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Scotch Plains Public Golf Course Brings Back Original Name To Honor Its African-American Ownership And History

SCOTCH PLAINS, N.J. (CBSNewYork) -- What's in a name? In Scotch Plains, a lot, when it comes to a public golf course.

A club was renamed this week, just in time for a 100th anniversary gala on Friday night celebrating its African-American history, CBS2's Andrea Grymes reported Thursday.

At first glance, it looks like your average golf course. But dig a little deeper, beyond the green, and you'll see it's definitely not.

"The socials they had here. That's what the place looked like," Preserve Shady Rest Committee member Thurman Simmons said.

It was the very first African-American-owned and operated golf club in the United States. The clubhouse is an old farmhouse from the 1700s.

In 1921, a group of prominent Black investors bought the property and started Shady Rest Golf and Country Club, a place that became a hotbed for sports and entertainment during a time when African-Americans were not welcome everywhere.

"Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, W.E.B. Du Bois, all these guys came up here and this was the only place they could come because of segregation. You couldn't go anywhere else. So most of the bands, they played in New York. When they'd close down, they'd come here for the after-parties," Simmons said.

John Shippen, known as the first American-born professional golfer, was the club's pro and greens keeper until he retired in 1964. That's also when Scotch Plains township took over the course, made it public, and changed the name to Scotch Hills Country Club.

Over the last several years, the Preserve Shady Rest Committee has been working to bring its history to the forefront.

This week, the town council officially approved changing the name of the nine-hole club back to Shady Rest.

"It's an African-American course to begin with, so it's good to keep that history alive," golfer Mike Hoffman said.

"There are a lot of people in town only since 1964 and they only know the course as Scotch Hills and they thought that history should be preserved and is almost as important as the original history," Scotch Plains Mayor Josh Losardo said.

But after several meetings and discussions, the mayor and committee members like Simmons and Gary Jones say they're grateful to bring back a piece of the past.

"This is history. It's gotta be handed down to the next generation also, you know, to try to get young kids involved, get people involved, and learn about the history here," Jones said.

The mayor said the course was actually underused and losing money prior to COVID-19's arrival. However, since the pandemic it has experienced a huge resurgence in popularity. That means even more people can learn about its rich history.

The mayor said he hopes hopes to have all new "Shady Rest" signs in place by the spring.

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