty O’Laughlin to design and build it.
“They used mule-drawn pans, which could move no more than a quarter cubic yard of soil at a time — a slow process since it could take hundreds of cubic yards of soil to build just one green,” Kelly’s book states.
The new course was ready for its first teeoff on Memorial Day in 1931.
“With Charlie Laing’s help — he was very parsimonious — we made it through the Depression,” Ainslie said.
While the Great Depression had much of the country cutting back, the Metuchen Golf & Country Club escaped its tight grasp. The clubhouse renovation and expansion came in 1937, and the club purchased its first gaspowered tractor around the same time, eliminating the need for horses and mules. Manual labor wasn’t a thing of the past, however.
“Push mowers were used on greens and tees,” Kelly wrote. “On days the greens weren’t cut, they were whipped with bamboo poles so the golfers didn’t have to putt through the dew.”
During World War II, when membership waned, the club’s lone tractor was put to use by many players, and even the club’s president, to keep the course up to par. Each week, female members would cut crabgrass from the greens with paring knives, according to the book.
Joseph Kuntar, general manager of the Metuchen Golf & Country Club — which is celebrating its centennial this year — provides a tour of the facilities on March 11. STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR
“That is definitely a consistent theme that has come out over the years — their dedication and loyalty to the club and to each other,” Kelly said.
The commitment to keeping up the course held true over the years, with periodic renovations.
“When I joined [in 1973], it was in dire need of help,” member Bob Hamlet of Edison said, adding that the antidote was the hiring of Brett Price as greens superintendent in 1974. “He’s just done a marvelous job.”
Price — still a member at the club who plays twice a week — dealt with drainage issues on the course, also making it more challenging.
“Brett Price prided himself on making this golf course tough,” Hamlet said, recalling Price’s priceless smile during a 1988 PGA championship at the club, when a golf pro was loudly swearing over the course’s difficulty.
“The golf course has its own personality, so to speak,” said Andy, immediate past president of the NJPGA and 2014 NJPGA Golf Professional of the Year. “But Metuchen stands up to some of the best golfers in the state.
“It’s a gentleman’s game. It’s a game of honor and integrity, and the members here certainly treat it that way.”
An Olympic-sized pool meant to attract families helped with declining membership in 1961. To this day, the pool — and the swim team that came with it — are a popular feature, and in the summer, members enjoy dining al fresco around it, Kuntar said.
The pool is just one of the historical changes that have moved the club forward.
“But I think just as important are the philosophical changes,” said Kuntar, adding that relaxing the dress code at certain times and settings, along with family nights with children’s activities, have kept young members coming.
The club’s progressiveness didn’t just start in recent years, however.
“Women have had an outstanding presence here since even the ’40s,” Andy said, citing longtime involvement in the Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association. “Metuchen was dominant in that in the 1950s and ’60s.”
According to Ainslie, women were a part of the club even earlier than that. “My mother played here back in the late ’20s,” he said.
Today, Kuntar said, the club’s membership reflects the diversity of the population around it. “It’s not a clique-ish club,” Kelly said. “It’s a very welcoming place.”