History of Golf in America: Westchester, the Birthplace of Golf
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The first Westchester club to stage a fully recognized national championship was Ardsley Country Club, which hosted the third US Women’s Amateur in 1898. Jay Gould, Cornelius Vanderbilt, J. Pierpont Morgan, William Rockefeller, and other notables of the Gilded Age established the club in 1895 on the banks of the Hudson River as the Ardsley Casino. They had not only an opulent clubhouse, but also a yacht basin with a private dock and their own railroad depot, not to mention a golf course built by 20 men and 50 teams of horses. The original Casino was razed in 1936. Over the years, the club not only changed its name but moved several times until settling in its present location, the former home of Frank Jay Gould, in 1966. The course also moved inland from the river and was revised by Donald Ross, Alister MacKenzie, and Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
The Apawamis Club in Rye began as a social club in 1890, but added a rudimentary nine-hole golf course in 1896. Three years later, it moved to its present location and built an 18-hole course that Ben Hogan once called “the toughest short course I have ever played.” The club hosts one of the longest-running golf events in America, the US Senior Golf Association annual championship, which started there in 1905. Apawamis was also the original home of the PGA Tour’s Westchester Classic, which began as a one-day pro-am to benefit United Hospital in Port Chester in 1952. The club’s history includes two notable caddies, Ed Sullivan and Gene Sarazen, who worked there together in the early 1900s.
Professional Golfers Make Their Mark
The PGA of America, with 27,000 members today, has strong ties to several early clubs in Westchester. The organization was founded in 1916—a time when professional golfers lacked the social status of the amateur players of the day. Robert White, a club pro at Wykagyl Country Club in New Rochelle, became the PGA’s first president at a meeting of leading pros and amateurs called by Rodman Wanamaker, son of the department store founder, to organize the group.
Wykagyl was founded in 1898 as the Pelham Country Club, but moved to New Rochelle in 1904 and changed its name accordingly the following year. White came there in 1916 and served as head pro from 1922 to 1927. Horace Rawlins, winner of the first official US Open in 1895, preceded him. The club hosted the first Met Open to be held in Westchester in 1909, an event considered a major tournament at the time. It is also considered the home of the Westchester Golf Association, which was founded in 1916, and today provides more than a million dollars in college scholarships on a need basis to caddies every year. Wykagyl was noted nationally as a longtime host of LPGA events, beginning with the 1977 “Talk” Tournament and ending with the HSBC World Match Play Championship in 2007.
The PGA held its first championship at Siwanoy Country Club, which was founded in 1900 by a group of Mount Vernon golfers who played on a nine-hole course in Tuckahoe they reached by trolley. In subsequent years, the club moved closer to home to a different location in Mount Vernon until it settled on the current site in 1913. Donald Ross designed the 18-hole course that saw “Long Jim” Barnes win the first PGA Championship in a final match over Jock Hutchinson in 1916. His prize was $500 and the Wanamaker trophy, which had been donated by Rodman Wanamaker.
The second PGA Championship in Westchester was held at Pelham Country Club in 1923. It was won by Gene Sarazen, a Harrison native and Westchester’s greatest homegrown golfer, who had won both the PGA and the US Open the year before. Sarazen, born Eugenio Saraceni, was a major rival of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, and is one of only five golfers to win all four majors in his lifetime (the others are Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods). He won 39 times on tour. Hall of Fame record aside, golfers around the world owe Gene Sarazen a big debt of gratitude for his invention in 1932 of the modern sand wedge.