The game of golf has a long, satisfying history in the Berkshires
Seventh-green view at Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort
Photo by Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort
Our Berkshires, from Great Barrington to Williamstown, is not lacking in historic golf clubs, many around for at least 100 years and their courses designed by luminaries of early American golf course architecture, from Albert Warren “Tillie” Tillinghast to Donald Ross.
“Most county golfers do not realize how very fortunate they are,” says Larry Premeriani, a member of Wyantenuck Country Club for 50 years. “They can play at magnificent courses such as Wyantenuck, Stockbridge, Pittsfield, Berkshire Hills, Wahconah, Waubeeka and Taconic for very reasonable fees.”
Almost all Berkshire courses belong to the Allied Golf Association, with various annual tournaments held at the member clubs. Says Premeriani: “Having played in these tournaments over the years has given me the ability to enjoy first-class courses and enabled me to make some great friends from other Berkshire towns.”
The long tenure of Berkshire golf courses and clubs is due in no small part to the influx of wealthy summer vacationers and second homeowners at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, a trend that has carried on for decades. The area was easy to reach by train and, later, automobile. High-summer months of living in relative luxury was matched by beautiful countryside and sublime weather. Today, the clubs (for a price, of course) welcome all to enjoy a round of golf, a dip in the pool, a game of tennis or cards, a single malt in the locker room, or dinner on the terrace. They also host various tournaments, some of them fundraisers for charitable organizations.
Jack Dahrouge, a member of Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield, says Berkshire County has a tight-knit group of golfers. “They tend to follow anyone from the county and how they play. I can recall being in Great Barrington and someone asking me about playing in the Massachusetts Amateur tournament. This was someone I hardly knew off the golf course, yet he knew all about what I had just done. It’s kind of cool.”
Golf in Great Barrington dates back to the summer of 1894, when several local gentlemen went to a Colonel William Brown’s pasture and, with his permission, put three vegetable cans in the ground for cups. Yes, vegetable cans. The next summer, six cans were used. From such simple beginnings, by-laws were drawn up and officers were elected for Locustwood Golf Club, which moved in 1899 and expanded to nine holes on the banks of the Housatonic River. After changing its name to Wyantenuck—the name the Mohegan Native American tribe gave to the river—the club built three tennis courts.
In 1915, it moved to West Sheffield Road in Great Barrington, where a horse barn still makes a unique hangout for members. Land swapping with neighbors allowed enough space for Robert Pryde of New Haven, Connecticut, to build a championship course with mountain views. Various changes were made in the next 75 years, notably by architect Charles Banks, who reworked the 16th, 17th, and 18th holes in the late-1920s, adding his own flair for curved sand bunkers and placing the 17th green in a sunken area.
“The course is appreciated by those who take the game seriously,” says Tom “Sully” Sullivan, Wyantenuck’s head golf professional. “The views are stunning, especially on the front nine, and we have hosted some notable people during our history, from Babe Ruth to pros of today.” Non-members can test their skills at the club’s annual member-guest tournament played in late August.
Around the same time golf was introduced to Great Barrington, the craze was taking hold up the road in Stockbridge, and a club bearing the town’s name was founded on September 26, 1895, which makes it one of the oldest golf courses in the U.S. Various open stretches of land were known locally as the “Adams Meadow” and the “Dwight Meadow.” A second nine holes were added in 1900, the same year the club was incorporated, and in 1901 the 18-hole layout was opened. It was for many years Massachusetts’s only 18-hole course west of Springfield.
In 1931, the club purchased 32 acres from James L. Karrick and shortly after, a new course was laid out and completed in 1934. It has remained essentially the same, with minor renovations such as shaping, contouring, refinements, and the installation of an irrigation system in late 1994. Tennis was introduced in the early 1920s, with five courts now in total.
Stockbridge Golf Club’s course is practically in the middle of town, with golfers parking behind town hall and walking down an incline to start their rounds. The fifth is one of the well-known holes of the area, as the little par-three’s tee shot is played over the Housatonic River to a small green that is reached by foot or cart over a suspension bridge.
Stockbridge holds a number of tournaments that are accessible to non-members, one of the most popular being a mixed-scotch event with teams comprised of one male and one female player. This year’s tournament will be held on July 31.
As we move farther up along Route 7, Berkshire Hills Country Club in Pittsfield is a fine example of the work of Tillinghast. Considered one of the most talented and innovative of early-American golf-course designers, he laid out several of the legendary courses in the U.S, including the courses at Baltusrol, Bethpage Black, and Winged Foot, venues for numerous majors over the years. Tillinghast was one of the most prolific architects in golf’s history, working on 265 courses. Berkshire Hills was designed in 1924 with financial backing from influential members of the community and also from the General Electric Company. Some 120 acres of land was purchased, and Tillinghast was hired to design an 18-hole course, completed in 1928. In 2009, the construction of a new, large clubhouse with picturesque views was realized. The club’s present gardener, Dan Pytko, makes the grounds explode with color during the spring, summer, and fall.
“It was said that this is one of the biggest tracts of land that Tillinghast had to work with,” says Keith Brown, a member who took two visitors on a playing tour of the routing. One of Tillinghast’s notable design elements, a double-dogleg par five, is evidenced at the tenth hole, which starts from an elevated tee and snakes down the hill to a large green protected by bunkers. It’s indicative of the skill “Tillie” had in working with the land to create great holes.
Located a few well-struck tee shots from the Vermont border, Taconic Golf Club, is a semi-private club that reserves some tee times for daily-fee play. The club, which is on land owned by Williams College (the course is home to the school’s men’s and women’s golf teams), dates back to 1896. The course is a combination of spectacular scenery and challenging routing. The present-day course was designed in 1927 by Wayne Stiles and renovated in 2009 by Gil Hanse of Hanse Golf Course Design, Golf Magazine’s 2009 Architect of the Year. The club was chosen to host the 2016 Massachusetts Amateur Golf Championship from July 11-16.
On this day, members and their guests are drinking in the views, as well as a few beverages, and enjoying small talk on a patio outside the clubhouse. Taconic’s course features some elevation changes and is impeccably conditioned. Two through four are as pretty a brace of holes as you will find anywhere. Golfers move up and down the land with ease, in full view of wildflowers blooming in profusion off the playing surface. The ninth hole is a dramatic par three that begins from an elevated tee and ends in a grassy bowl.
The Berkshires is also home to several other historic courses, such as the elegant Country Club of Pittsfield, designed by Donald Ross and where Willie Anderson, winner of the U.S. Open four times, once served as club pro. The club, which dates back to 1897, had its golf course upgraded and renovated in 2003, adding over 25 new bunkers and redoing all others.
The course at the Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort in Lenox was laid out by Stiles and John Van Kleek in 1926. Built during the Gilded Age, the hotel welcomed wealthy industrialists and writers of the day. Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who created New York City’s Central Park, designed the grounds of what was then a mansion called Wyndhurst, owned by furniture baron John Sloane.
Wahconah Country Club in Dalton, built in 1920, is where the great Bobby Jones played his last round of golf in 1948. He met with his good friend and Wachonah Country Club member Bill O’Connell to play a match with Bruce Crane and Rankin Furey. In recording this event, Rene Clarke rendered a water painting of the foursome on the sixth green.
The original painting and a letter from Bobby Jones indicating: “This was my last effort, sorry it was not a better one” hangs at the United States Golf Association’s Museum in Far Hills, N.J. Wahconah Country Club was allowed to make a copy of the painting and the letter for display. Individuals will have a chance to view them on July 18, when Wahconah hosts its annual United Cerebral Palsy Golf Tournament in support of under-funded adult and children’s programming.
On par with its past, the game of golf in the Berkshires continues with vigor and sporting distinction to this day.
Check out Tee Time, for 15 great historic courses to play this summer!
Photos by Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort, Berkshire Eagle Achives, Country Club of Pittsfield