We are now all hoping to be able to get through the pandemic by opening up our beaches, summer businesses, restaurants, amusement parks, and bars. One of the best parts of our summer is every now and then one can play a round of golf at one of the many gorgeous golf courses found in York.
The other day a friend of mine asked if I could make up a foursome for a round at the York Golf And Tennis Club. I enjoyed the game, but more than that it also gave me the impetus to look into the history of this oldest and most prestigious of local country clubs.
The York Golf And Tennis Club began on August 30, 1900, when Thomas Nelson Page, a writer, lawyer, and civic leader convened a meeting of gentlemen interested in providing a new golf course in York. The schedule of dues for the first year shows just what a difference inflation has made over the course of a century.
Back then it cost $20 for a family membership for the season for privileges exclusive of golf. $15 for a single membership, $10 for a one-month membership, and $5 for a single membership for two weeks. Every additional person cost $5 with a 50 cents charge per day for each guest playing golf.
On August 2, 1901, membership was reported at 184, 150 of whom were golfers. Family-season memberships made up 138 of the total. By 1902, the York Country Club was one of the few clubs in the country to boast an 18-hole course. By 1912, the club was well established as a summer resort and its membership included members from all over the United States. Two of its more prominent members back then were Finley Peter Dunn of Chicago, a journalist and author, and The Reverend Philo Woodruff Sprague of Charlestown who was a scholar in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.
The end of World War I brought even more prosperity for the club. Membership figures broke all records and by 1920 income had reached a new high of $16,000. Prosperity brought in change in the form of improvements and expansion to the club and a redesign of the entire golf course, which opened anew on June 13, 1927.
This period of prosperity came to a sudden halt with the arrival of the Great Depression in 1929 and by 1933 membership was declining rapidly and the future of the club seemed bleak. From 1935 to 1940, the sparse membership meant there were no funds for maintenance. The buildings became shabby, the clubhouse was virtually abandoned, most of the tennis courts were deserted and weeds ravaged the once manicured lawns.
The Second World War did not bring any relief. All summer resorts were struggling and wartime restrictions virtually eliminated any hope that the Golf And Tennis Club would be restored to its previous grandeur. A predicted post-war revival never materialized and in 1946 and 1947 many house lots were sold from the club’s property to provide for necessary funds.
The 1950s started with a bang, literally and figuratively. A violent thunderstorm left the buildings untouched, but destroyed many of the stately old pines that gave the club grounds so much of its glamour. The club managed by selling the damaged trees to Chester Abbott for $750. It wasn’t until 1952 the club saw a return of the kind of prosperity it had enjoyed in the 1920s.
The name William Wilson helped, in part. Wilson was the club’s first golf professional in 1902, and among the luminaries he taught back then were Samuel Clemens, alias Mark Twain, and Thomas Nelson Page who was United States Ambassador to Italy during World War I.
The re-dedication of the course as The William Wilson Golf Course brought new attention to the club and in 1954 vice president Richard Nixon accepted an invitation to play. It is said that he arrived with a single state policeman and several club members who lived nearby were quickly rounded up to join him in a game.
From 1960 to the present, the York Golf And Tennis Club has enjoyed continued prosperity so that it is difficult to imagine the hard times it endured through the Depression and the wartime years. Today, York Golf and Tennis Club boasts a membership of more than 650 members.
Since its conception in 1900, York Golf and Tennis Club has gone through many changes. Only time will tell how this tradition in York will evolve. Time and, of course, how we all will survive the present dangers we all accept but can’t see.
Correction: An earlier version of this column stated incorrectly that there is a wait list at the York Golf and Tennis Club. The club is currently accepting new members, according to General Manager Sean Campbell. There is no wait to become a member, though they are close to the membership cap where a wait list will begin again, Campbell said.
Jim Fabiano is a retired teacher and writer living in York, Maine. The source of most of the information in this column was the vault at the now-defunct York Historical Society. You can contact Jim at: firstname.lastname@example.org.