History of Golf in America: Westchester, the Birthplace of Golf
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Westchester’s claim to being the birthplace of American golf is based on much more than being home to Saint Andrew’s, the oldest golf club in America. It was here that the game’s national organizations, the USGA and the PGA of America, established their roots. It was here that the first national amateur championship was played, not to mention the first national “Open” tournament that included professionals. It was even here where the dubious tactic of hitting a second ball off the first tee if you didn’t like your first one—a Mulligan—got its name.
Westchester is where the greatest golfers of every age, from Harry Vardon and Gene Sarazen to Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, teed it up in the most important tournaments of their day. Where the very best golf architects displayed their artistry. Where the Masters was conceived and the US Open broke Phil Mickelson’s heart. If any place can lay claim to the honorific “birthplace of American golf,” it is Westchester.
We Owe It All to Saint Andrew’s
It all began when John Reid, a Scottish-born businessman in Yonkers, gathered some friends at a cow pasture on Lake Avenue on a warm February day. His fellow Scot, Robert Lockhart, had brought some hickory-shafted clubs and gutta-percha balls back from a business trip to their native land. They played an exhibition over three improvised holes with John Upham, and golf in Westchester sprouted from there. A blizzard stopped the fun soon after, but when the ground thawed in April, the men moved to a 30-acre meadow owned by the neighborhood butcher, John Schotts, at North Broadway and Shonnard Place (across the street from St. Michael’s Ukrainian Church today) where they could lay out a six-hole course. On November 14, 1888, following some golf and a jolly dinner, Reid, Upham, and three other friends—Henry Tallmadge, Kingman Putnam, and Harry Holbrook—officially formed St. Andrew’s Golf Club of Yonkers [now The Saint Andrew’s Golf Club]. John Reid was elected the club’s first president.
The minutes of that historic meeting are preserved in the club’s archives, the Peter Landau Library, along with a fabulous collection of books, records, and artifacts including early golf clubs and balls. Also in the archives are the minutes of the third meeting, held on March 30, 1889, which report that Mrs. John Reid and John Upham defeated the twosome of Carrie Law and John Reid in a match earlier that day. Even in its infancy, golf in Westchester was far from a men’s-only pastime.
By 1892, the jolly crew had moved four blocks north on Palisades Avenue to an orchard where they laid out a new course with an apple tree next to the first tee. It was a great place to hang their coats, not to mention a wicker basket with snacks and libations. Amused passersby soon started referring to them as the “apple tree gang.”
Increasing membership and the evolving standards of the game led the club to move to Grey Oaks on the Saw Mill River, a larger property where they could build a nine-hole course. It was there that the first National Amateur Golf Championship was held in October 1894, when L. B. Stoddard of Saint Andrew’s defeated Charles B. Macdonald of Chicago—one of the best golfers of the time and later known as the father of golf-course architecture (he designed Sleepy Hollow Country Club’s courses, among many other great tracks). Macdonald’s loss prompted him to denounce the championship because it wasn’t run by a national organization, so later that year, Saint Andrew’s secretary and founding member Henry Tallmadge invited representatives of four other leading clubs, the Chicago Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Newport (Rhode Island) Golf Club, and the Country Club of Brookline, Massachusetts, to dinner at the Calumet Club in New York City. Together, they formed the United States Golf Association and named Tallmadge its first secretary. Macdonald was elected vice president and walked away happy. The first USGA-sanctioned US Amateur Championship was held the next year at Newport CC, and he won handily.