Believed to be the oldest 18-hole private golf course at the same location in the country, Knollwood Country Club celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. The history of the Elmsford club is studded with notables from America’s golden age of golf and commerce, like John Archbold, John D. Rockefeller’s chief lieutenant in Standard Oil, the first president of Knollwood Country Club when it was organized in 1894 on property developed by New York attorney Augustus Gillender.
One of the original members, Lawrence Van Etten, a prominent civil engineer, laid out the first course, an 18-hole par 69 test at 5,305 yards. A.W. Tillinghast recommended a longer course, and the club acquired some additional land. Before the construction began, Seth Raynor was hired to replace Tillinghast and drew up a new plan. He died before the project was completed, however, and Charles “Steamshovel” Banks finished the new course, which opened in 1927.
Knollwood was a nationally known tournament site in the early days of the game. The first American-born golf professional, Arthur Fenn, won two invitational tournaments there in 1897. Francis Ouimet, winner of the milestone 1913 US Open, played at Knollwood, as did the legendary Bobby Jones, who at one time held the course record, with a round of 68. The most oft-repeated legend in Westchester golf history is that Jones met with Knollwood member Clifford Roberts in the grill room to hatch the creation of Augusta National and The Masters Tournament.
Willie and Mike Turnesa, two of seven brothers who made an indelible mark on Westchester golf, were affiliated with Knollwood as both amateurs and professionals. Willie was a multiple US and British Amateur winner, captain of the US Walker Cup team, and president of the Metropolitan Golf Association. Brother Mike came to Knollwood as head pro in 1943 after playing on tour for 18 years. He played in the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934 and finished second in the PGA Championship, to Ben Hogan, in 1948.
But Knollwood hasn’t rested on its history. A $1.5 million restoration of the golf course was completed last year. Most of the bunkers on the course were rebuilt to match Raynor’s original design, many superfluous trees were removed, some fairways rerouted, new tee boxes built, and several greens were recontoured. Today, the Knollwood amenities include tennis courts, bocce courts, a swimming pool, and several drink and dining venues.