Sunningdale Country Club was organized in November, 1913 and was named after the celebrated Sunningdale Golf Club of Berkshire, England. During its first four years, Sunningdale members played golf on a leased nine-hole course on North Columbus Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York.
The 149 acre Scarsdale property that Sunningdale now calls home was purchased in June, 1916. At the recommendation of the Green Construction Committee, Seth J. Raynor was retained to lay out the course and supervise its construction. In addition, “he (Raynor) was to secure the cooperation of Mr. C.B. Macdonald.” Charles Blair Macdonald, who aside from being described as the father of American golf architecture, was also the first winner of the U.S. Amateur in 1895. So in terms of golf in this country, Macdonald was a pivotal figure.
Early in his career, Seth Raynor, a Princeton educated civil engineer, assisted Macdonald in constructing the golf courses Macdonald designed, the most famous being the National Golf Links of America in Southampton on the east end of Long Island. Macdonald regarded his activities as a golf course architect -- a phrase he coined -- as an act of love, never a vocation, and, as such, he never charged a fee. But with demand for his services increasing at a time when his interest was waning, he began to refer design work to his protégé, Seth Raynor, whom he was encouraging to go out on his own. In many instances, where Mr. Macdonald referred work to Mr. Raynor, Mr. Macdonald was asked to be available to serve in an advisory role. That was the case with Sunningdale. Notably, Seth Raynor produced such wonderful and distinctive courses as Fishers Island, The Chicago Golf Club and Shoreacres in Illinois.
The Sunningdale course opened for play in July 1918 on land described in a report of the Site Committee of Sunningdale’s Board of Directors as follows:
The terrain is slightly rolling and so far as desirability, practicality and beauty, there are few locations in Westchester County superior to the proposed site. The premises have been viewed by several golf experts, who advise that the same are admirably fitted for the purposes and that the land can be turned into one of the finest courses in the Metropolitan District.
Yet, despite this strong design pedigree, members quickly decided that their course contained too many blind shots. Significant changes were therefore commissioned and completed less than two years after Raynor finished the course. According to a November 1920 note to the members, these changes were carried out “according to the plans of Mr. Travis.” The note to the members further stated: When the course is opened next Spring, with these changes, we will have corrected one of the chief faults of the course, by eliminating nearly all of the blind shots and we feel confident our members will find a great improvement. The Mr. Travis referred to was, of course, the great Walter Travis, championship golfer, golf writer and designer of such well-regarded courses as Ekwanok Country Club, The Garden City Golf Club and The Westchester Biltmore Club in Harrison, New York, a club better known today as The Westchester Country Club.
Around 1919, if a club was interested in making alterations to their course, Travis would have been among the leading candidates to consider. A three-time U.S. Amateur champion (1900, 19001 and 1903) and the 1904 British Amateur champion, it was at this point in his career where he was looking to step up his golf course design efforts having come to the end of his competitive playing days. Travis’ work at Sunningdale entailed the building of five new greens, many bunkers and six new tees.
But more work to the course was in the offing, and the primary driver this time was the Club’s desire for a swimming pool. In 1929, A.W. Tillinghast was retained to find room for one and he accomplished the task by combining the par three 17th and par five 18th holes, and then adding the drop-shot, par three 12th hole.
In 2006, after a long period of quiescence, Sunningdale embarked on a comprehensive renovation of its golf course. Golf course architect, Mike DeVries of Traverse City, Michigan, was tasked to draw up the long-term master plan, which was implemented in phases, the last of which was completed in the fall of 2016. The golf course routing is the same as the one left to us by Tillinghast, except for the three closing holes (16,17 and 18) which were designed and constructed under Mr. Devries' close supervision.
The highlight of Mr. DeVries' remodeled holes are the striking green complexes. What motivated their renovation can be summed up in a wonderful quote attributed to C.B. Macdonald: “putting greens are to a golf course what faces are to a portrait.” Golf course architect Robert Hunter, who was Alister Makenzie’s design partner in this country, may have said it better: “Without well-molded greens of true surface, golf would lose most of its charm.” Without exception, each new green that Mike DeVries has built for us contains wonderful, bold contour with many more interesting pin locations, some of which are benign and easy to acquire, while others demand nothing less than total commitment and no small dose of courage.
The real strength of Sunningdale’s golf course, however, is the land. After completing the seventh hole, one should take a quick detour to the new back tee on the 8th hole and scan the entire property. It is the highest point on the golf course and the vistas from there are well-worth the few extra steps. As Mike DeVries notes, you can truly see how beautifully the land “moves.” But this movement comes with a golfing price tag…do not expect many flat lies!
The original Raynor routing is very much intact and the humps, bumps and hillocks that he utilized on the property remain an important part of it. They provide an abundance of strategic interest to fully engage the golfer. The player cannot just hit shots. The right line to the hole must be contemplated. In short, Sunningdale requires the golfer to think his or her way around the course.
One can expect to find a round of golf at Sunningdale to be challenging but fair and, more importantly, a great deal of fun for golfers of all levels.
The Club's golf staff, lead by Head Golf Professional Christopher Toulson, is dedicated to providing exceptional golf facilities and golfing experiences for Club members and their guests. The Club provides a variety of golfing activities, from tournaments and special events to private and group instruction. The Club Golf Shop offers unsurpassed service, in addition to an exceptional selection of golf equipment, clothing and merchandise.
Please see the below video of our Golf Course Panel on October 20, 2016.