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Van Cortlandt Golf Course

The Van Cortlandt Golf Course opened in 1895, as the first public golf course in the United States. Van Cortlandt Golf Course enjoys several other distinctions as well. In 1896, the St. Andrews Golf Club hosted the country’s first public golf tournament here. The golf house, built in 1902, has been a popular pre–and–post–game spot for nearly a century. Its visitors have included Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, and Joe Louis. The Three Stooges also made Van Cortlandt their preferred golf course. The house’s locker rooms have retained their original wooden lockers, which were in a scene from the Oliver Stone film Wall Street (1987).

Early Development

Van Cortlandt Golf Course became a reality when several prominent members of the Mosholu Golf Club in Riverdale, including T. McClure Peters, B.W. “Gus” Schwab, Moses T. “Percy” Pyne, and Cleveland H. Dodge, petitioned James A. Roosevelt, a member of the Board of Parks Commissioners, to build a golf course in Van Cortlandt Park. The popularity of the sport had been growing steadily for several decades and these local businessmen had tried unsuccessfully to find private lands within the City large enough to accommodate a new grand–scale, fully–appointed golf course.

Unlike the City’s more manicured parks, Van Cortlandt consisted of wildly sprawling grounds that felt a world apart from the urban landscape outside its borders. To golf enthusiasts, the fields, tall grasses, and colorful wildflowers of Van Cortlandt furnished the perfect spot for the golf links, which quickly earned the nickname “The Meadows.” T. McClure Peters constructed the nine–hole course north of Van Cortlandt Lake for a cost of $625. The original layout spread over today’s 1,2,3,6,7,12,13, and 14 holes. Playing through the 2,561–yard course was relatively easy for the first eight holes, each less than 200 yards. Then, golfers confronted the ninth hole, with a 700–yard fairway that crossed two stonewalls and two small brooks. The ninth hole was among the longest and most challenging hole ever created in the United States.

Success… and Challenges

In its first year, there were no set rules at the Van Cortlandt Golf Course, and it quickly became over–crowded. Local newspapers blasted the poor playing conditions, the unmanageable crowds, and a general lack of golf etiquette. As a result, the City hired Scottish Golf Architect Thomas Bendelow in 1899. Bendelow was to manage the course and oversee its expansion from a 55–acre, 9–hole course to a 120–acre, 18–hole course.

Once the general public discovered the facility, it became common for up to 700 golfers to complete the course on a typical Saturday, Sunday or holiday. By 1920, there were an estimated 5,000 golfers per week teeing off at Van Cortlandt. Golfing in the Bronx continued during the Depression and World War II. Easily accessible by both the Broadway IRT train and the Putnam Railroad, Van Cortlandt’s links were a popular spot for quick morning rounds. In the 1940s and 1950s, Bendelow’s course had to make way for the Major Deegan Expressway and the Mosholu Parkway Extension. Architect William Follet Mitchell rearranged fairways, eliminated two hillside holes, and added four new holes west of the Putnam Railroad line.

In the winter of 1961, Parks opened three public ski slopes on the back hills of the course. An estimated 5,000 people used the facility on busy winter days. Skiers had their fun for several years before winter golfers reclaimed the course.

Current Management

In the 1980s, the City of New York began to license management of its thirteen golf courses to a private company. Norman Taffet, who manages many golfing facilities throughout the city, has been operating Van Cortlandt Golf Course since 2007 and immediately renovated the course with new tees.