The list of golf-course designers who have left their mark on the Long Island landscape over the past century includes some of the most famous architects in the sport’s history – C.B. Macdonald, A.W. Tillinghast, Devereux Emmet, Robert Trent Jones and his son, Rees, to name only a few.
Long Island golfers – especially public players – owe a figurative fist bump to William Mitchell, a designer whose name might not be as easily recognized as those listed above, but whose impact, like theirs, is still felt today.
In the 1961 and 1962 seasons alone, a dozen private clubs and public courses were introduced to the Long Island scene, some of which were Mitchell designs. Mitchell himself had helped usher in a new era of course development in 1955 when he completed the Pine Hollow Country Club in East Norwich. Pine Hollow's opening marked the end of Long Island golf's post-WWII bust period. It was the first course introduced in the region in a generation, and it debuted on the converted acreage of a former Vanderbilt estate, leading nearby clubs like Mill River, Woodcrest and Muttontown to come to life in old mansions and upon their manicured grounds in the years to follow.
Mitchell's focus, however, was always on the public player. In the 1960s, Suffolk County hired Mitchell to build municipal courses in West Sayville, West Babylon (Bergen Point) and Riverhead (Indian Island), and also assigned him the task of fitting a nine-hole track – the White – into Timber Point. He laid out Northport’s Crab Meadow, a Town of Huntington muni. His design principles – subtle greens, visible bunkers, safe routes for average players – earned him the reputation as golf’s "public defender."
Mitchell bristled at the idea that public golfers should be left to play on "some kind of pasture." "Maybe the thing that gets me maddest is the feeling some people have about public golf courses," Mitchell said in a 1967 Newsday profile. "For the public they say, ... 'Get 'em on, get 'em around and get 'em off.'
“Just because a man has to play a public course, why should he be marched around and regimented? I don’t see why a man’s financial standing should have anything to do with his appreciation of a really good golf course.”
The Huntington-based designer aimed to challenge skilled players while allowing less-talented swingers to enjoy the sport. "I don’t like to hide a trap," Mitchell explained. After all, if you bury a beginner in sand all day long, "the game isn’t fun to him."
Mitchell was also a proponent of shortened “executive” courses, offering golf in less time and with fewer land requirements. He favored 27-hole facilities with three distinct nine-hole layouts to accommodate more players and offer versatility for golfers and management.
Late in his career, Mitchell envisioned a golf course designed specifically for women. He felt it was unfair that women had to adapt their game to long courses built with men in mind. According to a 1978 Newsday article, Mitchell’s plans for a female-oriented course were in place, and locations around Long Island were under review, when the designer passed away in the early 1970s.
[TOP (click to enlarge): Bunkers are arranged in full view on Crab Meadow's 11th fairway; MIDDLE and BOTTOM: Hazardous holes at the West Sayville Country Club.]