Some people baked sourdough during the pandemic. Others took time to learn a new language or take up a musical instrument.
Colin Sheehan, the 45-year-old head coach of the men’s golf team at Yale University and a co-founder of the Outpost Club, used the lockdown to expand a collection of vintage clubhouse postcards.
“It started before COVID, with my searching eBay for images of single-story clubhouses with wrap-around porches to use as possible examples for a club in Illinois looking to erect a new one,” Sheehan explained. “Buildings that were constructed pre-World War II, before air-conditioning and when porches and other covered outside spaces were critical components of the design. Many of the cards were watercolors or hand-colored photographs and true pieces of art with an old-world look and feel. So were the buildings they depicted. It all reminded me that that era was as much a Golden Age for clubhouses as it was for golf courses.”
Sheehan downloaded the postcards he liked most and began putting together a slideshow, cropping some images and enhancing the color on others.
“I had just more than 100 postcards by the time we first had to quarantine in early March,” said Sheehan, who graduated from Yale in 1997 with a B.A. in history and political science and now lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife Amy (class of ’98) and their three daughters – Lucy, Annabel and Caroline. “But then COVID turned the world upside down and working on that collection became something of an antidepressant for me.
“Once the girls went to bed, I’d sit down at the computer and start looking for images of other clubhouses, adding as many as 25 a night to my slideshow. Now, I am up to nearly 1,300 images. The vast majority are clubhouses, with a few golf hotels mixed in. Nearly all of them are located in North America, and sadly, a lot of them no longer exist.”
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Sheehan, who has been involved in the building and development of Castle Stuart in Scotland and the Ohoopee Match Club in Georgia as well as the Bayonne Golf Club in New Jersey, said he is drawn to “the nostalgia of the experience.”
“The beauty, balance and simplicity of the structures, too, and the craftsmanship of the artisans and carpenters who built them,” he said. “The clubhouses also harkened back to a grand era of golf and a time before clubs got into the wedding business and focused the activity in those buildings on the interiors, with their ACs and big-screen televisions. Back then, it was all about being outside on the verandas, the porches and the terraces.”
Lanky and dark-haired, Sheehan is so boyish in appearance he could easily be mistaken for one of the golfers he coaches. But inside, he is very much an old soul who savors the traditions of golf and its rich past. He has written a compelling history of the U.S. Amateur and become a leading authority on course architects Charles Blair Macdonald and Seth Raynor, who designed the Yale University track that Sheehan often played as a member of its golf team in the mid-1990s – and where he has been mentoring members of the men’s squad since he started serving as head golf coach in 2008.
He even favors the sorts of tour visors that Arnold Palmer flung into the air when he captured the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills – and that Fred Couples wore on the way to his win at the 1992 Masters.
Ask Sheehan about his slideshow favorites, he rattles off several names. “The Stanford White designs at Shinnecock Hills and Palmetto Golf Club, of course,” he said. “Also, a postcard of the clubhouse of the Urbana Country Club in Ohio, which is where Pete Dye’s father, Pink, built a nine-hole course in 1922, and where Pete learned the game.
“I also like the card I have of the Town & Country Club in St. Paul, Minnesota, where F. Scott Fitzgerald used to take Ginevra King – his inspiration for Daisy Buchanan in ‘The Great Gatsby’ – to dances,” he added. “And another of the White Bear Yacht Club in Minnesota, which has a Donald Ross golf course and was where Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda resided for some of the summer of 1921 before being asked to move for being too rowdy.”
Stories like that are an allure for Sheehan, and so are the different architecture disciplines the clubhouses in his collection represent. “It’s a very representative list,” he said. “The Mission style of Florida and California. The Pueblo style of the Southwest, and the Colonial Revival look of the Northeast. I also really enjoy that many of the old clubhouses were converted farmhouses that existed well before the golf courses around them were even built.”
Clearly, assembling the slideshow has given Sheehan great pleasure as it has also helped him endure the odd isolation the pandemic has forced upon us all.
“I also like sharing the images with clubs as they consider building new clubhouses or revamping ones that currently exist,” he said. “And if these postcards give them some ideas in those projects, that would be great.”
Just as satisfying to Sheehan is the thought of an obscure image connecting a person to their past, or that of their parents or grandparents.
It beats baking bread.
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