U.S. Open, 1929. Photo courtesy of Winged Foot Golf Club
Winged Foot GC, the crown jewel in Westchester’s richly decorated diadem of golf, celebrates its centennial this year.
Winged Foot Golf Club may be located in Mamaroneck, but it belongs to the world. Its two golf courses are perennially ranked among the best in the game; the club has hosted a long list of major tournaments; and its membership roster includes leaders in commerce, industry, media, medicine, and public service. As head professional Mike Gilmore says, “The whole world watches what Winged Foot does. It has tremendous stature in the golf world.”
In 1921, a group of New York Athletic Club members lost a vote to build a golf course for the organization. Instead of filing lawsuits or storming the club’s headquarters, the men incorporated Winged Foot Golf Club on their own, bought a 280-acre farm in Mamaroneck, and commissioned A.W. Tillinghast to build them a “man-sized course.” Tilly built two; the first rounds were played on them in June of 1923.
Tillinghast reportedly moved 7,200 tons of rock to build the courses. Much of it can be found today in the classic English Scholastic-style clubhouse, designed by Clifford Wendehack, where you’ll also see a fascinating gallery of photos and memorabilia highlighting the club’s storied history. “The quality of the golf courses and our investment in them is a statement that Winged Foot is here to stay,” says its recently retired general manager, Colin Burns. He backs up that statement by pointing to $70 million the club spent in recent years to upgrade not only the two golf courses but also employee housing, swim facilities, locker rooms, kitchens, and more.
Looking at the black-iron security gates, the imposing clubhouse, and the impeccable condition of the golf courses, you might think Winged Foot is a stiff and formal place. What most nonmembers don’t know, though, is just how relaxed and friendly the club really is. “Winged Foot is a club first,” says president Rob Williams, who joined as a junior member in 1986. “It happens to have an international reputation, but when people come here, they know each other; they’re friends. Most of the members come from five or six towns around here. When you step into the Grill Room, you see that, whether you’re a member or a guest.”
Caddie manager and course starter David Zona has discretely observed the club members close-up for 19 years. He says, “It’s hallowed ground, but the membership is very welcoming, friendly, and down-to-earth. The bar opens early. They are here to play golf and have a good time. It’s not a stuffy club, for sure.”