The Country Club of New Bedford has had a rich history since its incorporation at its current location in 1902. Our origins derive from a modest beginning as a simple nine hole links course laid out on the Hawthorn farm by William Campbell of Boston. The original course was within the city limits of New Bedford and was bounded by Hawthorn, Brigham and Allen streets and a wooded area which is presently Rockdale Avenue. Incorporated in 1897 as the Hawthorn Golf Club, this short and relatively flat golf course quickly became overcrowded as the game of golf grew in popularity.
In 1902 President Dr. John Bullard, Vice President Robert Snow and Secretary Frederick Stetson along with several prominent businessmen who were members at the Hawthorn Golf Club decided to relocate the golf course. They acquired approximately eighty six acres of the former Cummings farm in North Dartmouth from the previous buyers who had intended to use the land as a trotter racetrack.
The new venue, now called the Country Club of New Bedford, was initially another links style golf course. It was laid out on the working farm by David Findlay the former golf professional at the Hawthorn Golf Club. Tenant farmers were allowed to harvest their crops and relocate while the golf course was developed around them. In 1903 Mr. Findlay was hired as the first greens keeper for the new golf course.
The famous Olmsted and Olmsted architectural firm from Boston was contracted as landscape gardeners and developed plans for a true sporting club. In addition to the new golf course, plans were proposed for grass tennis courts, a lawn bowling green, croquet courts, a toboggan slide, a winter skating pond and an indoor shooting range!
Membership at CCNB grew quickly and by August of 1903 the Board of Governors voted to restrict membership to 350 members. Despite this restriction by 1907 the membership had grown to 420 members in three categories – active, associate and non-resident.
This new links course also became overcrowded rather quickly and members began to petition the Board to expand the facility to eighteen holes. In 1917 the Board sought the advice of renowned golf course architect Donald Ross “for the purpose of furnishing plans for a permanent layout of golf links.” Since no construction was begun at that time, it is very likely that after seeing the property Mr. Ross simply advised the Board of Governors that there was insufficient acreage for an eighteen hole golf course. Plans were set aside later in 1917 when the United States joined World War 1.
In 1921 CCNB member Minor Wilcox was appointed Chairman of a committee to investigate and act on acquiring additional property for an eighteen hole golf course. Several sites near the Club were evaluated for additional acreage and were deemed unacceptable for golf course construction. The committee even considered relocating the facility entirely once again. Finally in February of 1922, an additional 38 acres previously designated for house lots was acquired east of Slocum Road.
Soon after the new land was acquired Mr. Wilcox was appointed Chairman of the Architect Committee. As Chairman he was invited into a Board meeting on March 16, 1922 where he proposed the world renowned golf course architect Willie Park Jr. to do the redesign and expansion of the golf course to achieve eighteen holes.
Mr. Park, a two time Open Champion and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, had challenged every prominent golfer of his day by this time and his golfIng days were declining. He was a true innovator and his creativity in golf course design has made him one of the most highly respected golf course architects in history. His career in course design began in his native Scotland and he soon was in demand to do course designs in several European countries. In 1916 with the onset of the war, there was little work for him in Britain or Europe and he opened an office in New York City.
Between 1916-1923 Willie Park Jr. built some of his best courses in the United States and Canada including Olympia Fields outside of Chicago. Mr. Park’s plans for the Country Club of New Bedford were accepted on March 27, 1922 and he was hired to complete the project.
Willie Park Jr’s redesign of the original nine hole links course maximized the original 86 acres to develop twelve unique holes and he used the newly acquired 38 acres for the remaining six holes. True to his innovative style Mr. Park utilized the natural topography of the land for his design, created a variety of hazards to distract the golfer on all of the par three holes, made strategic shot making a necessity for the approach to each hole and developed the marvelous green complexes for which the Country Club of New Bedford has been heralded for over a century.
Sadly in 1922 the original Nat Smith designed bungalow style clubhouse caught fire and burned to the ground. Construction of a new clubhouse on the same site was completed in 1923. Several revisions have been made to our clubhouse over the years with the most recent renovation occurring in 2006.
The Country Club has been honored to have employed two remarkably dedicated men who both earned accolades in their respective fields.
John S. Gilholm was hired in 1910 as the Club’s golf professional. He served with distinction in this position for fifty years! Mr. Gilholm was present during the transition of the course from nine holes to eighteen and it can be assumed that his expert advice was sought in connection with the project. The club is honored to posses several of the original hickory shafted golf clubs which he designed.
Michael O’Grady was hired on a one year contract to be the greens keeper on October 26, 1925 “with the understanding that Thomas Galvin (his uncle) of the R.I. Country Club inspect the work from time to time as desired by the greens committee”. Despite this very inauspicious beginning to his career, Mr. O’Grady became a master of his craft. He was respected and honored by his peers who often sought his advice and he maintained the marvelous Willie Park Jr. designed greens at the Country Club of New Bedford to the highest standards until his retirement more than forty years later.
Tradition comes in many forms at the Country Club of New Bedford, not the least of which is the annual August Fourball Invitational Tournament. A weeklong six round member guest competition with sixty four teams, this tournament has attracted quality players from around the country over the years. Billed as the oldest continuously played Fourball of the nation, it was first played as such in August 1927. Our Fourball remains one of the most prestigious amateur golf tournaments in New England.
The Women’s Golf Association of the Country Club of New Bedford began their own August Invitational Fourball in 1979 with 32 teams participating. This five day tournament was a milestone for women golfers, not only in this area, but throughout New England. Club Member, Dorothy Koczera and guest, Mary Jo Ahlander were the first Fourball champions. The Country Club of New Bedford Women’s Invitational Fourball Tournament, continues to be the leading tournament event of its kind in the region.
Through the years golf professionals from Byron Nelson to Brad Faxon have enjoyed rounds of golf at the Club. Current PGA touring professional Peter Uihlein spent some of his formative years playing at CCNB. US Open Champion Francis Ouimet played the course several times while it was being expanded and after it’s completion. Former member David Whiteside gained prominence in the region by winning the Massachusetts State Amateur Tournament in 1937.
California teaching professional Barry McDermott, John S. Gilholm’s grandson and Ricky Fowler’s former swing coach, began his golf career as a caddy here. Most recently Kevin Silva brought notoriety to our Club as an amateur US Open qualifier in 2008.
The Country Club of New Bedford celebrated its centennial in 2002, but the memories and traditions continue to be made at this historic venue.