IT ALL STARTED in the early 1990s, in the wee small hours of weekend mornings, in the parking lot of Bethpage State Park. Before the age of online registration, golfers drove from across Long Island and all the way from New York City to camp out in the dark, sometimes all night, to be the first in line to sign up for tee times at Bethpage’s five public courses. In those days, the shortest line was for the Black course, because it was so notoriously difficult but also in such atrocious shape, with lumpy greens, scruffy fairways and thin layers of gravelly sand dumped over black plastic liners that barely qualified as bunkers.
Yet a group of game weekend warriors regularly lined up to pay green fees for the Black, started playing together and became 19th-hole drinking and poker buddies. They ranged from Long Island cops, firemen and small-business owners to Jon Silverberg, a back-office city government manager who drove out every weekend from his home in Brooklyn. They began to think of themselves as a club, and in 1993 one of them, Sean McGowan, an industrial salesman from Williston Park, became determined to make it official. He invited seven of the guys over to his mother’s house for a meeting around her kitchen table to discuss how they could apply to the USGA and Metropolitan Golf Association for designation as a “club without real estate.” They named themselves the Nassau Players Club—after the county where many of them lived, and the betting game they played on the course—chipped in $20 apiece for membership, and memorialized the founding by signing their names on one of the bills.