Gone But Not Forgotten: A Look At Njsga's Lost Founding Clubs
In June, 1900, representatives from 10 clubs met for dinner to put together plans for the first New Jersey state golf tournament. The clubs would form the New Jersey State Golf Association.
Those original 10 club included Baltusrol Golf Club, Morris County Golf Club, North Jersey Country Club, Yountakah Country Club, The Englewood Golf Club, The Golf Club of Lakewood, The Golf Club of Montclair, The Hillside Golf and Tennis Club of Plainfield, Essex County Country Club and the Jersey City Golf Club.
Four of them, Englewood, Jersey City, Lakewood and Yountakah are considered lost links of a bygone era. Here’s a look at the history of each of those original NJSGA member clubs, including high points and the clubs’ eventual demise.
ENGLEWOOD GOLF CLUB
The Englewood Golf Club, located in Englewood and Leonia in Bergen County, had the distinct honor of hosting both a U.S. Amateur and a U.S. Open.
In 1906, it was the host site for the 12thU.S. Amateur, then the most prestigious of all championships in the country. It was the fourth held in the state (Morris County 1898, Atlantic City 1901, Baltusrol 1904) and was won by Yale alum Eban Byers, who unfortunately gained notoriety when he died in 1932 from multiple radiation-induced cancers after he consumed a popular patent medicine made from radium dissolved in water.
Just three years after the success of the Amateur, Englewood became the only New Jersey club other than Baltusrol to host the U.S. Open when it did so in 1909. That came six years after Baltusrol hosted the first of its seven U.S. Opens in 1903.
Englishman George Sargent won the 1909 U.S. Open at Englewood , setting a new 72-hole scoring record of 290. The first-place award was $300. During the tournament, Tom McNamara (69) and David Hunter (68) became the first to break 70 in U.S. Open play.
Englewood was laid out in 1896 as a nine-hole venue, measuring 2,520 yards with a par of 33. The course was expanded to 18 holes four years later.
For the 15thU.S. Open, the course measured at 6,205 with a par of 71. In 1911, Englewood hosted the Met Open, who by Gilbert Nichols with a 281, which included a final-round record score of 66. Five years after that, architect Donald Ross was called in and he added new bunkering and green contouring.
Englewood was never again to host a national event, probably due to its short length and the development of outstanding new courses in the 1920s. Author Daniel Wexler wrote: “The club weathered a variety of economic storms over the years, eventually becoming a “colorful” place featuring many show business and Mafia personalities.”
Long-drive champion Evan “Big Cat” Williams grew up across from the fifth hole of the club.
In the 1960s, Interstate 95, divided the club in two, but professional Alec Ternyei kept an 18-hole sequence of play alive. In 1976, with financial burdens too great, the club closed. The Cross Creek Point condominiums were built on the Englewood side and houses were built on the Leonia side where one street is named “Golf Course Drive.”
JERSEY CITY GOLF CLUB
Of the 10 clubs that originally formed the NJSGA in 1900, the Jersey City Golf Club has by far the shortest life span.
The club was founded in 1898 as a nine-hole venue and occupied 50 acres on the south side of Duncan Avenue extending west from Delaware Avenue and included a clubhouse. Membership was capped at 150 active members.
“It is intended to keep the membership exclusive, and only the most desirable members of Jersey City’s best society will be invited to join,” said attorney Henry V. Condict, who represented ownership which rented the grounds for free. Golf on Sunday was prohibited . The owners also reserved the right to sell the property within three months notice. The first dues were proposed at $10, but quickly raised.
Jersey City intended to hold its opening day tournament on Washington’s birthday. The club joined the then four-year-old USGA in 1899. In August, 1900, a horse descended on the links and remained for a week, ignoring all who tried to shoo him away.
In May, 1902, Jersey City had 98 golfers among the list of 1,136 names keeping handicaps at the 14 member clubs of the NJSGA.
Sadly, by 1905, the demise of the Jersey City Golf Club was at hand. The land had been given over to become part of West Side Park, now known as Lincoln Park. The golf grounds were subsequently used for tennis.
As for the club members, several, including president Albert Drayton, belonged to or would soon become members of the Hackensack Golf Club, which at the time was expanding from nine to 18 holes. According to a 1905 article in the Jersey Journal newspaper: “Hackensack, next to Englewood, is the easiest club for Upper New Yorkers to reach, and it will absorb most of the Jersey City Club members, making it an uncommonly large organization as it had 300 members two years ago.”
LAKEWOOD GOLF CLUB
The Golf Club of Lakewood was organized in 1894 and incorporated in 1898. A nine-hole golf course, built in 1893 by golfer and architect Willie Dunn of Ireland, preceded the club. Dunn was unofficial U.S. champion in 1894 and U.S. Open runner-up in 1895.
The Golf Club began biannual tournaments in 1895 with Jasper Lynch, at the time a prominent amateur, among the first champions. Lakewood was a “resort” course, with the golf season in vogue from October 1 through June 1.
In the spring of 1895, the Golf Club was one of the first 10 clubs to join the fledging USGA as an associate member and later became a charter member of the NJSGA, MGA and WMGA. The first recorded hole-in-one in the United States reportedly occurred at Lakewood in the spring of 1895.
In the spring of 1898, the Golf Club moved to a new site which included a converted farmhouse, a “magnificent” café with an oversized fireplace and floor-to-ceiling windows that offered a view of the golf course.
Tom Bendelow designed the new 18-hole course at 5,695 yards. Laid out on flat land, it was surrounded by forest with most of the holes running parallel to each other. The head professional was Scotsman Willie Anderson, who left for Baltusrol the next year. Anderson, who won the U.S. Open in 1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905, was succeeded by Willie Norton. Norton was one of 11 golfers to compete in the first U.S. Open in 1895.
Harry Vardon, winner of six British Opens and runner-up to upstart Frances Ouimet in the 1913 U.S. Open, visited the club on his 1900 tour of the country.
In 1902, the Golf Club of Lakewood merged with the nearby Country Club of Lakewood (formerly the Ocean County Hunt and Country Club) to form the Lakewood Country Club. Ocean County Hunt was one of the original 40 allied members of the USGA and included as members George Jay Gould and William A. Hamilton. Georgian Court University in Lakewood is located on the sprawling former winter estate of millionaire George Jay Gould, the son of railroad tycoon Jay Gould.
The first nine-hole course for this club was designed by Horace Rawlins, winner of the first U.S. Open. In 1899, the club was renamed Country Club of Lakewood and the following summer, the course was remodeled by R.B. Wilson, former pro at Shinnecock Hills, although it remained a nine-hole venue. On June 6, 1902, that Ocean Avenue property was sold to John D. Rockefeller.
When the two clubs merged to form Lakewood Country Club, land was purchased west of Hope Road and readied for play in early 1903. With Gould as first president and Lynch as captain, the new links were laid out over 100 gently rolling acres and measured at 5,810 yards. The Lakewood Tournaments continued on with national fields including Walter J. Travis, three-time U.S. Amateur champion, and Findlay Douglas, 1898 U.S. Amateur champion. At that time, Travis included four Lakewood holes on his list of best holes in the U.S. in Golf magazine.
Within 20 years, Travis himself completely revamped the golf course. The course remains virtually the same today, excepting for a redesign of the fifth hole and added yardage to the 13thand 15thholes. The club hosted the 1922 Met Amateur, won by 20-year-old Jess Sweetser of Siwanoy. He shot a course-record 71 in the second round. His victory came over the likes of Tommy Armour and defending champion Gardiner White.
Today, the course is open to the public at reasonable rates and is home to a premier banquet hall and a popular restaurant/bar as a comfortable 19thhole.
YOUNTAKAH COUNTRY CLUB
One of New Jersey’s first courses when it was founded as the Nutley Golf Club in 1894, its named would be changed to the Yountakah Country Club five years later when the course was expanded to 18 holes.
The name is attributed to a local tribe of the Lenni Lenape Indians that roamed the area. The course straddled 126 acres nestled between White Terrace in Nutley and Route 3 in Clifton.
Yountakah hosted two State Opens, the first in 1939 won by “Long Jim” Barnes of Essex County, a World Golf Hall of Famer who won four majors including the PGA (1916, 1919), the U.S. Open (1921) and the British Open (1925).
The second State Open was contested there in 1942 and won by amateur Charles Whitehead of Plainfield over legendary Vic Ghezzi of Fort Monmouth. Whitehead was the first amateur to win the State Open.
In 1924, legends Gene Sarazen and Johnny Farrell defeated Yountakah pro Jack Beckett and Englewood pro Cyril Walker, 3 and 1, in a charity exhibition. Yountakah’s own Marc Michael won the State Amateur at Baltusrol in 1903.
Among golfers who played at the club were Allan Kennaday of Montclair, Archibald Graham of North Jersey and Max Behr of Morris County, who each won two State Amateurs, Jerry Travers of Montclair, who won four State Amateurs and the 1915 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Oswald Kirkby of Englewood, who won three State Amateurs, Billy Y. Dear of Montclair. who won the 1951 State Amateur, and famed women’s golfer Maureen Orcutt of White Beeches, who won several of her 65 amateur titles at Yountakah.
The original course was 5,700 yards but a pair of expansions brought it to 7,000 yards with a par of 70. A 1934 diagram of Yountakah shows seven holes and the clubhouse on a parcel of land bordering River Road, Kingsland Avenue, Washington Avenue and White Terrace.
The other 11 holes were located in a tight routing on the other side of Kingsland Road. The current Shannon Rose Irish Pub,situated at 98 Kingsland Road in Clifton, is the site of Yountakah’s former 16thhole.
Fire destroyed clubhouses in 1917 and 1923, but a large and rambling colonial clubhouse was subsequently built at a cost of $125,000, designed by Clifford Wendehack. Wendehack was also responsible for famed clubhouses at Winged Foot, Ridgewood and Bethpage.
While Yountakah ceased to exist after 1943 when financial instability took its final toll, the clubhouse and pool continued to live on. The property was sold to ITT for a corporate campus, but the clubhouse served as a dining hall and meeting center until it was demolished in 1996. The pool was offered to the Boy Scouts and for swimming lessons for children of Nutley , overseen by the Nutley Red Cross, through the 1960s.