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Two military vets keep tradition alive at A.W. Tillinghast design

Two military vets keep tradition alive at A.W. Tillinghast design

EATONTOWN, N.J. – The grill room was buzzing with a young clientele on the lower level of the grand Tudor Revival-style structure formerly known as Gibbs Hall, having recently reopened after a major renovation as the centerpiece of Suneagles Golf Club.

Seated at one end of the space, Ed Turner and Mike McMahon, a pair of Oceanport residents, took a moment to survey the scene.

When Turner, 88, first played the course in 1957, it was the Officer’s Club, with no enlisted men allowed on what was Fort Monmouth Golf Course. McMahon, 80, first walked the links in 1980, and has been a fixture through the place’s metamorphosis, becoming a private golf club this year.

Now the former helicopter pilots, who each served two tours of duty in Vietnam, are the last two retired military still playing at the historic 1926 course, continuing to carry their bags around the layout designed by famed architect A.W. Tillinghast, whose handiwork includes Baltusrol and Bethpage Black.

“We’re the only retired military still here, so he and I are drawn together,” said Turner.

“When I was first here no civilians and no enlisted men here. That’s the way the military was back then. It wasn’t that long after World War II, so we were segregated between officer and enlisted, big time. And when the enlisted started coming here, probably in the early 1970s, it was just senior non-commissioned officers. Then it evolved.”

Fort Monmouth closed in 2011, with Salvatore Martelli, whose Martelli Development Inc. built Colts Neck Golf and Country Club, purchasing the property in 2018. The restoration and expansion of the clubhouse, renamed Tillinghouse, is part of the redevelopment plan that includes 60 luxury market-rate townhouses and 15 affordable townhouses on the course.

Golf, war intertwine

As a member of the 1st Cavalry Division, Turner saw his share of combat action, mostly near the Cambodian border, during his time in Vietnam between 1966 and 1969, getting shot down once.

And while golf was an afterthought most of the time, Turner does recall a course in Saigon where the sand traps weren’t the only hazards.

“On my second tour I would play there sometimes, but it wasn’t something I could do that often,” he said. “The course was actually in an area that had a lot of trouble with the enemy.”

While McMahon never played in Vietnam, where he was part of an aviation detachment of the 196th Infantry Brigade, he was exposed to the game as a youngster growing up in…


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