|From its inception in 1898, Wykagyl Country Club has shared with America the wonderful times of prosperity and success, and endured with her the painful moments of two world wars and a depression.
Wykagyl is one of the most challenging and beautiful courses in the country, but encouraging the sport of golf was not always as easy as it is today. In 1898, a group of ardent sportsmen - anxious to pursue the new game - met and formally organized the Pelham Country Club (no relation to the present club of the same name). Land was leased, and a nine-hole course was staked out on a tract just beyond the New Rochelle line, on the north side of the Boston Post Road. Soon after its formation the club boasted 125 Members.
In 1904, however, a new owner acquired the land and immediately ordered the club to vacate his property. The determined Members found a new home in New Rochelle: the farm of one Livingston Disbrow. An agreement gave the Club the right to lease the Disbrow land for three years at $3,500 per year, with an option to buy for $750 an acre. Three years later, the property was purchased, and the Club found its permanent home.
The Disbrow land had a history of its own. Over the acres where wedges and five irons now cut through grass, Indians and early pioneers of Dutch and Huguenot ancestry once roamed. In fact, the history of the land probably gave the Club its name, though the story of how the prestigious and colorful title came into being has a mysterious and amusing twist.
The move from Pelham Manor to New Rochelle meant, among other things, that the Club needed a new name. One of the original Members, William K. Gillett, was appointed to be a committee of one to pick a name. He came up with Wykagyl. For many years it was thought that Gillett had simply taken the letters W, K, G, and L from his own name, changed the I's to Y's, added an A in the middle for euphony and found a distinctive name for the Club, and his own private joke to chuckle over.
Years later, the secretary of the Club, Henry T. Brown, uncovered an Old Dutch map of early New York giving the location of Indian tribes and villages. The Club bulletin of 1925 claimed the name was from wigwos (birch bark) and keag (country), the country of the birch bark.
Old Disbrow Farm House
Whatever its origin, the name won instant approval. A court order was signed decreeing that as of June 15, 1905, the old Pelham Country Club would henceforth be known as The Wykagyl Country Club, and so it has been to this very day.
The original course was laid out by Lawrence E. Van Etten, who had joined the Club in Pelham in 1904. So fast did Van Etten work that by April 1, 1905, the first nine holes were in play and by August the back nine was ready. Amazingly, several Club tournaments were held that year and a Club championship decided. The winner was William K. Gillett, the same fellow who had given Wykagyl its name.Wykagyl’s Golf Heritage
Soon, the course was changed in two steps by two noted gold architects. Donald Ross redesigned several holes in 1919 and A.W. Tillinghast worked on others, including a totally new 17th hole and shortening the 18th, of which Harry Vardon was so fond. Play on the Tillinghast-modified course began on Labor Day, 1931. As the facilities and the course were being upgraded, two famous Wykagyl personalities - Val Bermingham and Clare Briggs - were putting their indelible stamp on the Club. It would be fair to say that the years 1905 to 1932 can properly be designated as the Bermingham era at Wykagyl, at least in terms of golfing prowess. In that time, Val won 20 Club championships, which stood for many years as a national record, according to the U.S.G.A.
If Val made the name of Wykagyl prominent by his golfing prowess, Clare Briggs caused it to be known throughout the land by his series of golfing cartoons which were published for years in the New York Tribune and later the Herald-Tribune. Briggs made Wykagyl the setting for his humorous drawings, using the names of many of his cronies from the club in his cartoon. Wykagyl has paid tribute to these two favorite sons by naming days for them. Now the golfing season starts on Bermingham Day and closes on Briggs Day. It seems fitting. Opening day is a time for hopes and dreams, when golfers set out to emulate the skills of Val. Briggs Day, marking the end of another season, is a time to stow the clubs away and "live it up" somewhat in the manner of the ebullient Clare. Briggs and Bermingham played amongst some skilled company in those early years. Wykagyl was a favorite course for topflight pros, both American and British. Walter Hagen, George Duncan and Bobby Jones were among legendary golfers who played at Wykagyl. In later years, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson tested their skills here.
Beyond the golf heritage and accomplishments of its own members, Wykagyl enjoys a unique station in the annals of professional golf history. The first organizational meeting of the fledgling Professional Golfer's Association was held at Wykagyl in 1916 and its first
president was Bob White, Wykagyl's long time Head Golf Professional. The first U.S. Open Championship in 1895 was won by Mr. Horace Rollins, who became head professional here.
Wykagyl has also been host to many charitable tournaments. These include the famous "Palm Beach Round Robin" from 1948 through 1952, 1956 and 1957, the "Red Cross" Tournament in 1944, the LPGA "Talk" Tournament in 1977, the LPGA "Golden Lights Championship" from 1978 through 1980, the LPGA "Chrysler - Plymouth Classic" in 1982, the LPGA "Master Card International Pro-Am" in 1984 and the “Japan Airlines Big Apple Classic” 1990-2000, the LPGA Sybase Classic 2001-2006, and the 2007 HSBC Women's World Match Play Championship. Principal benefactors from these events have been the New Rochelle Hospital, Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center, the Red Cross, Cerebral Palsy of Westchester, the Westchester Burn Center, the American Health Foundation of Valhalla and the New Rochelle Boys & Girls Club.
The Wykagyl membership itself also underwrote the revival of the "Round Robin" in 1964 in an effort to gain more exposure for the Club. Despite the inability to obtain a sponsor and without TV coverage, the Club attracted 16 professionals in a match play event in which Miller Barber secured his first professional victory over Ken Venturi.
Improvements over the Years
After operating with the original clubhouse for the first decade or so, Wykagyl decided it needed a larger facility. These were years of boom and the Club invested $234,000 to build the clubhouse, a greatly admired structure around the metropolitan area when it opened in October of 1928. Decades later, it is still regarded as one of the finer locker houses in the country.
Nearly two years later, Wykagyl opened a swimming pool, the first club in the Metropolitan area to have one; the Depression had not yet had a severe effect on the Club. When fire destroyed the old clubhouse in February of 1931, a decision was made to build a new one. It was completed in 1932 and still serves today as our graceful home.
Under the direction of aggressive and progressive committee chairmen, improvements continued at an accelerated pace through the 1950's, 60's and 70's. Facilities were upgraded and air conditioning was added to the Clubhouse, the Flood Card Room and Sauna Lounge. Four bowling alleys, which had first been introduced in 1935 to great acclaim (and to which a full-service bar was later added), were upgraded again in 1958, helping to make bowling an exciting winter activity at the Club. A beautiful new pool was opened during the summer of 1964, adding to the attractiveness of the Club grounds.
Wykagyl completed a multimillion dollar clubhouse renovation in 2001 including the construction of a new and expanded Mixed Grill, which is the principal dining facility today for the membership. With the intent to preserve the unique features of Wykagyl, including the original Men's locker house and the bowling alleys, the membership elected to expand the footprint of the Club by building out the Mixed Grill. A new and modern Ladies' locker house was constructed on the lower tier.
Modern Golf Improvements
In 1994 the Club commissioned noted golf course architect Arthur Hills to supervise a renovation of the entire course with the intent to improve the golf test and infrastructure, including a new drainage system. All tees were rebuilt, along with two greens. In an effort to recapture the bunker styling of the early part of the century, shallow bunkers with grass fronts were built and re-situated to capture the architects’ original strategic intent. The golf course was lengthened and fairway corridors generally tightened to increase the challenge to the golfer.
In 2006, in a continuing effort to maintain the quality of its golf experience and infrastructure, Wykagyl once again commissioned a preeminent architectural firm, Coore & Crenshaw, to spearhead a multimillion dollar renovation. While the principal driver of the project was to install new irrigation and drainage, the membership was able to reevaluate potential golf course improvements. Coore & Crenshaw's principal objective in the renovation was to present a golf experience that was strategically interesting and playable to golfers of all abilities. The improvements featured all new tees and more dramatic bunkering (including the addition of 30 bunkers), expanded green complexes, and fairway line adjustments that were more receptive and forgiving.
Throughout its history, Wykagyl has been blessed by the handiwork of some the most venerable architects that our great game has showcased. Our central attraction, our golf course, is a beautiful amalgam of their creativity and ability. As one of the truly classic golf courses in our country, Wykagyl presents a memorable experience to any member or guest who has graced its fairways.
Celebrating over 100 Years
In 1998, Wykagyl celebrated its Centennial. Many activities were planned around this extraordinary milestone including golf matches, pool and tennis events, an elaborate Centennial Ball at the Fountainhead in New Rochelle, a carnival and family barbecue on the 4th of July, and a spectacular fireworks display to culminate the festivities. Members from the past and present participated. It was a wonderful time at Wykagyl when many old friendships were rekindled. Our Centennial was a true example of the significance of the Wykagyl family and it was a celebration that endures and will be remembered for years to come.
Well along toward its next 100 years, Wykagyl enjoys a healthy membership, one of the best golf courses in the metropolitan New York area, and facilities designed to preserve Wykagyl’s stature as a premier club for years to come.