The majority of paragraphs and photos in the history sections are extractions from the book
The first golf course in this country may have been located in Oakhurst, West Virginia, near White Sulphur Springs and the Greenbrier Hotel. But the Oakhurst course, started in 1884, lasted no more than one decade, and was in no way related to later courses at the hotel.
Although the issue is still debated, it appears that the St. Andrew's Golf Club in Westchester County has a legitimate claim as the country's oldest enduring golf club, dating back to 1888, a fact that can be substantiated beyond doubt. St. Andrew's claim is disputed by the Foxburgh Country Club in western Pennsylvania, which has a deposition, dated 1947, from a charter member, placing the club's date of birth in 1887; and by the Dorset Field Club in Vermont, which maintains, without conclusive evidence, that golf started there in 1886.
Other Metropolitan area clubs that took an early interest in golf include Tuxedo (1889), Ridgewood (then called Ho-Ho-Kus, 1890), Rockaway Hunting (probably 1891), Shinnecock Hills (1891), Greenwich (originally called Fairfield County, 1892), and possibly Powelton (1892) and Wee Burn (as early as 1893). Knollwood members played many of these early courses before their own course was built.
There was a major influx of new courses circa 1894 that included: Maidstone, Meadow Brook, Morris County, Richmond County, Montclair, Glen Ridge, and North Jersey (originally Paterson). But surprisingly, there were no additions to the Westchester golfscape, where it all began, until the birth of our club in September of 1894, and the opening of our first golf course the following spring. It can accurately be asserted, therefore, that our property is the oldest enduring golfing site in Westchester County. St. Andrew's present site is that club's fifth, all before the turn of the century.
Apawamis, which began as a civic-minded social and literary club in 1890, did not have a golf course until 1896. The Ardsley Casino was organized in 1895, perhaps the outgrowth of a social club dating back to 1890, but it was not until 1896 that both club and golf course were formally opened.
In 1890, Augustus T. Gillender, then forty-seven years old and a prominent New York attorney, purchased seventy-five acres of farmland in Westchester County. His vision: to convert the property into a self-contained, exclusive community fashioned after Tuxedo Park, complete with country club facilities. By 1891, he had begun plotting property sites, grading and macadamizing the streets, constructing sewers, laying water mains, and erecting a club house. Upon a portion of the land (probably on the hill overlooking the eighth green) he built his own colonial mansion, where he and his family would spend the better part of coming years. He named the grounds Knollwood in deference to its picturesque location overlooking a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.
Augutus T. Gillender
The New York Times carried a progress report on the plans for the "Knollwood Country Club" in its February 14,1892 issue. Westchester County Reporter five days later reported:
"A number of summer residents in the vicinity of Elmsford and build a magnificent club house in that picturesque locality. They have given contracts for the club house, which is to be completed before June 1."
So apparently our forebears had a club and a house (built by members Charles I. Berg and Edward H. Clark at a cost of $20,000) on a relatively small plot of land as early as the summer of 1892. But the ensuing financial panic of 1893 no doubt dissuaded them from legally organizing until late in 1894. The formal opening took place on September 28, 1894.
From Social Club to Golf Club
John D. Archbold, who became the first president (1895-1912), was listed among those present for the opening day festivities. For many years early in his career, Archbold was an active opponent of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly. But eventually, he joined Standard Oil, and became one of Rockefeller's most trusted lieutenants, ultimately the dominant power in the company next to Rockefeller himself. Rockefeller was an avid golfer and eventually had a private nine-hole course on his estate nearby at Pocantico Hills. We can speculate, therefore, that it was Archbold who acted as the catalyst in transforming a "social club" into a golf club.
Knollwood entrance circa 1893.
The club's membership roster grew quickly to include the"creme de la creme"of New York and Westchester society, the leaders of the region's banking and industrial community. Among them were men such as Oliver, J. Borden, and H.M. Harriman, W.K. Vanderbilt, William G. Rockefeller, Whitelaw Reid (the United States Minister to France and later an unsuccessful vice-presidential candidate of 1892), and Henry 0. Havemeyer, son of the first president of the United States Golf Association.
For the first two years of its existence, Knollwood leased its house and property from A.T. Gillender. Formal discussions began late in 1896 to purchase the property, and negotiations were completed quickly, as reported in the January 7, 1897 edition of the New York Times:
"When the Knollwood Country Club of Elmsford, Westchester County, opens in the spring for another golf season, the grounds will be in the ownership of the members. The final meeting of the committee appointed to arrange plans for the purchase was held Monday night at the residence of Nathaniel C. Reynal, 283 Madison Avenue. The other members of the committee are Tracy Dow, E.H. Clark, C.V.V. Sewell, and J. Borden Harriman. They decided to purchase the property on these conditions: To pay the owner of the land, Augustus T. Gillender, $20,000 in cash, and give a mortgage for $55,000 at four percent for ten years. This was accepted by Mr. Gillender. To raise the money, the club will issue 500 bonds of the par value of $100 each, secured by a second mortgage on the property."
And so the club dodged a bullet, so to speak. It had been feared that the Ardsley Casino, which opened in the spring of 1896 with a golf course whose opening holes ran along the craggy bluffs overlooking the Hudson, would compete with Knollwood for members. The effect was minimal, however, and the Knollwood membership roster was rapidly approaching 100 at the time of the sale.
Knollwood at the time was accessible by train, either the Putnam Line to Elmsford, followed by a short trolley ride, or the Harlem division of the New York Central to White Plains. The club operated a private taxicab to and from the White Plains station for the exclusive use of members living in Manhattan.
The original Knollwood course, as already noted, was an 18-hole affair that was ready for the 1895 season. It was laid out and constructed by member Lawrence Van Etten, a prominent civil engineer responsible for planning many of the residential communities in and around New Rochelle, also for saving and restoring the home of Thomas Paine in New Rochelle. He later designed a course for the Deal Country Club in New Jersey and the original Wykagyl course at that club's present site in New Rochelle. Van Etten was perhaps the best golfer among the early members, winner of the first Thanksgiving Tournament in 1895 "at scratch." That is, he gave strokes to everyone else.
According to club lore, Van Etten was helped by a Scottish professional who happened to be visiting St. Andrew's in Yonkers at the time. Harpe's Official Golf Guide of 1899 identifies this man for us, stating that Willie Park "designed" the Knollwood course. Park first came to this country during the summer of 1895 to lay a series of exhibition matches (including at least one at St. Andrew's) and lay out some golf courses. He visited Knollwood during 1895, consulted with Van Etten, and recommended some changes in the golf course. His contribution is corroborated by a note in the June 1896 issue of Outing magazine stating that Knollwood had a "new" 18-hole golf course for the 1896 season.
Knollwood was a pioneer among American golf clubs, one of the first fifteen to join the U.S.G.A. as allied members after the initial group of five founding clubs. In 1897, Knollwood became a charter member of the M.G.A., represented at the organizational meetings by Lawrence Van Etten and P.G. Thebaud.
Despite its lack of length, the old Knollwood course lacked nothing in status. The club staged a semi-annual invitational tournament of major
Prominent participants prior to the turn of the century were Arthur Fenn, Walter Travis, and Findlay Douglas. Fenn, who played out of the Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, Georgia, won twice in 1897, lowering the amateur course record to 77 in the spring meet, then to 76 in the fall before besting Douglas 5&4 in the finals. Within a couple of years, Fenn became the first American-born golf professional.
Travis was an early winner of the Handicap Cup, as was Arthur Livermore, a member of St. Andrew's original Apple Tree Gang. In 1898, Travis was medalist (at 163) in the 36-hole qualifying rounds, then shot 78 to win the final match. He went on to win three U.S.Amateurs (1900, 1901, and 1903), the 1904 British Amateur, and four Met Amateurs (1900, 1902, 1909, and 1915). He won again at Knollwood in 1903, this time lowering the course record, amateur or professional, to 71 in the qualifying rounds.
The Travis/Travers Friendly Feud
The 1904 tournament was won by C.G. Rowe, a publinx player from Van Cortlandt Park. Runnerup was steel magnate Andrew Carnegie of St. Andrew's, who lost on the 37th hole.
Knollwood fielded a strong team prior to the turn of the century, one that beat the powerful Fairfield County Golf Club (now Greenwich Country Club) team headed by Findlay Douglas in 1897 (Douglas won the U.S. Amateur in 1898). The Knollwood team was led by Herbert M. Harriman, who, in 1899, became the first American to win the U. S. Amateur, and also won the inaugural Met Amateur that same year, registering from Meadow Brook, where he also was a member. The Knollwood team also included J.B. Tailer, P.G. Thebaud, J.B. Harriman, A.B. Kelley, F.A. Walthew, and N.C. Reynal, who was the captain.
Knollwood also staged an open tournament for women in 1898. A field of 39 started, although only 27 returned scorecards, the other dozen shooting embarrassingly high scores. U.S. Women's Amateur titleholder Beatrix Hoyt, 18 years old at the time, shot the day's low score (101), although losing the handicap contest.
The names Travis and Travers were inseparable during golf's early years in America. The pair played an exhibition at Knollwood. Jerry Travers, winner of four U.S. Amateurs (1907-1908 and 19 l 2-1913), five Met Amateurs 1906-1907 and 1911-1913), and the 1915 U.S. Open, had a one-up lead going to the old 18th, but hooked his tee shot onto the roof of the clubhouse veranda. Undaunted by the gathering crowd, he climbed to the roof, waved the gallery back, chipped onto the green and holed his putt for a match-saving par!
Both Travis and Travers returned to Knollwood years later. Travis came back in l9l9, four years after retiring from championship golf, and fired a 71 to win the Opening Day tournament. Travers, then on the comeback trail, carded rounds of 72-70 in September of 1922, teaming with member Ralph Day to edge three time Met Amateur champ Oswald Kirkby (71-73) and member Ashley Wood.
Francis Ouimet, winner of the landmark U.S. Open of 1913 and the 1914 U.S. Amateur, played at Knollwood in 1915 in a foursome that included professionals Tom McNamara, Francis Wilson, and Tom Paterson, and carded rounds of 70-69.
Bobby Jones was no stranger to Knollwood. On one occasion during the mid 1920's, he was introduced to member Clifford Roberts. The two found they had mutual friends, including hotelier Walton Marshall, who operated the Vanderbilt in New York and the Bon Air Vanderbilt in Augusta, Georgia. thus was planted the seed that eventually flowered as the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. Club lore tells us that Jones and Roberts discussed such matters in the men's grill room at Knollwood.
Bobby Jones came back to Knollwood in May of 1929 to fire a (then) course record 37-31=68 the first time he played the revised course. He was the guest of J.M. Nye, and played with club president William Breed and Stewart Adair, father of his lifelong friend and rival, Jerry Adair.
Bobby Jones and Knollwood member, Cliff Roberts, engineered the basic designs for Augusta National.
The first major competition over the new course took place in October of 1928 when professionals Johnny Farrell (72) and Gene Sarazen (73) teamed to defeat amateurs George Voigt (78) and Johnny Dawson (75) by the score of 3&2. Two years later, Voigt had Jones on the ropes in the British Amateur, almost foiling the Grand Slam at its first stage. Dawson at the time was a rising young star being looked upon as the "next Jones."
The P.G.A. held qualifying for its (then) match-play championship at Knollwood on September 10,1929, an occasion remembered for the misfortune of Tom Creavy, a local professional. Creavy led the field into the 36th hole, only to meet with disaster, taking an 11 and failing to qualify. A par would have given Creavy a 68.
In April of 1930, members of the U.S. Curtis Cup team practiced at Knollwood the day before sailing for Europe. The team was captained by Glenna Collett Vare and included, among others, the great Long Island amateur, Helen Hicks.
In the club's early years, Knollwood members competed for any number of cups donated by fellow members. Prominent among them were the Carroll Cup and the Harriman Cup. The Archbold Cup later became the prize on Thanksgiving Day - sleet and snow postponed it in 1929, so the 36 holes were rescheduled for December 4. Thanksgiving also was the day for the annual caddie dinner sponsored by the club.
Knollwood was the scene for many years of the annual New York Stock Exchange tournament. Through 1930, all but one had been played at Knollwood, and the tournament continued on at least into the early 1940's. One hundred golfers competed in 1911, among them such golfing luminaries as player/architect Charles B. MacDonald and Daniel Chauncey, the latter former president of both the M.G.A. (1905-1906) and U.S.G.A. (1907-1908). Our celebrated Hall Clock was a gift to the club in 1911 by the Stock Exchange, as were ten years later, the two oil paintings of red-coated British golfers now hanging in the grill room.
Knollwood today is primarily a family golf club. Things were not always that way, however. Indeed, the club was founded with tennis, bowling, and riding, perhaps even fox hunting, as its primary attractions.
Tennis, Squash, Trapshooting and Baseball
For a brief period, tennis rivaled golf as Knollwood's headline sport. The club was famous for its grass courts. In 1914, there were five of them, and three dirt courts as well, located in the area now occupied by the swimming pool and extending across Knollwood Road Extension to the site of the present fourth green, sandwiched between the first and second holes on the old course.
The club hosted many local tennis tournaments back at the turn of the century. Tennis reached its apex at Knollwood in 1908 when the club hosted the American Davis Cup team consisting of Ray Little, Bill Larned, Beals Wright, Harold Hacket, Robert Wrenn, and his brother George Wrenn, Jr., in a"practice tournament"on September 12. The team was tuning up for a match the following week against the British team in Boston for the right to challenge the Australians in the Davis Cup finals.
But a club report dated 1919 noted that tennis had been a "dead issue"at Knollwood for a number of years. It was suggested that the club try to revive the sport by hiring a professional that year (Edgar Troth). A special tennis membership was established in 1921, but to no avail. The courts remained inactive in 1922.
Eventually, the courts were sacrificed for the redesigned golf course. A single court was built on the present site in 1928, financed by a gift from member Walter H.Sykes in memory of his father. That court fell into a state of disrepair during the Depression and war years, but was rebuilt in 1973. The club had a squash court for at least one decade (1915-1925).
For a number of years through the 1920's and into the early 1940's, Knollwood exchanged privileges with the Indian Harbor Yacht Club (and its affiliated Calves Beach Swimming Club) in Greenwich, Connecticut.
In 1914, the club boasted of "magnificent baseball grounds." There were games that matched the club's married members against the bachelors, five innings or less, depending on the condition of the players!
Lawn bowling started at Knollwood on Columbus Day, 1922, and the first set of balls a gift to the club from member W.T. Grant. Apparently the game received a lukewarm reception, and it wasn't until September of 1925, when the club received one of the finest sets in England, that the game's popularity at Knollwood soared. The club had a bowling green, adjacent to the clubhouse.
Although the club had stables and horses, it did not have a polo field. This did not stop the members from engaging in polo matches, though, and these were preceded by a parade of players and "ponies." The players dressed in genuine polo attire including caps, riding breeches, boots and spurs, and carried genuine polo mallets but their horses were wooden hobby horses. The games took place on the clubhouse lawn.
Winter sports were popular at the club, and included sleighing, tobogganing, bobsledding, and skiing. A popular ski run headed down the second fairway from the fourth tee, banking left across the first fairway and practice area, eventually finishing in front of the clubhouse.A number of the members enjoyed ice skating on the club's two ponds, the "upper"on the 18th fairway and the "lower"down below the clubhouse, beyond the parking lot. The latter was illuminated on Friday and Saturday nights.
Perhaps the most popular of all winter sports at Knollwood was trap shooting, which usually began after Halloween when the golf season was winding down. New traps and a shooting lodge were built for the 1913-1914 season, on club property near the old 14th tee, on the side of the hill in back of Goddard's house (which still stands today across Knollwood Road from the 16th tee, where the road bends). That same season, the women were invited to shoot and three of them, Kate Fox, Esther Waterman, and Marie Zimmerman, accepted the invitation. The latter became Knollwood's "Annie Oakley," and outshot five of nine men a few years later while winning a handicap competition known as the Holiday Cup.
When the redesigned golf course replaced the Old Course, the club's trap shooters moved their headquarters to the area behind the clubhouse once occupied by the old 18th hole. They shot from where the exit road bends near the 19th green into the hillside below Knollwood Road, with the sole tennis court off to their right.
The Redesigned Golf Course
For a number of years, Knollwood's golf course was unique among major American courses - because of its short length. With a golf course measuring just 5300 yards, Knollwood was the last of America's major clubs to enter the era of the rubber-cored ball, and expand to a standard 6000 yards (or more). But few people really cared. They loved Knollwood's old-fashioned course, which proved that the lay of the land, rather than length, was the key factor defining the character of a golf course.
As already noted, there was talk as early as 1919 about expanding the course, and indeed the financing was in place by 1920. In 1921, Henry Evans, an active member of the Board for a number of years, offered the club the use of some of his land north of the course - provided that no trees were cut down. But no changes were made to the course at this time, aside from new greens for the first, fifth, and 18th holes, which were built in 1923.
After Evans died on August 29, 1924, member Harry Kelly, Jr., purchased his estate, including his mansion, which was called the "Knoll."Kelly acted partly in the interests of the club, realizing that the Evans property formed a buffer between the golf course and adjacent land, room for the club to grow when the time came. That it did, in 1925, when a crisis, fueled by declining membership, and an out-of-date course that did not help attract new members, forced a change.
At that time, Kelly sold to the club two separate tracts of land, totalling 38 acres, from the former Evans estate for $35,000, taking no profit on the transaction. The club immediately engaged noted golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast, to revise the course.
"Tillie" designed seven new holes (#6, #7, and #10 through #14) on the new land, and presented plans for a revision of the rest of the course whereby 18 holes would be open for play at all times. In particular, Tillinghast recommended eliminating the old 8th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 17th, and 18th holes, for the most part because of their lack of modern length. He particularly disliked the old 13th hole, which he called an "abomination."
Construction of the new holes began immediately, but work was delayed by persistent summer rains - and then a change of architects. By August, for some unexplained reason, Tillinghast was out of the picture and Seth Raynor and his assistant, Charles Banks were hired to finish the work. Raynor kept Tillinghast's new holes, which were ready for play in 1926, but had ideas of his own for the revision of the old property.
18th Signature hole. "One of the best finishing holes in the country."
The present 18th hole is attributed to Raynor. It was built over what had been a swamp, which proved no problem for Raynor, who had built the legendary Lido course on Long Island's south shore on land reclaimed from the sea. When the new Knollwood holes were given names, #18 was called"Raynor"in tribute to the architect, who thought the hole was the greatest he ever built. Raynor's opinion was confirmed in 1954 when a blue-ribbon panel of golf professionals, amateurs, and officials selected our 18th hole as part of an "All Met"course for the New York Herald-Tribune.
When completed, the new course included seventeen new greens - it appears that the ninth is the one remaining original. Many of the old fairways were used, though, some in the reverse direction. The cost of the revision, in addition to that of the land, was in excess of $60,000, including a new watering system. The club proposed to finance the new course by issuing 128 new property certificates, which were worth $180 at the time.
The new course played at 6314 yards, an increase of approximately 1000 yards, but just one stroke on par. It opened for play with a three-day tournament May 28-30, 1927. The highlight of the competition was a hole in one recorded by member Alexander McClean on the first day at the tough eighth hole.
Among those present for the opening-day festivities was 96-year-old Charles J. Gould, one of the few remaining charter members of the club. Noting the smooth, green fairways, Gould remarked, "I remember when we kept sheep to mow that grass."
Our l9th hole didn't come into existence until 1928, and credit for it has been given to both Raynor and Banks and Knollwood's own professional/greenskeeper Fred Decker. In addition to providing an exciting venue for settling the day's wagers, the new hole also provided a way to conclude a 9-hole round near the clubhouse. It was not too long a walk down to the l9th tee from the eighth green.
Seth Raynor, designer of the Knollwood golf course, was a native of Manorville, Long Island, born in 1878. He was introduced to golf course design at an early age. His father, David Raynor, a local engineer, surveyed the land that would become the Shinnecock Hills golf course in 1891, and young Seth carried the rods and chains for his father.
Seth Raynor went on to become a civil engineer/land scape architect, but it was not until 1908 that he set foot on another golf course - the National Golf Links of America adjacent to Shinnecock Hills in Southampton. He was contracted by Charles B. Macdonald to survey the land, and so impressed Macdonald that he was retained as construction supervisor. Raynor went on to assist Macdonald on such courses as Piping Rock, Sleepy Hollow, The Creek, Deepdale, Yale, Mid Ocean, and most notably at Lido, where they built a course acclaimed as one of the world's greatest on land reclaimed from the sea.
Raynor became a partner in the Macdonald organization in 1915, at which time he started building courses on his own (such as Country Club of Fairfield and Morris County) and, starting in 1925, with Charles Banks. Banks was born in Amenia, New York, in 1883, returned to Hotchkiss as an English instructor and track coach, serving in that capacity from 1906 through 1921. He then took charge of the school's endowment fund, and while serving as a member of the school's building committee in 1924 met Seth Raynor, who was building a nine-hole golf course for the school. Banks helped Raynor on that project, then upon its completion left academia to join Raynor full time.
Among their joint efforts were such outstanding courses as Fishers Island, Hackensack, and Essex County, but their partnership was short-lived. With business flourishing, and courses such as Cypress Point (and Knollwood) on the drawing board, Raynor died suddenly of pneumonia in January of 1926.
After Raynor's death, Banks completed the courses they had been working on together the firm lost the Cypress Point bid to Alister MacKenzie - and later designed several of his own, most notably Whippoorwill, Tamarack, The Knoll, Forsgate, Rock Spring, Montclair (#4 nine), and Castle Harbor in Bermuda. Banks suffered for a couple of years with an ailing heart, and finally succumbed to a heart attack in 1931 at age forty-eight.
During his short career, Banks earned the nickname "Steam shovel" for the massive earth-moving efforts that allowed him to create the huge elevated greens fortified by deep bunkers that have become his signature.Like Macdonald before them, Raynor and Banks liked to include on their courses replicas of famous golf holes from abroad or first seen at The National. Our eighth hole ("Redan") is such an example.
Knollwood at the Mid Century
The Knollwood Country Club's second half century started during the darkest hours of World War II, and so there was no celebration marking the club's fiftieth anniversary. That observation was postponed for ten years until July 30th, 1955 when a second "gutta percha" tournament was held marking the club's sixtieth birthday.
Gene Sarazen addressing the ball, as WIllie and Mike Turnesa, Johnny Farrell and Al Brosch look on.
The contest was played on four holes and featured Mike and Willie Turnesa, Gene Sarazen, Johnny Farrell, Willie Klein and Al Brosch - all dressed in the garb of the 1890s and playing with wooden shafted clubs from that era, and solid gutta percha balls made especially for the occasion.
During the last two decades Knollwood has undergone many physical changes.Modernizing the club house, keeping the classic architecture while installing central air condition throughout, implementing a state-of-the-art kitchen, new locker rooms for men and women and exterior modernizing of the porches and terraces.
The golf course experienced a redesign on holes that needed help. The installation of a computerized irrigation system which included the rough and the Short Game Practice Center. Also, a new driving range long enough to permit the use of drivers.
At Knollwood, there is a continuing effort to make this course as famous and exciting to play today as it was a century ago.
The Turnesa Story
Mike Turnesa Willie Turnesa
Knollwood has been blessed for half a century as the home of two of the fabled Turnesa brothers, Willie and Mike. Willie Turnesa first came to Knollwood in 1939. The youngest and only non-professional among seven golfing brothers (and two sisters), Willie was born in Elmsford on January 20, 1914. He first attained national prominence with his victory in the 1938 U.S. Amateur at Oakmont, soon after graduating from Holy Cross.
His superb wedge play was the difference, earning him the nickname "Willie The Wedge" from the noted British golf writer, Bernard Darwin. In the final match alone, Willie got down in two each of the 13 times his approach found a bunker. Willie's well worn wedge was donated to the U.S.G.A. Museum at the Golf House in Far Hills, New Jersey.
In 1947, Willie was unbeaten in Walker Cup competition at St. Andrews just prior to capturing the British Amateur title at Carnoustie. The following year, he regained the U.S. Amateur trophy, defeating Ray Billows in the finals at the Memphis Country Club. Willie also played on the 1949 Walker Cup team, and served as playing captain of the 1951 team. Knollwood played host to the 1951 team just before they sailed for Great Britain.
Locally, Willie served as president of both the Metropolitan and New York State (1954 1955) Golf Associations in 1955, and together with Udo Reinach of Quaker Ridge created the Westchester Caddie Scholarship Fund in 1956. Willie won the 1937 Met Amateur at Metropolis, and was runnerup to Frank Strafaci in 1938 at Ridgewood, losing 3&1 in the finals, succumbing to a barrage of birdies over the final nines holes after carding a 69 in the morning round. Almost two decades later, in 1956, Willie again reached the finals of the Met Amateur, this time losing out to Tommy Goodwin 4&3 at Century.
Willie twice (1957 and 1958) captured individual honors in the IKE Championship. In three consecutive years, he led Knollwood teams to victory in the IKE, winning with Frank Malara in 1956 and 1957 and with Fred Fiore in 1958. He also captured the Westchester Amateur (1933, 1936, 1937, and 1938), New York State Amateur, Anderson Memorial (twice, with Udo Reinach as partner), and Hochster Memorial, the latter also four times, and the Lesley Plate in 1948. In 1976 he was honored by the M.G.A. as recipient of its Distinguished Service Award.
He served the M.G.A. as president in 1955, and the New York State Golf Association in a similar capacity during 1954-1955.
Mike Turnesa, who was born on June 9, 1907, came to Knollwood in 1943 as head golf professional, succeeding Fred Decker, and remained on the scene until his retirement in 1987, after which he became the club's "Director of Golf." Mike's salary in 1943 was $1,500, from which he was expected to pay the caddy master.
Mike's first job in golf came in the pro shop at the Metropolis Country Club. He then became assistant professional at Innwood in the late 1920's before being named "playing professional" representing Fairview in 1931. All told, Mike played on tour for 18 years before settling down at Knollwood. He won the 1933 and 1941 Westchester Opens, and the 1949 Met P.G.A. at Ardsley, but is better known for having finished second to Ben Hogan in both the 1948 P.G.A. Championship and the 1942 Hale America Tournament, the war-time substitute for the U.S. Open. Mike also played in the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934 along with brother Joe.
Mike is also remembered for a narrow second-round loss to Byron Nelson in the 1945 P.G.A. Championship. In that match, Mike led by two holes with four to play, and parred out, only to fall victim to a birdie-birdie eagle-par finish by "Lord Byron. Mike fired rounds of 68-69 in as gallant a losing effort as that national championship has ever seen. Nelson would later comment that this was the best finish of his career.
Mike has been honored twice by the Metropolitan section of the P.G.A., first with its "Professional of the Year" award in 1963, then with the "Sam Snead Award" for contributions to golf and the P.G.A., in 1986.
Mike and Willie teamed up in 1946 to win the M.G.A.'s Amateur-Professional Championship, a regional "major" tournament that replaced the Met Open for eight years 1941-1948. Mike passed away in November 2000 at the age of 93.
The Turnesa's father, Vitale, also known as "Mike," was born in 1875. He came to the United States from Naples at age 14, an orphan and former shepherd at the time. He worked as a steward on the ferry boats operated by the Erie & Lackawanna Railroad between Manhattan and Hoboken, and eventually married Anna Pascarella.
In 1908, he walked the 26 miles from Manhattan to Elmsford where he came upon the Fairview Country Club's new course under construction. He applied for a job, and remained with the club for 52 years, eventually rising to the position of foreman on the greens'crew, then to greens superintendent. He built a home half a mile from the club. His sons caddied at Fairview, each starting at the age of five or six, and learned the fundamentals of the game under John Inglis, Fairview's long-serving golf professional who has been called the "Knute Rockne of golf." Vitale Turnesa died in 1960, three years after his wife had passed away.
Of the other Turnesa brothers, perhaps the most accomplished was Joe, who won the inaugural Met P.G.A. tournament in 1926, then recaptured that title in 1930. He also finished one stroke behind Gene Sarazen in the 1925 Met Open, but he too is best remembered for his runnerup finishes in national championships, finishing one stroke behind Bobby Jones in the 1926 U.S. Open and losing 2&1 to Walter Hagen in the finals of the 1927 P.G.A. Championship.
Joe represented the United States on three Ryder Cup teams, and eventually settled down at the Rockville Links, serving that club as professional for some 20 years. Mike Turnesa, Jr., is now the Rockville professional. Joe Turnesa also is remembered for having won two tour events while putting one-handed. Jim Turnesa did win a major, the 1952 P.G.A. Championship, beating Chick Harbert 1-up for the title. He also won the 1959 Met Open and finished second in 1952, and played on Ryder Cup and Canada Cup teams.
Phil Turnesa served as professional at the Elmwood Country Club for over 50 years. Doug and Frank also were club professionals locally, Doug at Briar Hall, Frank at Briar Hills and Harrison.
Joe, Mike and Jim have been elected to the Metropolitan P.G.A.'s Hall Of Fame.