History of Westchester Country Club, Rye and Harrison

The grand dame of golf clubs in the county is Westchester Country Club, the centerpiece of what was to be a planned community for millionaire sportsmen created by John Bowman, a stable boy who worked his way up to own the Bowman-Biltmore Hotels group. Things didn’t work out exactly as Bowman had planned, but the club he created has thrived for nearly a century and hosted PGA Tour events for more than four decades.

In 1919, Bowman purchased land in Harrison and Rye, as well as beachfront property five miles away on Manursing Island, on which to build his dream. Construction of the eight-story Westchester Biltmore Hotel, sports house, beach club, polo grounds, tennis and squash courts, riding trails, stables, and other amenities—not to mention three golf courses—exceeded $6 million (or nearly $82 million in today’s dollars). Club memberships sold briskly, but financial problems prompted Bowman to sell the club to the members in 1929.

Bowman may have made some poor financial decisions, but he made an excellent choice when he hired Walter Travis to design the club’s golf courses. Travis had been a leading amateur golfer of his day, an innovator in golf equipment, a writer, and a devoted student of golf architecture who believed that courses should be laid out to require a great variety of shots. He designed the Westchester Country Club South Course for average golfers, with five par 3s, less severe bunkering and approaches, and more forgiving fairways. He also built a nine-hole par-3 course for rank beginners.

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The West Course was meant to be a championship-caliber track. Travis used the hilly terrain and multitude of rock outcroppings and other natural landforms to create a difficult, strategic course that has stood up to the best golfers in the game for many years. As originally constructed, the West Course had additional greens and bunkers so it could be reversed for winter play.

Westchester CC got its baptism as a professional tournament venue when it hosted the final 36 holes of the Golf Championship of the World in 1922. The match-play event had a purse of $3,000, billed as the largest in the game, and was won by Gene Sarazen, who promptly went to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy after the match.

The PGA Tour moved the Thunderbird Classic (which eventually became the Westchester Classic) to Westchester CC in 1963. Prior to the move, the Classic was played as a one-day pro-am at Apawamis for 10 years. Arnold Palmer won the tournament that year, followed by Tony Lema in 1964 and Jack Nicklaus in 1965.

The parade of top champions continued when the tournament began using the Westchester Classic name in 1967. For many years, the tournament was often held the week before the US Open, which made it a must-play tune-up for many of the top competitors. Nicklaus won twice, as did Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, and Sergio García. Vijay Singh was a three-time winner at Westchester. The tournament underwent several sponsorship name changes until 2007, when it became the Barclays, the first event in the PGA Tour FedEx Cup Playoffs. Steve Stricker won that year, which marked the end of the Tour’s run at Westchester CC until 2011, when Fred Couples won the Constellation Energy Senior Players Championship.

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