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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Historic Mount Kisco Country Club

My friend Garth Bishop penned this excellent brief history of Mount Kisco Country Club, one of my favorites in Westchester:

From the Wampus Indians to the pioneering settlers, from industrialist Moses Taylor V to developer Dudley B. Lawrence, the land on which the present Mount Kisco Country Club clubhouse and golf course exists was once sought after and valued as a place to hunt, live, farm, develop, and presently, a place to play golf.

This area of New Castle was one of the last settled parts of Westchester, deemed "No Man's Land" by Colonists as only the Wampus Indians inhabited it. Eventually settled by pioneers from Rye, some of the land was purchased by them in an effort to keep the peace.

Mount Kisco Country Club
The farm that became Mount Kisco Country Club    photo courtesy of the club
The property on which the Club is situated was once farm land owned by Moses Taylor, V, a product of Yale, class of 1893, and a business magnate who was Chairman of the Board of Lackawanna Steel, Director of Bethlehem Steel when it merged with Lackawanna, President and Director of New York and Queens Gas Co., vice president and director of Westchester Title and Guaranty Co., and director of Witherbee-Sherman Co., New York Life Insurance and Trust Co., Consolidated Gas Co., and Interlake Steamship Company. He was also a railroad official.

With the help of a $7,000,000 inheritance from his father, Moses Taylor V used his 456 acres to create Annandale Farm, a dairy farm designed to raise and show prized, nationally ranked Guernsey cows, saddle horses, thoroughbreds and Percheron (a breed of draft horses). Annual dog shows were held on the property in the spring, with horse and cattle shows in the fall, attracting spectators from miles around. It was a vibrant setting, with 20 workers or more manning the newly constructed modern barns and cottages, taking good care of the breeding and milking in an effort to accommodate the owner and the marketplace.

The passing of Moses Taylor V at the age of 57 in 1928 enabled the Lawrence Properties of Westchester County, under the direction of Dudley B. Lawrence, to acquire about 1,000 acres of land in the town, including the famous Annandale Farm.

Recognizing the opportunity and need for growth north of New York City and Bronxville, Mr. Lawrence and family had a plan. They would build a 90-acre picturesque village center to be known as Lawrence Farms. The acreage would be divided into estates of substantial size, protected from business and heavy traffic. A golf course would also be built, and its architect, Thomas Winton, an immigrant from a famous golfing family in Scotland, was hired to design the course and supervise its construction. The Annandale Golf and Riding Club was considered for its name, but the Lawrence Family settled on Lawrence Farms Country Club.

Opened for play on May 17, 1930, Winton touted his creation as unique to the region - a course which incorporated no blind shots to the greens - quite an accomplishment and a difficult challenge to overcome at the time, given the lack of equipment required to move large amounts of land over the naturally hilly terrain of the area. Winton created a wonderful array of holes over the163 acres, utilizing the rambling Brook River, a tributary of Kisco River, on six of them. He carved fairways lined with hardwoods and the occasional pine, offering shots to many slightly elevated and well bunkered greens while still offering the player the option of a run-up shot in lieu of a forced carry. Sixteen of the eighteen holes run North and South, minimizing shots into the rising or setting sun.

Built as a course with a par of 72, the track retains its original routing but was reduced to a par 71 when the 5th hole went to a par 4 in the early 1950s. Long irons are required for the par 3 holes and the three remaining par 5 holes are quite a challenge to reach in two strokes. The land which was once the playground of prized cows, dogs and horses, became the prized playground of the club's golfing members.

Two of the Annandale Farms cottages were connected with a white washed brick and slate roofed structure, much in keeping with the architectural style of the farm. It was situated on the top of a plateau, originally overlooking the first and eighteenth holes. Two of the three large barns remain today, housing state-of-the-art machinery required to maintain the best of golf course conditions throughout the year. The third barn, long since razed, once served as the Westchester County Playhouse. Budding actors and actresses afforded audiences their many talents in various comedies, melodramas, concerts and musicals, with the likes of Ethel Barrymore, Ruth Gordon, Sally Rand, Jose Ferrer, Mildred Dunnoch, Eva Le Gallienne, Vincent Price and Henry Fonda gracing the stage.

Serious economic challenges would face the new club early on. Surviving the Great Depression wasn't easy and with the onset of World War II, two other courses in town, the nine hole Kisco River Country Club and the eighteen hole Mount Kisco Golf Club succumbed to the decline in membership and play. Members of the adjoining Mount Kisco Golf Club sold the property and the bulk of the membership moved over to its neighbor, the Lawrence Farms Country Club, subsequently renaming it the Mount Kisco Country Club on April 26, 1941.

With a current membership of approximately 250, Mount Kisco Country Club offers a respite from the daily grind, providing its members with options to play golf, tennis, paddleball, go swimming, entertain clients or participate in many of its socializing functions. Its annual Member-Guest golf tournament is second to none. The recent renovation and enlargement of the clubhouse and pro shop sends a message to all that its members will be afforded the best of modern amenities for many years to come.

Garth Bishop was born and raised in Mt Kisco, NY. He spent his youthful summers as a caddy at the Mount Kisco Country Club before taking up the game of golf while attending Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and is currently employed as the Purchasing Manager at Red Hawk Fire & Security in Hawthorne, NY. A former member of the club, he is an avid golfer, a Golf Collectors Society member and golf historian. He currently resides in Hopewell Junction, NY with his wife June and has two adult children, Allison and Graham.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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