One of the oldest country clubs in the United States, Greenwich Country Club just celebrated its 125th anniversary. With its rich history of sports and social affairs, the club founded in 1892 by Julian Curtiss played a role in popularizing golf in America. Curtiss, who lived in Belle Haven in the late nineteenth century, worked for a sporting goods company called Spalding and decided to purchase golf clubs during a trip to London. Back home he shared his enthusiasm for the sport, with neighbors and they soon created a five-hole course on their adjacent properties. As more friends and neighbors asked to play, they banded together to create the Fairfield County Golf Club, later re-named Greenwich Country Club (GCC). In 1896 a Colonial-style clubhouse, known as the Gazebo, was built on the hill.
Today the club’s eighteen-hole golf course is still the biggest asset on its 165-acre setting, but activities include tennis, squash (the former world champion is the pro), paddle, swimming, skeet shooting and even bowling. “It has become more and more of a family club,” says Hagen Freihoff, the general manager, who describes a robust calendar of activities for kids—events like Kids & Kites, leaf collecting and bird-feeder workshops in the off-season and a summer camp with 130 children enrolled. Dining options have evolved at the club, too, with the opening of a more casual restaurant called 1892 that serves Asian-fusion and other contemporary fare. To celebrate the 125th, the club held a black-tie anniversary ball and special matches played with vintage racquets and nostalgic dress. A member who is a golf-historian put together an exhibit of antique golf equipment (among the fascinating items: a James Bond-esque walking stick that converted into a golf club, allowing gentlemen to play discreetly many years ago when golf was banned on Sundays). Many noteworthy moments and personalities have made the club what it is today. See Sidebar, “Did you Know?” for a sampling.
DID YOU KNOW?
The piece of land where the club is located was once known as Electric Hill because Thomas Edison created the world’s first completely electrified home there.
Blaze(s) of Glory
The club’s buildings have endured not one but four significant fires. The earliest clubhouse, a villa belonging to builder Warren Smith, burned to the ground in 1896. In its place a new clubhouse known as The Gazebo was built. When the club was re-named Greenwich Country Club in 1909, plans were made for a larger clubhouse, and as it was being constructed, The Gazebo caught fire. Then in 1929 the east side of the new building went up in flames; members rebuilt immediately. In 1960 the clubhouse suffered the fiercest fire, with the entire structure engulfed in flames and smoke seen clearly from miles away. The building and its contents were destroyed, though a locker-room attendant jumped into the burning structure and saved a few items by throwing them out the window, including a silver trophy that sits on the shelf of the manager’s office. The present clubhouse, almost identical to the one that burned, opened in 1962.
Julian Curtiss, who was the club’s first president, is honored every year with The Julian Curtiss Invitational, a tournament in which members of the twelve oldest clubs in the country are invited to play.
Among the many noteworthy early members are J. Kennedy Tod, a Scotsman who made a fortune in helping build America’s railroads and owned the 147-acre estate that today is the town’s beach, Tod’s Point; A. Emilius Outerbridge, whose family built the bridge that connected Staten Island with New Jersey; Lyndon Hoyt Stevens, who fought in the battle of Gettysburg and made a fortune in silver mining. Former President Gerald Ford and baseball great Tom Seaver were also members.
When the club was founded, it had thirty-two charter members. Within a few years, nearly 200 members had joined and annual dues were $40 per family. Today there are 650 members, and it is the largest club in the state in terms of activities.