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



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Gene Sarazan, Westchester’s homegrown golf champion  //  Photograph courtesy of U.S.G.A You could assign Century Country Club in Purchase to the earliest dates of Westchester golf history, since it was originally organized in 1898 in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx. It moved to Westchester in 1904 on the site currently occupied by Metropolis, then to Purchase in 1922. Regardless of the decade, the club has been home to several players who made their marks on the game, including one Ben Hogan, who was an assistant pro at Century. Hogan won the Westchester Open in 1940. J. C. Snead, nephew of Sam Snead and eight-time winner on the PGA Tour, was an assistant teaching pro at Century from 1964 to 1967.

Not far from Century in Purchase is Old Oaks Country Club, which began in 1925 as the Progress Country Club and went through several iterations until merging with the Oak Ridge Club in 1936. Willie MacFarlane, winner of the 1925 US Open, was Old Oak’s first head pro. Many of the early members were from the entertainment industry and included Albert Warner of Warner Bros. and Moe Gale, who ran the William Morris talent agency. The original course had 27 holes, but the club lost nine of them when I-684 was built.

Nothing is so permanent as change, as someone once said, and that certainly applies to golf in Westchester. Two clubs, Mount Kisco Country Club and Willow Ridge Country Club, exemplify the way golf clubs have evolved in changing economic and social conditions. The original Mount Kisco Golf Club opened in 1917 on property north of the current course. In 1926, another course was built to serve Lawrence Farms, a residential community. When Mount Kisco Golf Club closed during World War II, many of the members joined Lawrence Farms Country Club, and the club became today’s Mount Kisco Country Club. Willow Ridge underwent even more transformations. It was built in 1917 by disgruntled members of Apawamis, but closed during the Great Depression. A public course and two private ventures followed (and failed) until, in 1965, the current club was founded.

The 1920s is also when most of Westchester County’s public courses were built. The first was Mohansic Golf Course in Yorktown, which opened in 1925 on land deeded to the county by New York State. Maple Moor in White Plains was acquired in 1925. It was a private nine-hole course that the county expanded to 18 holes and opened in 1927. Third came Sprain Lake in Yonkers, which was opened in 1929. Saxon Woods Golf Course in White Plains was added in 1931. Tom Winton, official golf architect for the county Parks Commission, designed the four courses (along with Mount Kisco and several other area courses), although A. W. Tillinghast claimed to have been the original designer for Saxon Woods. The fifth county course, Dunwoodie Golf Course, is actually the oldest, having been established in 1906 as a private club that claimed Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as members. The club stumbled financially, however, and the county bought it in 1955, made substantial improvements, and opened it to the public in 1957.

The county’s sixth owned and operated course, Hudson Hills Golf Course, was built on the site of Sunset Hills, a course opened in New Castle in 1926. The club closed during the Great Depression, but was acquired by a group of African-Americans and reopened as the Rising Sun Golf and Country Club in 1937. It struggled under several different ownership groups until it finally closed in 1982 and the property was sold for development. The county acquired it from IBM and opened the new course in 2004.

The Great Depression and World War II took a toll on the growth of golf everywhere, but the game in Westchester fully recovered. By the 1960s, five new clubs had sprung up (Hampshire, Brynwood, Brae Burn, and Rye) and two more (Somers Pointe and Lake Isle) were added in the 1970s. A number of truly spectacular courses have opened in Westchester in the last two decades. Hudson National, the Golf Club of Purchase, Trump National Golf Club Westchester, and Anglebrook burst on the scene in the 1990s, followed soon after by GlenArbor, Hollow Brook, and, in 2008, the county’s premier daily-fee course, the Pete Dye–designed Pound Ridge Golf Club.

MGA Historian Dr. William Quirin wrote, “Westchester golfers have been blessed by the convergence of hilly, forested terrain and the genius of visionary golf course architects who created a roster of courses unequaled in the United States.” We couldn’t agree more.

 

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