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Pelham Bay Park

Pelham Golf Course

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Opened in 1901 as the Pell Golf Course, this was one of the earliest public golf courses in the nation; Van Cortlandt Golf Course, established in 1895, was the first. At that time, most American golf courses were private, and held the right to control who could play. Once the game of golf became more readily accessible to the public, its popularity soared. The average New York resident could tee-up alongside celebrities, and new golfers organized clubs to further their enjoyment of the game.

The 1900 Parks Annual Report notes that when the original nine-hole Pell Golf Course was built, Parks removed trees and stone walls, which served as the demarcations of the estates that previously occupied the land, seeded nine greens, made two bunkers 150 feet long and one hazard 200 feet long, and planted nine tee-offs. By 1904 the course was enlarged by 30 acres. Parks removed an additional 3,200 feet of stone wall, and cleared away trees and underbrush. Three more bunkers were constructed, and the nine greens, 86 feet square, were renovated. In spite of the disruptions from this on-going construction, 500 golf permits were issued that year.

By 1914, the Pell links were expanded yet again into a full-size 18-hole course. During the renovation, a new method of loosening the subsoil was tried; dynamite, which, according to Parks, “was given a very satisfactory result producing excellent drainage and putting the soil in a fine condition for working.” Greens were seeded down and made ready for playing, and the course was in use by the summer. Because the golf links were being used much more extensively, it became necessary to institute a reservation system on weekends and holidays. The system had been initiated by Thomas Bendelow, manager and designer of the Van Cortlandt links and organizer of the country's first public golfers association.

The bucolic countryside of Pelham Bay Park, which was established in 1888, provided the new links with a scenic, natural backdrop. The park’s 2,764 acres consists of land that was privately owned and contained many stately homes that overlooked the Long Island Sound. The pastures upon which the Pell course was laid out had been productive farmland. The estate had been known as “Greystones,” and was owned by the De Lancey family who were descendants of John Hunter (for whom Hunter Island is named). Their second empire style mansion was leased by Parks from 1898 until 1918 and operated as a popular roadhouse, the Hunter Island Inn. It also served as the golf clubhouse, but was since demolished.

Despite the hardships endured by New Yorkers over the course of the World Wars and the Great Depression, the demand for golf courses increased steadily. Under the tenure of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981), New York City’s recreational facilities saw great changes. With federal funding provided by the Works Progress Administration, Moses created a variety of new public facilities and expanded others throughout the city. In 1936, the Pell Golf Course was refurbished, and renamed the Pelham Golf Course. That same year, the adjacent Split Rock Golf Course and clubhouse were built.

In the 1980s, under Mayor Edward I. Koch, the City of New York began to license management of its 13 golf courses to private contractors. American Golf Corporation has been running the Pelham and neighboring Split Rock courses since 1983. After one hundred years of operation, reconstructions, and renamings, Pelham Golf Course remains true to its original purpose of providing public access to the game of golf for New Yorkers.

Directions to Pelham Bay Park

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