Historic Golf Gear and Memorabilia of Golf Collectors in Westchester and the Hudson Valley
Masterpieces and mementos: Hudson Valley and Westchester’s golf collectors preserve and celebrate the game
Garth Bishop, Hopewell Junction
Garth Bishop, 12 years old at the time, was caddying at Mount Kisco Country Club when he saw a golf ball floating in the pond near the 10th green. Since golf balls normally sink like stones, he knew he was on to something. He fished it out, and sure enough, it was a novelty ball labeled “floater.” That golf ball is still in the 57-year-old Bishop’s collection of books, autographs, clubs, balls, novelties, figurines, tournament programs, trophies, toys, and much more that fills a spare bedroom and overflows to bookcases and cabinets throughout his home.
“I have no idea how many items are in the collection or how much it’s worth.” Bishop says. “If I see an article or artifact that helps me understand the game, I add it to the collection.”
The watercolor map on Bishop’s wall is of the Mount Kisco Golf Club, which was in a different location from the current Mount Kisco Country Club and disappeared before World War II, replaced by houses, some office buildings, and a gas station, although one of the tee boxes still exists near Route 117. The map is a plan for lengthening the course prepared by A.W. Tillinghast in 1920.
Bishop started his serious collecting with putters, although he has plenty of mashies, niblicks, cleeks, brassies, and driving irons as well. Two of the earliest clubs in his collection have screw-in shafts and date to 1894. He talks easily of spring-faced clubs and dual-faced irons, none of which would be legal on the course today.
One of the most interesting items in Bishop’s collection is a 1959 vinyl LP with golf lessons recorded by Arnold Palmer, complete with an instruction book bound into the cover. Who said multimedia is a new idea?
» Next: Meet golf collector Lowell Schulman of Purchase, NY
Lowell Schulman, Purchase
“The ‘find’ is the big thrill,” declares Lowell Schulman, who at 85 is still finding remarkable treasures in the world of golf. The inveterate collector of golf art — and famed real estate developer noted for creating the Platinum Mile along I-287 in Harrison — has been assembling collections of art, glassware, silverware, ceramics, and other golf-related objects almost since he got hooked on the game as a 14-year-old caddie at Winged Foot Golf Club. That was when, he says, “I became smitten with the whole world of golf.”
Much of Schulman’s golf art hangs in his offices and home. On the wall behind his desk is his most valuable piece, The Drive, by C.E. Brock, painted in 1894. Schulman paid $52,000 for it 12 years ago and thinks it’s tripled in value since. “There were a series of three paintings, The Drive, The Bunker, and The Putt,” he explains. “I got this one, bid on the second one but it went to double what I’d paid, so I stopped bidding. I get joy just looking at these pictures every day.”
Golf artwork is only one of his passions. Schulman is now working on a singular collection of Amphora golf figures made from 1880 to 1910. It is basically his fourth collection. At one time, he had 200 ceramic pieces related to the sport. “The collection got bigger and bigger and bigger so I gave it to the USGA,” he says. “In my house, I enjoyed it, but there, everyone who walks through can see it.” The collection is in the main lobby at USGA headquarters in Far Hills, NJ.
» Next: Meet golf collector Bill Smittle of Valhalla, NY
Bill Smittle, Valhalla
You may find an electronic range finder in Bill Smittle’s hand, but you probably won’t catch him reading an e-book. The head pro at Scarsdale Golf Club is addicted to books, specifically golf books. And he’s partial to the real thing. “There’s something about holding a book in your hand,” he says. “Smelling the mustiness and imagining where it’s been.”
Smittle, 51, has more than 3,200 golf books in his collection, most of them published before 1950. The oldest is a history of a course in Scotland that doesn’t exist anymore. The book was published in 1852. “I’m fortunate to travel to Europe every fall with some of the members at Scarsdale,” he says, “and I often go a day or two early to hunt through the bookshops in Scotland and England.”
The first collectible book Smittle acquired was an autographed copy of The Walter Hagen Story, a gift from his boss at Oakland Hills Country Club, the storied club in Michigan where Smittle worked before he came to Scarsdale 24 years ago. Hagen, one of the legends of the game, was the first golf professional at Oakland Hills.
“At one time I thought I might be a golf course architect,” Smittle says, “so much of my collection pertains to either course construction or design.” For other golf architecture aficionados, he recommends Eighteen Stakes on a Sunday Afternoon: A Chronicle of Golf Course Architecture in North America by Geoffrey Cornish. The most useful instruction book in his collection is Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf by the golf great himself. Though published in 2005, Smittle considers Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game — a “golf psychology” book written by Gio Valiante — a classic.
» Next: Meet Maury Povich of New York, NY
Maury Povich, New York
TV viewers know Maury Povich as the star of numerous programs over the years including A Current Affair and two iterations of The Maury Povich Show (now just Maury). Golfers, though, know Povich as a longtime member of Century Country Club in Purchase, a perennial competitor in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and a devoted collector of historical golf equipment and memorabilia. The 73-year-old got hooked some 20 years ago and has bought, sold, and traded some fascinating items, especially clubs dating as far back as the 17th century.
“The clubs are remarkable,” Povich says. “They’re handmade and there was an artistry to it. I was really taken aback by how intimate the individual golfers were with their clubs.” Povich has several long-nosed clubs made around 1820 by Hugh Philp, the first official club maker for the Society of Golfers at St. Andrews. He also has a “Schenectady” putter, made famous by Walter Travis when he used it to win the British Amateur in 1904. Travis was not only the first American to win that tournament, but was also the designer of Westchester Country Club’s West Course.
Two of the few 20th century items Povich owns are programs to the first Masters Tournament in 1934 and for the 1930 U.S. Open at Interlachen, where Bobby Jones won the tournament on his way to capturing the Grand Slam.