The Muny Life: Mayfair Country Club

Recently, I wrote about Mayfair Country Club, a muny in Sanford, Florida, and its interesting connection to Moe Norman. But wait! There’s more!
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The driveway at Mayfair is flanked by enormous live oaks. They were planted in in 1847, when the property was part of a citrus plantation. The city of Sanford bought 152 acres in 1922 and created the Sanford Golf Club, which at first had just four holes.

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Later, the city leased the course to a variety of outside operators, among them the New York Giants baseball team. The Giants ran it from 1953-’61 and renamed it the Mayfair Country Club, after Sanford’s Mayfair Inn, which the team also owned. (The Giants used the inn as a dormitory for minor-leaguers, in addition to running it as a resort.) From 1955-’58, the club was the home of the Mayfair Inn Open—unofficially known as the New York Giants Open.

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In 2009, a guest at a raucous graduation party shot and killed a young man standing at the bar in the clubhouse. (According to the guys I had lunch with, the shooting was an accident, in the sense that the shooter was trying to kill a different young man, who resembled the victim from behind.) But the murder was an anomaly, and Mayfair has survived an economic downturn that many other Florida courses haven’t. The city of Sanford and Integrity Golf have made major improvements to the course and the clubhouse, including these slightly unnerving showers:

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I played in Mayfair’s regular Sunday-morning game, which has two components: a Stableford and skins. (One of the guys in the game referred to the club as St. Mayfair, because it’s where they all go on Sunday.)

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Jean-Pierre Ely, the club’s general manager, was in my group. He’s was born in Germany, and his grandmother knew Bernhard Langer’s parents. His family moved to the United States in 1998 after his mother won a green card in a lottery. He’s 28. His ambition is to play on the PGA Tour. That’s him on the right,with one of the club’s starters:

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There’s something cool about playing a golf hole that Ben Hogan had a definite opinion about (the fourth, a sinuous par 4, which he once described as one of the toughest bunker-free par 4s he’d ever played), and, later, buying a sleeve of balls in a golf shop that Sam Snead used to drive over while taking a shortcut to what was then the 10th green.

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Ely won the Stableford, while the best that I could manage was to prevent someone else from winning a skin on the third, a short par 4. Sorting out the prizes took time, because for a while the pot appeared to be $10 light. Billy Griffin, a regular, scanned the crowd near the bar and said, “I can look at somebody and tell if he hasn’t paid.” The problem turned out to be that one participant had accidentally signed up twice. “In that case,” someone said, “you need to put in another ten.” I said something at some point, and Griffin said, “Hey, new guy. Sit down.” So I sat down. Here’s the group’s official record-keeper:

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John, one of the regulars, used to work for the tour player Mike Souchak. A friend of his told me, “John has 42 clubs in his bag. When he lifts the bag out of his truck, the truck rises.” John said, “I’m down to 16 or 18. But I’ve got a few beers in there, too.” Here’s a board that one of the regular groups at Mayfair uses to make up teams, or something:

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Nice course! Nice club! I’d like to go back.

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Moe Norman Slept Here (Richard Nixon Did Not)

The Canadian golf legend Moe Norman had a wide stance, a short takeaway, a lumberjack motion, and a finish that made him look like he was dangling from a rope, yet many knowledgeable players, Tiger Woods among them, have ranked him with Ben Hogan as one of the greatest ball strikers of all time.

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Norman also almost certainly suffered from autism. He worked in a rubber-boot factory early in his career, and, although he won more than 50 amateur and professional titles in Canada, he felt like an outcast when he played in tour events in the United States (including the Masters, twice). His finances were precarious until the final decade of his life, when Wally Uihlein, of Titleist, learned of his distress and gave him the kind of retirement he deserved.

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Norman spent his winters in Florida, and, until Uihlein stepped up, supported himself mainly by hustling and giving exhibitions. At one point, the pro at Mayfair Country Club, a muny in Sanford, let him stay, rent-free, in an apartment on the second floor of the clubhouse. I visited Mayfair last winter. The stairs to that apartment had been removed in a renovation, so in order to show me the place Mike Kenovich, the superintendent at the time, had to find a ladder.

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Then he and I and Jean-Pierre Ely, the general manager, climbed to the roof, while Bernie Haas—who competed with Norman in several tournaments in Florida in the 1960s and was inducted into the Northern Ohio PGA Hall of Fame in 1995—steadied the ladder by keeping a foot on the bottom rung. That’s Haas in the red hat in the photo above, and Kenovich starting to climb. And those are Ely’s feet disappearing up above. Here’s Haas in the club’s Oak House Restaurant, later, with one of his golf scrapbooks:

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Haas was an assistant pro at Burning Tree, in Washington, D.C., in the late 1950s. One of his students there was Vice President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s boss played so much golf that Nixon figured he’d better learn, too, and because he had no friends he would invite Haas to play with him. “He wasn’t a very good golfer,” Haas said, respectfully. Nixon once told Clifford Roberts that he wouldn’t mind being a member of Augusta National, and Roberts, who didn’t like him any better than Eisenhower did, said, “I didn’t know you were that interested in golf.” And that was the end of that.
Anyway, here’s what’s left of the apartment where Norman stayed:
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The walls were crumbling, but I could picture Norman, whom I spent some time with in the mid-1990s, standing at a window and waiting for the sun to come up so that he could tee off again.
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Mayfair has a long, interesting history. I’ll have more about that—and about Moe Norman—soon.

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