108 HOLE WESTCHESTER OPEN AT FENWAY GOLF CLUB IN 1938
Picture taken on 9/23/38
Golf stars who took part in the richest golf tournament at that time:
(Left-Right) Front Row: Jack Grout, Frank Moore, Sid Brews, Paul Runyan, Ben Hogan & Dick Metz
(Left-Right) Rear Row: Byron Nelson, Jimmy Hines, Vic Ghezzi, Sam Snead, Jimmy Thomson,
Harry Cooper, Frank Walsh, Horton Smith, Johnny Revolta & Harold McSpaden.
Fenway’s stature as one of the pre-eminent golf clubs in Westchester results from the time tested greatness of its golf course and the rich history of its professionals. The course was designed in 1924 by A. W. Tillinghast, one of America’s greatest architects. Fenway’s severely sloping greens, deep traps and deceptively difficult landing areas, have proven time and time again that this golf course need be compared to no other and stands on its own as a premier test of golf excellence.
The Early Days and History of Golf Professionals
In 1920, an aspiring group of businessmen chose the 40-acre Scarsdale estate of publishing baron Eugene Reynal as the anchor point for a new golf course. (Reynal’s mansion would later be pressed into service as the Clubhouse.) Having begun this quest almost 100 years to the day that James Fenimore Cooper, the famous early American author of The Last of the Mohicans, settled in Scarsdale, they chose to name their new club after him. By the spring of 1921, the members of Fenimore had acquired enough adjacent land to build a full, 18-hole course as well as a short, nine-hole companion track. To carve out these courses, they enlisted legendary golf architect Devereux Emmit, who had already made a name for himself in the Met Area by designing well regarded courses for Garden City Golf Club and Pelham Country Club.
Not long after the club opened in 1922, however, members began to complain. Compared to the nearby competition – most notably, the recently completed Winged Foot Golf Club – Fenimore had obvious shortcomings. So, who better to remedy these problems than Winged Foot’s own architect, A. W. Tillinghast. Given the full 240 acres available, “Tillie” redesigned Fenimore in his signature style, which included a strong dependence upon the natural terrain along with heavily bunkered greens of various sizes. When Fenimore re-opened in 1924 its new, tougher course was immediately crowned a smashing success.
During its first decade, Fenimore’s reputation grew even more, as it become one of the first clubs in the country to employ a playing Tour professional as well as a standard club professional. Leo Diegel, who won back-to-back PGA championships in 1928 and 1930, were among the club’s notable playing pros. But despite this notoriety, Fenimore and its members found themselves struggling to survive as the club’s 10th anniversary approached, yet another victim of the Great Depression. After foundering for a few years, the club reorganized in 1936 and adopted a new name, Fenway, that gave them a fresh start yet also gave a nod to their history.
Whether as host of the 1938 “Westchester 108” (boasting the then highest purse on the PGA tour), the Westchester Open, the Westchester PGA or numerous US Open qualifiers no professional or amateur has yet to bring Fenway to its knees. As recently as the 1987 Metropolitan Open, Rich Vershure lapped the field at 8-over par for 54 holes. Golfing greats Sam Snead and Byron Nelson have lauded Fenway greens and Tommy Armour referred to the course as “one of America’s best”. Fenway history has also been made rich by the quality of its professionals. All time greats and Hall of Famers Leo Diegal and “Wild Bill” Mehourne represented Fenway on tour in the 20’s and 30’s. Following them a young player from Port Chester, NY, named Herman Barron settled into the Head Pro position. Over the next four decades, Herman became a golfing legend both at Fenway and throughout the United States. A leading tour player, he captured the Western Open, Philadelphia Inquirer, Goodall Round Robin, World Championship along with scores of other tour a local events. Herman was a member of the 1947 Ryder Cup Team and is enshrined in the Westchester Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Wright, a seven time Met PGA Player of the Year, won his only Met Open title at Fenway in ’69. Not surprisingly, he later returned to replace 40 year Fenway fixture Herman Barron as head pro in 1976. Jimmy captured all the major local titles, earned entry into the Metropolitan Golf Association’s Hall of Fame and still holds the Westchester Classic scoring record with a remarkable 62.
Jimmy was succeeded by Jeff Foxx. Jeff won the Nissan Classic in 1984 and the Westchester PGA in 1985. He also played in the US Open in 1984 and the PGA in 1986.
In 1999, Fenway welcomed Heath Wassem as its Head Golf Professional. Heath was honored as the 1999 Westchester Golf Association Player of the Year. A five-time qualifier for the National Club Professional Championship, Heath was also winner of the 1998 and 1999 Metropolitan Club Professional Championship. Heath continues the eminent professional golfing tradition at Fenway by representing our Club in numerous events and by serving on the Board of the Metropolitan PGA as its Tournament Chairman.
The Current Course
Though Fenway looks different than your typical Westchester golf course – you won’t find as many stark elevation changes and holes with tree-lined fairways – it still possesses design elements found in the other nearby Tillinghast courses from the same era, such as Winged Foot and Quaker Ridge.
By the late 1990’s, however, much of Tillinghast’s original design had slowly been compromised; some bunkers had disappeared altogether and many fairways had narrowed as a result of encroaching vegetation. To restore the course’s original characteristics, the club brought in architect Gil Hanse in 2000.
Fenway continues to restore and improve course conditions and has recently re-established the route of the Sheldrake River through the course landscape and added a three million gallon reservoir for irrigation.
Two years after its rebirth in 1936, Fenway played host to perhaps the biggest tournament in the club’s history, the Westchester 108 offered the PGA Tour’s richest purse at the time($13,500) and drew a field full of legends. A young Sam Snead, who was still four years away from winning his first major, had to scramble to take home the $5,000 first prize, shooting a very humbling 10-over par 430.
In addition to being the home of the annual Mittelmark Invitational, Fenway has also hosted the Met Amateur (1953), the MGA Senior Open (2000), the IKE Championship (2007) and the Met Open (1955 and 1969).
A great course and a rich history have earned Fenway a unique position in the golfing strata. Today, the membership still strives to maintain this tradition. Great efforts are being made to constantly improve and maintain the integrity of the Tillinghast design. His legacy is both our inspiration and our responsibility to maintain for our Club and to the name we love.