SCARBOROUGH, NEW YORK | It was in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” short story of 1820 that author Washington Irving describes the ghastly Headless Horseman haunting residents of the secluded and undoubtedly haunted New York glen. In the story’s climax, the cloaked rider hurls his severed head at schoolmaster Ichabod Crane, sending him tumbling to the ground and purportedly fleeing the town.
That folklore plays heavily at the venerable Sleepy Hollow Country Club, host of last week’s U.S. Mid-Amateur.
My first introduction to the course came on a foggy morning as I drove cautiously through the club’s horse farm and approached the Italian Renaissance Revival clubhouse called Woodlea. The Vanderbilt mansion was built in 1893 – for a cost of $2.5 million, or about $85 million in today’s dollars – and later sold to William Rockefeller in forming the golf club alongside such luminaries as Cornelius Vanderbilt and James Colgate.
The doors and fireplaces are impossibly large, the floor moaning with every step, the spooky library oozing with leather-bound books and sculpted mannequin heads. On the back porch, visitors can picture weddings taking place overlooking the peaceful Hudson River, a patch of impenetrable solitude just 35 miles north of the busiest city in the country.
In contrast to the classic C.B. MacDonald-designed course, with its template holes and square greens, the theme here is whimsical and unusually campy for a golf club of such stature.
If it appears as if the setting is meant for the silver screen, well, it is. Woodlea was a recent filming location for “The Greatest Showman,” “Gotham,” “Madam Secretary,” “30 Rock,” “Bounty Hunter,” “Quantico” and a long list of other movies or shows. And while filming occurs in part because of the beautifully ornate and eerie interior, I saw no tangible evidence of spirits from the great beyond. However, I do believe the club does remain haunted by a 2011 Beyoncé music video in which she sprinted across the course in a wedding dress and high heels, providing unnecessary aeration services for the perfectly manicured greens.
But look at me, burying the lead like the Headless Horseman buried fear into the town. That lead is: All of the club is centered around the mythology from the short story. In contrast to the classic C.B. MacDonald-designed course, with its template holes and square greens, the theme here is whimsical and unusually campy for a golf club of such stature.
The logo – the Headless Horseman atop a galloping stallion – is nothing short of iconic in the golf world. The pro shop did well last week. Each hole is named after an element of the story, and the annual member-guest is called the Headless Horseman. A series of seemingly crooked bridges around Nos. 3 and 16 are straight out of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” I tested them out and they are, in fact, structurally sound. If they are good enough for Bill Murray, a member of Sleepy Hollow who knows a thing or two about capturing ghosts, they are good enough for me.
It’s fitting that another bit of lore is how the Headless Horseman has traveled across those bridges and thrown his loose head – from quite some distance, mind you – right into the hole on No. 3.
With an aim like that, he was born to be a golfer.
Top: The Headless Horseman chases Ichabod Crane across a narrow bridge as illustrated in an April 1876 issue of Harper's New Monthly Magazine.