1900, 1913, 1926, and 1984
Yale students, faculty, and alumni began playing golf at the New Haven Golf Club in 1895. Harry Vardon, the Open Champion, stopped there in April 1900, on his US tour to promote the new ball made by the Spalding Co., the “Vardon Flyer.” He gave four exhibitions and played three matches in two days. He lost the first match, playing alone against the “better ball” of T. L. Cheney and T. Markoe Robertson, the Yale captain. Three days later, the Hartford Courant quoted him that it “had been a practice round, not a match.” Vardon also declared that the course had “the best greens in the US.” He may have given this interview sitting on the porch of the new clubhouse, built that year on the corner of Winchester Avenue and Division Street overlooking the first tee and the eighteenth green.
The clubhouse was designed by Robert H. Robertson, a prominent New York architect, active between 1890 and 1919 and a pioneer designer of skyscraper buildings. No doubt he took the time to design this small clubhouse because of his golfing passion; he was a member of the St. Andrew’s Golf Club, a friend of John Reid, and the father of the Yale golf captain, T. M. Robertson. The only remaining record of the clubhouse is the architect’s frontal elevation drawing. It shows a two-story bungalow-style building of perhaps 1,000 sq. ft. There was a small front porch, probably an office, and a common room downstairs and changing rooms upstairs. We do know that the men’s chairs and women’s chairs in the common room were selected by Mrs. William Lyon Phelps and Miss Sarah Whittlesey, the daughter of the first club president. Those chairs can be seen today at the New Haven Museum.
During Vardon’s second US tour in 1913, he and Ted Ray lost to Francis Ouimet in a playoff for the US Open championship, characterized as “The Greatest Game Ever Played” by Mark Frost in his book of that title. Vardon didn’t visit the Yale golfers, who had just moved to the Race Brook Country Club in Orange. Vardon’s third US tour, with his partner Ted Ray, was in 1920. They played and won a match at Race Brook against the Yale captain, Sidney Scott, and club member, Joe Stein. At Race Brook, the members could repair to a large three-story clubhouse with several dining areas, large men’s and women’s locker rooms, a pro shop, several meeting rooms, and a boardroom (known today as the Pryde Room). The clubhouse has recently been renovated but retains the exterior native stone work and its early twentieth-century style.
On April 15, 1926, the Yale golf course at the Ray Tompkins Memorial officially opened. Land acquisition and construction costs had been more than three-quarters of a million dollars. However, only $5,000 was spent on the clubhouse. It was a “log cabin style” building with a central double fireplace that heated two rooms, a pro shop and a changing room. There was a shower, but no lockers. Clothes were hung on hooks on the wall. Food service consisted of a hot dog and sandwich stand in the parking lot. It apparently was so Spartan that “arrangements were made with the Taft Hotel for a Club Room in the hotel free of charge for Patrons, Founders and Members of the course, and in addition for preference in engaging rooms. Guests of the Taft belonging to any organized golf club were to have the privilege of using the course from June 20th to September 15th each year upon payment of a greens fee of $5.00 per day.” Sometime between 1951 and 1965, the clubhouse was updated; the pro shop was moved to the front of the building (facing the first tee), and a dining room and kitchen were installed. A flagstone patio offered diners a view of the scenic pond and the third and fourth holes. Harry Meusel noted in a report to the Athletics Department that “with the drilling of a new eighty-foot well at the clubhouse, drinking water no longer needs to be brought in, and pond-fish in the shower rooms were stories of the past.”
As noted earlier, William S. Beinecke and his family have been very generous in their support of the golf course. This support began with the installation of the first automated in-ground watering system in 1968. Later they provided golf cart paths and a storage facility. Finally, in 1984, the most generous gift, The Prospect Hill Clubhouse, was completed. This single story, Modernist, wood frame structure, designed by Herbert Newman, was built on the footprint of the old clubhouse. It contains the 1926 fireplace, a large pro shop, several offices, a conference-team room, men’s and women’s locker rooms, a large modern kitchen, two dining areas indoors, and a patio. The “Garden Room” dining area is where the original patio was located. In 2007 the Prospect Hill Clubhouse received a new roof and siding, as did the cart barn. The clubhouse was repainted, and the ceilings and carpeting replaced. The team room was renovated to make a lounge area. The panoramic views from the new patio, the dining rooms and the lounge across the third fairway and the pond to the fourth fairway make this a perfect place to end the day at a great golf course.