Golf turned out to be the recreation of choice for thousands of Westchester residents in 2020, with the number of rounds played reaching record numbers at courses across the county. Are we in for more of the same this season?
“The MGA eagerly anticipates the 2021 golf season with renewed enthusiasm and extreme optimism,” says Brian Mahoney, MGA’s executive director. “While courses and golfers continue to adapt to ever-changing health guidance, the reward remains a healthy ‘walk in the park.’ The MGA welcomes the opportunity to aid efforts to grow the game, as golf is poised to reach even greater heights in 2021.” The heavy schedule of tournaments staged by the MGA returns this year.
The WMGA is looking forward to the 2021 season with a full schedule of competitions, according to Sarah Niemeier, executive director of the WMGA. “Our game was seen early on as a safe outlet for women to exercise and get outside with precautions in place and we will continue to keep our COVID-19 procedures in effect throughout the 2021 season. The widespread use of technology was rampant in 2020, and simple changes such as eliminating printing physical paper and posting notices electronically was such a benefit from a sustainability perspective.”
“While the best golf experiences are often shotgun starts that include food and beverage, the ability for golf to be enjoyed in simpler forms was what ultimately bolstered the sport’s popularity in 2020,” says Met PGA’s executive director, Jeff Voorheis. “With so much still unknown, it stands to reason that golf will enter 2021 similarly to the way it exited 2020.” Voorheis believes some of the trends that emerged last year — more players carrying their own clubs and simpler food-service options — may become commonplace even beyond this year.
Willow Ridge Country Club came to a contentious end earlier this year, when the Town of Harrison took over the property for $13.65 million following an ugly battle with the membership, who had put the failing club up for sale. It’s possible the price will be adjusted following potential legal action by the members.
“Allowing this property to fall into the hands of a residential developer would be tragic,” says Harrison mayor Ron Belmont. “A large subdivision of this land into residential homes would be a huge burden on our municipal services and our schools.” Golf will still be played at Willow Ridge, however, as will tennis and other sports. The town intends to rename and operate the club as a semiprivate facility under the management of an outside company.
At press time, the town is still working on details of how the club will be operated, although it is leaning toward a semiprivate model where town residents will be allowed to join, giving them preferred access not only to the golf course but also to swimming and tennis, while daily-fee play by both residents and non-residents will be allowed, as well. Residents will have preferential rates — and probably tee times — for daily-fee play. Greens fees will be higher than at nearby public Westchester County courses. Memberships are expected to be priced around $5,000 and will be offered initially only to residents of the town of Harrison, which includes West Harrison and Purchase.
The Summit Club comes to Armonk this year with a major upgrade of the golf course formerly known as Brynwood, new ownership and club management, and a fun, relaxed take on the country-club lifestyle.
“Our orientation is to make golf more fun and less stuffy,” says managing partner Jeff Mendel, who started the project in 2009. Work on the golf course began last fall, with a plan created by noted golf architect Rees Jones. “Anyone who has played the old version of the course won’t recognize the new one,” according to Mendel.
Changes and upgrades are extensive. The front nine will have some new tee boxes, bunkers, and reshaped fairways. The 9th hole will be stretched to play as a par 5. The course will measure about 6,700 yards and play to par 71, up from 6,300 yards, par 70.
Much of the back nine will be completely reimagined. “What was the 15th hole, a pretty par 4 with ponds along the left side, is now a great risk-and-reward par 5,” Mendel explains. “Then, we took the 17th hole, a par 5 that played along a pond, and cut it into two holes. One is a par 4 that you play to a new green we built alongside the water. We took the 17th green and turned it into a 180-yard par 3 where you play a downhill shot to the green with the water in the background. It’s going to be a special hole.”
Knollwood Country Club, founded in Elmsford in 1894, is now under the management of Heritage Golf Group, a boutique golf management company that acquired the club from the members under a long-term lease with an option to buy. Heritage CEO Mark Burnett says the company plans a minimum of $4 million in capital improvements to the club.
“We will immediately start with improvements to the golf course,” Burnett says. Tee boxes will be refreshed, trees removed, drainage problems addressed, and cart paths are being resurfaced. “We don’t anticipate changes to the way the course plays, though,” Burnett adds. “We really like the classic layout. It’s what this place is all about.” Knollwood completed a major redo of the course five years ago that restored many of the details of the Seth Raynor and Charles Banks design that had been lost over time, so Heritage’s goal is basically to clean up some of the problems that weren’t addressed by the renovation.
The amenities and facilities will get major overhauls in phases, according to Burnett, beginning with the private events’ side of the clubhouse and the locker rooms, which will be rejuvenated with new carpet, paint, and lighting. Next to come will be an extensive remodeling of the main clubhouse building, with a new dining room, revamped grill room, and addition of a large outdoor seating area with firepits and large-screen TVs. The tennis area will be fixed up, and pickleball may be added. Cabanas will be built in the pool area, along with other enhancements. Still to be decided is what will be done with the building that currently houses the pro shop, carts, and some pool amenities. Ideas being floated include a fitness center and studios for golf simulators, yoga, and other club activities.
“We look forward to bringing Knollwood back to life with our management team and the skills they bring to the club, Burnett says. Heritage owns eight other country clubs, all but one on the East Coast.
Golf exploded in Westchester during the Roaring Twenties, a decade when more courses were built in the county than in the previous thirty years — and just about as many as in the 90 years since. Topping the list is Winged Foot Golf Club, founded in 1921. Its two legendary golf courses opened in 1923.
Right across the street from Winged Foot, though, another Westchester club was coming into its own at the same time. Bonnie Briar Country Club was founded in 1921 on the estate of Colonel Lyman Bill, a publisher and one of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. His son, Edward Bill, was the club’s first president.
A rudimentary course that had been on the property since the 1800s was replaced by a new one, designed by Devereux Emmet with contributions from A.W. Tillinghast. The golf course opened in 1923. Notable Bonnie Briar members over the years include Norman Rockwell and Masters and PGA champion Doug Ford.
The St. Andrew’s GC head pro Greg Bisconti hopes to defend his title this year at the 86th Annual Emerson Resort & Spa Woodstock Open. The event is believed to be the longest-running tourney in the country at one site for both professionals and amateurs. Bisconti’s win in 2020 came the first time the South Salem resident ever played Woodstock Golf Club, a private nine-hole gem in Woodstock, NY.
It wasn’t Bisconti’s first tournament win by a long shot, however. The Westchester standout’s career includes competing in three PGA Championships, finishing as Low Club Pro in 2009 at Hazeltine National Golf Club. He was named the 2009 Metropolitan PGA Player of the Year and was a member of St. John’s University’s golf team.
Past Woodstock Open fields have included seven-time major winner Gene Sarazen, one of only five players in history to have completed the career Grand Slam. The tournament will be played this year on Monday, July 26. The Emerson Resort & Spa returns as the sponsor.
Work to upgrade the golf experience continues at Westchester Hills this year, although the club is scheduling the construction to a large extent with an eye toward lessening the impact on member play. The club finished major drainage work on the greens over the winter and plans to install a new irrigation system this fall as part of a master plan developed by Rees Jones. As club president Joe Oates explains, “By moving the irrigation project to the fall of this year, we can complete the Rees Jones redesign work at the same time and reduce the disruption to our membership from two separate large golf course projects.”
The redesign work will touch nearly every hole on the course and focus on the scoring areas of the game, the greens and surrounds. “We’re going to restore the sizes to give the greens more pin positions,” Jones explains. “[We’ll] also renovate the bunkers to a pre-Depression style, using modern technology.”
Over time, greens tend to become smaller, the contours change somewhat, and their playing characteristics are altered as a result of normal mowing and other maintenance. The restoration will not only bring most of the greens back to their original sizes but will also result in new playing strategies for some, including the difficult 14th hole, an uphill par 3. In addition, many of the green surrounds will incorporate tightly mowed chipping areas, to give players more options.
Jones has revamped seven U.S. Open venues, including Bethpage’s Black Course and Baltusrol’s Upper and Lower courses. His redesigns have hosted 25 major championships, six Ryder Cups, two Walker Cups, and one Presidents Cup.
The club is also renovating its pool area and updating the ladies’ locker room. Membership has approved the extensive work, which will begin in the fall.
May 3–6: Westchester PGA Championship, CC of New Canaan
May 10: U.S. Open Local Qualifier, Whippoorwill Club
May 18: MGA Senior Net Four Ball, Ardsley CC
June 7: U.S. Open Section Qualifier, Century CC and Old Oaks CC
June 17: MGA Public Links Championship, Pound Ridge GC
June 21: U.S. Women’s Amateur Qualifier, Sunningdale CC
July 5–6: Women’s Met Open Championship, The Apawamis Club
July 19–20: WGA Westchester Open, GlenArbor GC
August 2–8: U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, Westchester CC
August 16: WGA Westchester Senior Open, Pelham CC
August 24–26: MGA Met Open, Hudson National GC
September 21–23: Met PGA Championship, Old Oaks CC