History of Wykagyl Country Club

ELMSFORD, N.Y. (March 22, 2016) - Our next history lesson from the MGA archives comes from Wykagyl Country Club, which helped provide early leadership for the PGA of America and developed into a course highly regarded by LPGA greats.

Wykagyl was home to two very well-known personalities of their time - Val Bermingham and Clare Briggs.

From the years 1905 to 1932, Bermingham won 20 Club championships and defeated the top local amateurs on numerous informal occasions. He was considered the “greatest unknown golfer in the history of the game.” 

Briggs was a beloved cartoonist and made Wykagyl the setting for many of his cartoons which were regularly published in the NewYork Tribune and, later, the Herald-Tribune. Briggs often used fellow members as regular characters in his drawings.

Wykagyl pays tribute to these two men by naming days for them in their golfing calendar. The golfing season starts on Bermingham Day and closes on Briggs Day.

In its early beginnings, Wykagyl was founded in 1898 as Pelham Country Club with a nine-hole golf course on Prospect Hill, west of the Boston Post Road in Pelham Manor. In 1904, a new owner aquired the land and ordered the club off the property. The members purchased the present lot in New Rochelle and were tasked with creating a new, more unique name to fit their new home. William K. Gillett was elected a committee of one to come up with the name and decided on Wykagyl.

There still remains some debate on the origin of the name - many believed that he took the W, K, G, L from his name and replaced the i's with y's, while, years later, the secretary of the Club, Henry T. Brown, uncovered an Old Dutch map of early New York denoting that the location orginated as Indian tribes and villages. The Club bulletin of 1925 claimed the name was from wigwos (birch bark) and keag (country), the country of the birch bark. 

Wykagyl's golf course has gone through three stages of development over the years. The original course, built in 1905 was designed by club member Lawrence Van Etten. His course was described as “mountainous.” The original 18th hole, known as “Cardiac Hill,” was a 530-yard par five that played sharply uphill to a hidden green, which Harry Vardon called “one of the greatest golf holes I have ever tackled.”

Robert White came to the U.S. from St. Andrews, Scotland, in 1894, and from Chicago east to be the head professional at Wykagyl in 1914. From the earliest meetings that helped create the PGA of America, White emerged as a leader of the group. He became the PGA's first president (1916-1920), and because of his dedication and involvement, Wykagyl has been called the "cradle of the PGA."

There was talk for a change to the course for several years, but no action taken until after World War I, when Donald Ross revised the front nine in 1920. On the eighth hole, Ross built a new tee, created the sharp dogleg, and brought the famous old oak tree into the line of fire. When the Wykagyl Gardens apartments were built in the late 1920s, A.W. Tillinghast was hired for a redesign that debuted on Labor Day, 1931. He re­versed the direction of the dogleg on the 17th and shortened the famous 18th.
More recently, Wykagyl has hosted several LPGA Tournaments, including the Golden Lights Championship (1978-80), two of which were won by Nancy Lopez, and the Big Apple Classic from 1990-2006 until the tournament moved to New Jersey. Betsy King, winner of the first two stagings of the Big Apple Classic, calls Wykagyl her favorite course - not surprising since it's been one of the strongest layouts on the LPGA Tour.