The Apawamis course plays over typically rugged Westchester terrain, and demands accuracy off the tee. But the real challenge lies in the small greens, which are fast and slick, demanding defensive approach shots to specific target areas below the cup. Ben Hogan once called Apawamis “the toughest short golf course I have ever played.”
The most memorable hole is the fourth, called “Eleanor’s Teeth” (for former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt) for the 16 bunkers that protect the elevated green-eleven in front, on two levels, and five on the right side. The two-tiered green, which tilts severely back to front, is regarded as one of the game’s toughest. Hilton called the 11th “the best two-shot hole in the United States,” despite driving out-of-bounds twice during the U.S. Amateur finals in 1911. The hole features a semi-blind drive to a slanting fairway, and a brook crossing in front of the green.
Apawamis has hosted the Met Amateur four times. The 1915 edition was a special occasion, marking Walter Travis’ final tournament appearance. Fittingly, he ousted archrival Jerry Travers in the second round.
The PGA Tour’s Westchester Classic had its genesis at Apawamis as a one-day pro-amateur for the benefit of United Hospital in Port Chester. It was first held in 1952, as a four-ball match among professionals and amateurs and soon offered the richest purse in the country for a one-day event. The standard pro-am format was adopted in 1954, and lasted through 1962. It became the Thunderbird Classic, and later the Westchester Classic, played at the Westchester Country Club.
In 1978, the Curtis Cup matches were played in the Met Area for the first time at Apawamis. The United States team, led by future LPGA star Beth Daniel, winner of the 1975 and 1977 Women’s Amateur, easily defeated their British counterparts, 12-6. Helping organize the contests were two former Curtis Cup captains and Apawamis members, Allison “Sis” Choate and Jean Ashley Crawford.
No event, however, is more closely woven into the Apawamis fabric than the United States Seniors Golf Association’s annual tournament. It was the brainchild of member Horace Hotchkiss, who in 1905 invited a group of friends and acquaintances, all at least 55 years of age, for a one-day, 36-hole stoke play competition. Some 50 players gathered on October 12 for the world’s first-ever “seniors” tournament.
For years, it was played in the fall, but the date was changed after the surprise hurricane of 1938, which arrived mid-tournament and flooded the course. Today, the Seniors is held on the first Tuesday and Wednesday in June, with some 500 players competing over 36 holes, at Apawamis and nearby Round Hill and Blind Brook.
115 Years of Change: A Brief History of the Facilities
Apawamis undertook a major renovation project to improve both the golf course and clubhouse facilities in 2001-2002. Over the years since moving to our present property in 1899, numerous changes and additions have been made to accommodate the needs and desires of the membership. Some are new, some are long gone, but many of the facilities remain substantially as they were around the turn of the century.
The Golf Course
In 1896, several Apawamis members, inspired by the so-called “Apple Tree Gang,” decided that Apawamis should provide a modest facility for golf at the least. A tract of land was leased and a very primitive 9-hole course was laid out. As the game became more popular, the old facilities became unacceptable compared to what other clubs were offering their membership. A tract of land at the current site was purchased and the club’s Chairman of the Golf Committee, Maturin Ballou, paired with the well-known player and designer Willie Dunn, to design and develop the new course. Dunn had traveled to the United States to design the course at Shinnecock Hills in 1891. Few major changes have been made from that original design and, in fact, the course renovation of 2001-2002 under the skillful guidance of architect, Gil Hanse, was, in certain respects, a restoration.
The original clubhouse was constructed in 1899 to accommodate 138 active members, 134 non-resident members, 194 associates and 6 honoraries, a total of 472. It was a relatively simple structure but ample for the needs of the time. On the afternoon of February 4, 1907, a fire destroyed all but the front of the clubhouse, as well as the furnishings, valuable paintings, trophies and club records. It was a bitterly cold day with a heavy snow falling, which caused a delay in sending a response to the alarm. But, with monies contributed by the members, the cornerstone of our present clubhouse was laid on Thanksgiving Day. Beneath the cornerstone were placed an authentic peace pipe of the Apawamis Indians, a goose quill pen, and an oyster, the three symbols of the Club’s crest. Nine months later, the new facility was ready for the membership.
In the many decades since, there have been countless facelifts, upgrades, updates, refurbishments, renovations and additions that have served to keep the clubhouse in step with the times. Records of many of these undertakings are long gone, but all have been undertaken with the aim of serving the changing needs of the membership.
Tennis & Squash
While in its infancy, the current club facilities were originally conceived and constructed to serve member’s interest in golf, it is notable that the origins of tennis at Apawamis date back almost as far. In fact, when the club embarked upon the golf adventure in the 1890’s, a primitive tennis court accompanied each of its two successive 9-hole courses. By the turn of the century, tennis had gained a fair measure of popularity and, although many felt it would be a discourtesy to the Rye Lawn Tennis Club (the social center of Rye) the spirit of progress prevailed and in the summer of 1902, two new tennis courts were opened for play. Since that time, tennis at Apawamis has flourished with a busy inter-club schedule, occasional high-profile tournaments, and many nationally ranked players among its members.
The origins of squash at Apawamis are, surprisingly, as historically significant as those of tennis, if not more so. In fact, it can be said that Apawamis played a prominent role in the development of the game then known as squash tennis. It was in 1904 that the first squash house at Apawamis, comprising two courts, was built in an area near the old stables, at the far end of the parking lot. It is believed that this was only the third such activity in the country built on club grounds after Tuxedo and the New York Racquet Club. Several years later, with the popularity of this new sport on firm footing, the courts were moved to the area of our current location. Although there have been many renovations and conversions of court size, Apawamis has kept pace with the times and proudly boasts one of the finest squash programs in the country.
Gene Sarazen & Ed Sullivan
These two distinguished personalities began as Apawamis caddies under George Hughes around the same time and shared sequential caddy numbers - 98 for Sullivan and 99 for Sarazen. While Sullivan walked to Apawamis from his home in Port Chester, Sarazen came from the opposite direction in Harrison.
Gene Sarazen was born in 1902 in Harrison, NY. Christened Eugenio Saraceni, he was proud of his Italian heritage, but would later change his name because “Eugenio was not a bad name for a violinist, but a rotten name for an athlete. And Saraceni was too long and every one used to irritate me by mispronouncing it.” Because his family was poor, Sarazen was forced to drop out of school in the 6th grade so that he could bring in extra income by performing odd jobs. When he was eleven years old, with three years of caddying behind him, he heard about a course in Rye called Apawamis where “all the members were millionaires and they had over a hundred caddies.” In his book, Thirty Years of Championship Golf, Sarazen reminisces about his earliest caddie days:
“In theory, the caddies went out numerically; numbers one and two got the first jobs each day and so on up. Bit it didn’t work out quite that way in practice. Hughes called his favorites down from the hill regardless of their numbers whenever a big tipper strode from the clubhouse. One of his favorites was Ed Sullivan, who was number 98. Sullivan was an excellent caddie and a very likable fellow and I didn’t begrudge him his privileged-character rating. But after Hughes had called 98, he would jump to number 100 and keep going, ignoring number 99, who was a darn good caddie and needed the money. After three weeks of squatting jobless on the hill and cursing Hughes’ black soul, I made up my mind that Apawamis was no place for me. I was quitting…but something inside told me to hang on and not let that surly Irishman drive me away. The only way we non-favored caddies could make a little change was by selling, away from the course, the lost balls we found. We’d bleach them out in the sun or repaint them to command a higher price from the players who dealt with caddies rather than the pro shop. Even here, Hughes made it rough for us.
Every night before we left the course, Hughes would frisk us to see if we were concealing any balls in our clothes. We got around this inspection by burying the balls we found, marking their graves, and returning after Hughes had left at night to dig them up. Hughes’ meanness reached a new high when he decided to put an end to our retrieving balls from the pond on the 14th, a veritable Fort Knox of lost balls. He placed a sign by the pond reading, “Beware of Snapping Turtles and Water Moccasins”, hoping it would scare us off. His strategy was remarkably poor in this case. We probed the muddy bottom of that pond night after night and we knew there wasn’t a turtle or a snake in it. But, it was a very pretty sign, well-lettered and no mistakes in spelling.”
Sarazen’s eventual success at Apawamis was a reflection of his determination to get ahead as a caddie and to master the game as a player. In his Apawamis years, he steadily moved up and became a favored caddie for members playing tournaments away from home. In subsequent years leading up to his professional achievements, his relentless will to succeed matched his natural aptitude to produce a true champion.
In 1940, Ed Sullivan wrote an eloquent recollection of his Apawamis caddie days for the Apawamis’ 50th anniversary. In it, he recalls the charm of the era, the dignity of the membership and the beauty of the golf course. He concluded his comments: “Of the fifty years that Apawamis is celebrating this year, I go back as far as 1911 – so I feel that I’ve traveled quite a good portion of the way because 1911 to 1940 is twenty-nine years, unless my arithmetic is as bad as my putting.”