History of Golf in America: Westchester, the Birthplace of Golf



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Andrew Carnegie playing at St. Andrew’s circa 1899. He enjoyed the game so much, he built a home next to the course  //  Photograph courtesy of Westchester County Historical SocietySaint Andrew’s also hosted the first—though still unofficial—US Open concurrently with the National Amateur Tournament. Four top professional golfers of the day were invited to play a competition of their own on the course, with a first-prize gold medal and $100 going to the champion. That turned out to be Willie Dunn, the pro at Shinnecock Hills, who also designed the original Ardsley Casino course (now Ardsley Country Club) and became its first club pro when it opened in 1896.

Golf and Saint Andrew’s continued to grow. In 1897, the club purchased new property where it could build an 18-hole course at Mt. Hope, where it remains today. Members at the time included steel mogul and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and architect and bon vivant Stanford White. Jack Nicklaus redesigned the course in 1983.

While Saint Andrew’s may have hosted the nation’s first mixed foursome, like most golf clubs of its day it wasn’t a particularly hospitable place for women. In 1895, John Reid’s wife, Elizabeth, and several other Saint Andrew’s women leased land on North Broadway and established Saegkill Country Club. It soon moved to a site overlooking the Hudson River and by 1896 had 100 members—mostly women. The club also earned a distinctive place in Westchester golf history in 1901 when Benjamin Adams was arrested for playing golf on the course on a Sunday. In a raucous trial, the prosecution lost the case on a narrow interpretation of the statute that forbade disturbance of “the peace of the day,” thus establishing every Yonkers golfer’s legal right to pursue par whenever he or she chooses.
 

Golf Spreads Across Westchester

By the time Saint Andrew’s started hosting tournaments, a handful of other Westchester clubs were in their nascent stages. John Archbold, John D.

Rockefeller’s chief lieutenant at Standard Oil, was the first president of Knollwood Country Club, which organized in 1894 on grounds developed by New York attorney Augustus Gillender in Elmsford. Member Lawrence Van Etten, a prominent civil engineer who designed many residential communities in New Rochelle and later the original course at Wykagyl, laid out the first 18 holes at Knollwood, a par-69 test at 5,305 yards. Seth Raynor designed a longer course that opened in 1926 and features a 19th hole that not only takes players back to the clubhouse at the end of their round, but serves as a perfect way to settle wagers.

Knollwood was a nationally known tournament site in the early days of the game. Arthur Fenn from Aiken, Georgia, who later became the first American-born golf professional, won two invitational tournaments there in 1897. Francis Ouimet, winner of the milestone US Open of 1913, played at Knollwood, as did the legendary Bobby Jones, who at one time held the course record with a round of 68. It was in the Knollwood grill room that, according to local lore, Jones met with club member Clifford Roberts and discussed the creation of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

Willie and Mike Turnesa, two of seven brothers who made an indelible mark on Westchester golf, were affiliated with Knollwood — one as an amateur, the other as a professional. Willie won the US Amateur twice, the British Amateur once, was captain of the US Walker Cup team, and president of the Metropolitan Golf Association. Brother Mike came to Knollwood as head pro in 1943 after playing on tour for 18 years. He played in the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934 and finished second in the PGA Championship to Ben Hogan in 1948.

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