The USGA was founded by some prestigious golf clubs. Shinnecock Hills, The Country Club at Brookline, Chicago Golf, Newport CC - these are four of the countries finest. Walking through the doors of Chicago Golf Club is a transcendent experience. It is a place steeped in history and golf lore. The same can be said about Newport C.C., The Country Club at Brookline and Shinnecock Hills.
These clubs are stewards of golf history. These clubs have fought off modern influences, fads, and the hair-brained schemes of architects from 1950 through the 1990s. These clubs may be exclusive enclaves – but their members deserve absolute, 100% credit and admiration for maintaining the integrity of their historical courses. They are also four clubs who happen to be a part of the five founding member clubs of the USGA. The other you ask? It's not as happy of a story.
There is a fifth club that founded the USGA. It is the very first golf club in America: St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Hastings-On-Hudson, NY. St. Andrew’s was founded in 1888 by among others, business titans Andrew Carnegie and Harry Tallmadge. It's in an ideal location, less than ten miles from downtown Manhattan in one of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States. The land is staggeringly good.
Nevertheless, the club has fallen from this elite strata. Its fall was self-inflicted. The club and its members compromised its history for a design fad. Today, it is obvious St. Andrews failed to protect its history and lineage. In contrast with its peers at Shinnecock Hills or Chicago, the story if St. Andrews is a sad one. It's the story of a membership fumbling away their historical significance with poor-decision making and management.
A historical timeline of St. Andrew's Golf Club's History
**based off of St. Andrews Golf Club - The Birthplace of Golf by Desmond Tolhurst and compiled by Michael Wolf.
The first game of "golf"
John Reid, a Scottish transplant, invites some friends over to try new sports equipment brought over from Scotland by his friend Bob Lockhart. They play three holes of golf. Each hole measured about 100 yards and was laid out over a cow pasture opposite Reid’s home in Yonkers, NY. Most consider it the first round of golf in America.
Golf at Yonkers
Photo Credit: Simon Haines @hainsey76
The "Golf Bug"
The game takes hold with Reid and his friends. Looking for more space, they move to a 30-acre lot owned by John Shotts at the corner of North Broadway and Shonnard Place.
November 14th, 1888
The St. Andrew's Golf Club is formally established. America’s first documented golf club.
A growing group
St. Andrew's Golf Club moves to an apple orchard on Palisade Avenue. The group of golfers is dubbed "The Tree Gang," although they often use a tent as a clubhouse.
Seeking more land to keep up with increased play and technology, the Club moves again. This time to a 100-acre site in Grey Oaks where they establish a permanent nine-hole course and hire their first full-time employee.
That same year, St. Andrew's Golf Club hosts their first national tournament. The first United States Amateur event won by L.B. Stoddard. The event was infamously protested by C.B. Macdonald and declared unofficial. The following year, Macdonald won the "first" U.S. Amateur at Newport C.C.
More Championship Golf
In the fall of 1894, St. Andrew's Golf Club also hosts the unofficial first U.S. Open Championship. This event was won by the great Scottish player, Willie Dunn.
December 22nd, 1894
The forming of the USGA
Henry Tallmadge, secretary of St. Andrew's Golf Club, hosts a dinner at the Calumet Club in Manhattan to propose the formation of what would become the USGA. Newport Country Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Chicago Golf Club and The Country Club at Brookline representatives are all present.
February 8th, 1895
The consitution of the USGA is ratified
The final move
St. Andrew's Golf Club moves for the final time, to 160 acres in Mount Hope. The land is purchased for $65,000. The golf course designed by club members Harry Tallmadge and William H Tucker. Of the $65,000 budget, $1,500 went to the course and $50,000 on constructing a clubhouse. St. Andrew's member Andrew Carnegie holds the mortgage note on the new location.
Times are good
Seventy years of golf and fellowship follow. St. Andrew's Golf Club is mostly a private retreat for its all-male membership to escape on weekends. Its close location to ever-growing Manhattan makes it a nice "2nd club“ for prosperous members who also belong to clubs which offer better equestrian, tennis and swimming options for their wives and children.
Membership falls from 251-193. Author and St. Andrew's GC member Desmond Tolhurst cites the changing demographics of lower Westchester County and the migration of captains of industry to communities farther to the north. Little is written of the effort to welcome new members or raise dues.
More members leave
The club loses another 33 members. At this point were only 16 members below age 35. A decision is made to develop 18 unused acres of land owned by St. Andrew's GC adjacent to the course.
In Jack's hands we trust
The club searches for someone to develop the 18 acres and lands on Jack Nicklaus Associates (JNA). It’s understood the course will need at least some rerouting to accommodate the development of housing units.
May 11th, 1979
A final agreement with JNA is signed, and the membership of St Andrew's GC no longer has sole control over their property. A group of members resign during a contentious full membership meeting to review the changes.
Membership reaches a bottom of 146 members. The club operates at a $150K deficit for the year. Work begins on the changes to the course as well as the new housing development
October 25th, 1982
A press conference celebration is held. Governor Wilson, famed architect A.M. Stern join Nicklaus in describing the new vision for St. Andrew's GC. Nicklaus tells the membership afterwords that he believes he can convince the USGA to hold the 1988 US Amateur at St. Andrew's GC, in commemoration of the centennial celebrations.
Spring of 1985
Work is halted on the still unfinished course and housing. At this point, $3.5M had been spent on 8 new holes. The original project was budgeted for $900K.
End of 1985
Jack Nicklaus Associates is out and the banks seize the control of the project. Only 86 of the planned 209 houses were complete. Major projects on the course and the clubhouse are still not done.
The golf course
The patched together new course is considered too hard for regular membership play, and several of the new holes are considered out of character with the rest of the course, non-strategic, and in some cases downright dangerous.
Doak weighs in
in his new Confidential Guide, author Tom Doak assigned the new St. Andrew's GC a rating of 3/10. Which on his scale equates to "not worth going out of your way to see“. He singles out the redesigned 11th as "the worst hole I have ever seen.“
St. Andrew’s is a story for greens committees and country clubs governors. Today the golf course bears no resemblance to its 1897 design. It’s a stark contrast from its USGA founding peers which remain for the most part the same as their 1920s selves. Do not fumble away your history, tradition or charm at the behest of a few outspoken greens committee members. The point of this story is that the decisions you make today are critical. The slide of St. Andrew’s is a lesson you must understand. One of golf’s founding fathers is a sad tale.
Watch St. Andrew's course history here.
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