An ice sheet that may have been over a mile thick covered Sussex County. The glacier scoured out valleys and built mountains that would create a rocky but fertile basin farmed by the Lenape Indians and early settlers of Sparta.
In the mid 1920’s, Arthur D. Crane and Herbert Claus looked up the Wallkill River valley and had a vision. They began buying land. When enough parcels had been accumulated, they constructed a dam across the valley to create Lake Mohawk. The Crane Company built roads and houses around the new lake that were in much demand even during the depression years of the 1930’s.
To enhance the attractiveness of the resort community, the developer set aside 125 acres between the new lake and a high alpine ridge that became Lake Mohawk Golf Club. Architect Irving Sewall was hired to do the course design. He built a small one room Pro Shop (still a part of the current Pro Shop) and started clearing the land. Holes 1, 2 and 3 had been tilled farmland and were easy to prepare compared to the adjacent rocky forests where stumps had to be pulled and rock outcroppings blasted to open up the rugged site for the rest of the golf course.
The first nine holes opened on August 30, 1929 – just in time for the stock market crash two months later that led to the Great Depression. A golf professional from Scotland, Johnny Langlands, was hired. It was he, along with visionaries Crane and Claus, who drove the first balls off No. 1 tee. The course at that time consisted of current Holes 1,2,3,and 9 on the north side of the driveway and 10, 15, 16, 17, and 18 on the south side.
Driven by the sale and construction of over 600 homes around the lake over the next four years, members rushed to join a club touted in various journals as “one of the sportiest courses in the state”. A small two room Clubhouse was added in 1934 complete with a time capsule hidden behind a cornerstone originally used in the old Morris Canal. Back then, Route 15 was still unpaved and the Sparta area was considered quite remote, requiring a drive of several hours from the Jersey City and Essex County areas from which most of the members came to spend their summers.
During the mid-1930’s, the Crane Company added four more holes, current numbers 11,12,13,and 14 while at the same time building the nucleus of Lake Mohawk Golf Club members. Despite the hard times of the depression, the Golf Club, still owned by the Crane Co., grew along with the development. By 1935, however, the length of the Great Depression was exacting its toll and membership leveled off
The Crane Company offered to sell the Golf Course and the Clubhouse to the members. While this was a risky investment for the times, the members were convinced of the opportunity. To help, the Crane Company agreed to hold the mortgage. They were supportive in other ways as well, plowing and scraping to level the dirt driveway to the small clubhouse on the hill where golf was played in the summer and bobsledding and sleigh riding were enjoyed in the winter. Crane, Claus and their engineer, Harry Callahan, all served for many years on the Club’s Board of Governors, liking the paradise they had built so much that all three of them owned and lived in homes at Lake Mohawk through their retirement years.
Making the mortgage payments was to occupy the Board of Governor’s attention for the next ten years – probably more than they wished. Membership was flat during the late 1930’s and revenues were scarce. More than once during this period, a few members loaned the Club the funds needed to survive. Several years, only interest payments could be made on the mortgage.
The small greens were kept to challenge the shot making of the golfer. Once on the green, the player was rewarded with a putting surface that visiting PGA Tour Pros have characterized as equal to any in the tournaments they play.
Today, Lake Mohawk Golf Club represents the best of a member operated, volunteer oriented equity golf club. The Clubhouse provides a strong dining and social experience and the meticulously maintained golf course continues to evolve, improve, entertain and challenge lovers of the game.
As with today, Lake Mohawk Golf Club was a volunteer driven organization. With the exception of the, and a “Club Steward”, just about all of the functions involved in operating the Club was done by members, despite how important the members might have been in their careers. The Club Steward’s job was to run the Clubhouse food operation as an independent operator, hopefully but not always at a profit.
When World War II came, financial times became better but prospective new members were preoccupied with winning the war and the Club continued to struggle financially. The long drive to Lake Mohawk during wartime gasoline rationing prevented many members from participating in Club activities. Following the war, membership increased as the community transitioned from a vacation retreat to year round living. The Clubhouse was enlarged several times to accommodate the growing needs of the membership who now wanted lunches after golf and occasional dinners and social events.
The social fabric of the Club was always strong and numerous parties and outings occurred. Dances and dinners occurred regularly and grand balls were held in New York City during the winter to keep members in touch. To raise revenue, the Club even hosted the Sussex County Dog Show for four years and presented a “Revue” at the Lake Mohawk Country Club complete with Broadway performers.
In 1958, the final five holes were completed. Numbers 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 were carved out of the forest and rocky hills to finally make Lake Mohawk Golf Club a full eighteen holes.
As the area grew in population, membership continued to include the leaders of the Sparta area as well as professionals, major industrialists and even show business celebrities and prominent politicians from New York City. The Club continued its policy of being exclusively a “golf club” (not a “country club”) and left tennis and swimming pools to other organizations. That policy continues today. The entire emphasis of the Club was and is on providing a superior golf experience with the ancillary features that support it such as dining and social activities.
Emphasis from the beginning of the Club was on family. Children have always been a large part of the Club. Junior clinics and youth golf events were held each year. At least two members who grew out of that program have played professional golf.
With the completion of the full 18 holes in 1958, the Club turned to finessing the golf course and improving the Clubhouse. In the 1960’s a men’s grill was added and in the late 1970’s, the current dining room was built along with an enlarged men’s locker room.
In the mid 1970’s the recession from the OPEC oil embargo hit the club hard with a severe loss of members. Several members stepped forward again, loaning money to the club to see it through. As the economy recovered and membership grew, the Club’s finances improved and a sizable new member waiting list developed driven by the surge in new local housing.
In 1984 the land on the entire side of the adjacent mountain ridge was purchased to protect against development and consequent loss of the natural beauty that is part of golf at Lake Mohawk Golf Club. This land now gives the Club some flexibility as golf course improvements are considered.
Periodically, the Club would invite analysis of the course by the USGA and each time would make improvements based upon their recommendations. One generous member even paid to have the world renowned golf course architect, Pete Dye, do an evaluation. Sand traps were added, rocks and ledge in the fairways would be blasted away, tees moved back to lengthen the yardage and the old fashioned rock hard greens were softened. A change to a new greens superintendent in 1980 began a major improvement in the playability of the course that continues today under course Superintendent Eric Carlson and Golf Professional Davis DeRosa. This was accomplished with the lowest cost per green budget in New Jersey.
Through all of the changes, the basic outstanding layout of the course was maintained. In 1989, an upgrading of the fairways was begun with annual over seeding of bent grass to better support the ball for the shot to the green. This was preceded by the replacement of the old irrigation pipes with a modern electronically controlled system.
1976 and 1986 Four Ball Championship
1983 Women’s Amateur Championship