The listing of the 9-hole course in Dewittville, N.Y. has raised a lot of questions about its history, which dates back to at least 1914. Originally opened to cater to wealthy golfers from Pittsburgh looking to keep their game in shape while vacationing over the summer, some speculate Donald Ross may have been involved with Chautauqua Point.
When Stephen Elliot listed the Chautauqua Point Golf Course in Dewittville, N.Y. for sale, a renewed debate over the history of the course and raised concerns about its future arose, the Jamestown Post-Journal reported. Elliot purchased the course, which sits on a 31-acre plot, in 1996.
“I’ve always heard that three men from Pittsburgh that belonged to Oakmont [Country Club] wanted to play golf in the summertime because they owned homes at Point Chautauqua. They bought this land and set up a golf course,” Elliot said.
Since around 2014, Stephen’s son, Chris Elliot, had run the day-to-day operations of the course until his sudden passing in February of 2019, The Post-Journal reported.
“We were trying to get ready for this year and with Chris gone, my son-in-law Jim Bradford was about the only one left,” Elliot said. “We decided if we could sell it, we would. We all owned it for Chris at that point, and when he passed away, it just kind of left an open hole in our stomach.”
Elliot told The Post-Journal that the property has been listed for continued use as a golf course, or as a site for future development.
In a 1964 article published in The Post-Journal, Chuck Korbar explained that both Point Chautauqua and Chautauqua Golf Club were founded in 1914, but that no one knows which was started first. Korbar wrote that “Point Chautauqua has to go down as the first private club in the county. It was started by some golf-minded summer residents from Pittsburgh who used it as a ‘practice course’ for tourney play at Oakmont Country Club.”
Korbar highlighted extensive use of the course during the 1920s, including by famed golfers like Walter Hagan, until the crash of 1929 caused it to fall into poor condition, The Post-Journal reported. During the early decades of the 20th century, Chautauqua Point was a haven for vacationers traveling north from Pittsburgh during the summer months to enjoy fishing and boating. According to the United States Golf Association, Henry Clay Fownes was born in Pittsburgh in 1856, and went on to design Oakmont on 200 acres in 1903 after amassing a fortune through the Carrie Furnace Company.
There is also speculation that famous designer Donald J. Ross may have been involved in the creation of the club, The Post-Journal reported. The Scotsman designed the 18-hole Lake Course layout at Chautauqua Golf Club in the early 1920s, while the Hill Course was designed by Xen Hassenplug in the 1980s.
Nancy Paul, co-secretary of the Point Chautauqua Historical Preservation Society, has been tracking down information on the history of the Chautauqua Point course, The Post-Journal reported.
“I was touching base with a lot of different people to try and narrow down the history because we didn’t have a complete history on it,” Paul said. “What we seem to have found out is that this Mr. Fownes, who founded Oakmont in Pittsburgh, because a lot of people that come to Chautauqua are from the Pittsburgh-Cleveland area, that he opened it as kind of a practice course for the summer. When he went back to Pittsburgh in the fall, he was a little rusty after spending the summers in Chautauqua. I think that might be where there is the difference between the 1907 date and the 1914 date, it is possible it didn’t become anything other than just a community course until the 1914 date. But we haven’t narrowed that down yet because the libraries aren’t open and there is only a certain amount of information that you can get.”
Discrepancies may exist between the founding of the course as a practice site, and an official golf club, The Post-Journal reported. A third name tied to origins of the course is that of H.C. Fry, founder of the H.C. Fry Glass Company of Rochester. According to “Legendary Locals of the Chautauqua Lake Region,” by Kathleen Crocker and Jane Currie, Fry played a key role in the overhaul of the Point Chautauqua Association charter in 1885, and would go on to become president of the Point Chautauqua Association.
A building project of Fry’s was “catering to a ‘wealthy and highly desirable’ clientele, primarily from Pittsburgh, he and his wife were intent upon the addition of a golf course and swimming pool, among other amenities.”
“A lot of people had been told over the years that it was a Ross course, well I contacted the people from the Ross Society and they said they didn’t have any indication that the course was ever designed by him,” Paul told The Post-Journal.
The May newsletter of the Historical Preservation Society covers different aspects of the course’s history and attempts to trace its ownership through the Point Chautauqua Land Company, The Post-Journal reported. While Paul and others wait for local libraries to reopen with the hope of finding more information on the course, others have taken action to help preserve it for the future.
Garrett Hicks, who is on the board of trustees for the Historical Preservation Society, became concerned when the course was first listed for sale, The Post-Journal reported.
“A couple of months ago it came up on the for sale list. I was immediately taken aback and very nervous about it,” Hicks said. “I grew up in that neighborhood. I went to Chautauqua Lake and graduated in 2001. My family has been in that neighborhood for four generations. I just don’t want us to be caught on our heels if this gets sold.”
Hicks has made contact with the New York State Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation Department to see if it is possible to maintain the natural beauty of the site, The Post-Journal reported.
“It is one of the beautiful pieces of property in the county and there’s already clusters of unsold condos scattered throughout the lake and developments,” Hicks said. “It’s the oldest golf course in the county, so it has so much historical value.”
Hicks told The Post-Journal that the state parks department already operates 35 different golf courses.
“So that gave me a lot of hope that it could stay,” he said.
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