Winged Foot Golf Club: Where History Has Been Made

When the U.S. Amateur Championship comes to Winged Foot Golf Club in 2004, it will be returning to one of golf's most historic sites---which CBS-TV's Jim Nantz describes as "Where great history has been made." And that sums it up very well, considering the great events that have been played here and the men and women champions who have made them great. We say the Amateur will be "returning," because sixty-four years will have passed since it was last played here and won by a Winged Foot member, Richard D. "Dick" Chapman in 1940. He remains to this day as the only member of the host club to have won the event since World War I.

The Albert W. Tillinghast design opened for play early in golf's Golden Age---1923, and in the eight decades that have passed since then, ten championships of major importance have been played on its West and East courses: four U.S. Opens (1929, '59, '74 and '84); two Women's U.S. Opens 1957 and '72); one PGA Championship (1997); the inaugural U.S. Senior Open (1984); one Walker Cup match (1948) and one U.S. Amateur (1940). The challenge these courses have presented to the finest men and women players in the world over these eighty years has led to their being acclaimed far and wide as "America's best 36 holes."

Now, with the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open just ahead, the West course (championship tees) will play at 7266 yards, par 70, in contrast with the most recent 'major,' the PGA Championship of '97, which was played at 6956 yards, par 70. This has been done by creating new tees on some holes, as on 12 West that has been extended from 535 yards to 640---making it the longest par-5 in the U.S. Open's 108-year history; 2-West, adding 45 yards; 4-West adding 19; 8-West adding 36; 9-West adding 38 and 14-West adding 35 yards. The East course will now play at 6775 yards, par 70, with extensions on holes 4, 5, 7 and 17, and still holding its own with the best in the world. To keep the courses in top condition, a new irrigation system was installed in 2002-'03

Winged Foot is the only club in the country to have both of its courses in Golf Digest's and Golf Magazine's list of "Top U.S. 100 Courses," and this year is the only club to have both courses in Golf Magazine's "Top 100 in the World".

The Clubhouse

Set right in the center of the 36 holes is a clubhouse considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country, and that Winged Footers say "rose right up from the ground it sits on." It was a classic case of the two architects working together for the perfect site---one for the courses and the other for the edifice. The clubhouse architect, Clifford Charles Wendehack, who designed some of the finest clubhouses in the world during golf's Golden Age, says "Yes, we created Winged Foot's home out of the stone and rock that was blasted from the fairways in building the courses. We found granite and gneiss, some of the hardest stone and rock in the world that supports the skyscrapers in Manhattan. It was the best the earth can produce for our purposes, in varied colors and it was just there waiting for us."

A Temple to the Spirit of Golf

Of the many tributes that have been paid to this historic place---"Forty-five minutes from Broadway," as the old song says---the following words of the late Joseph C. Dey (1907-1991) say so well what Winged Foot has come to be:

"The very name, 'Winged Foot,' has a sort of magic for those who know the club from afar. To them it stands for competitive golf at its highest level---a place where history has been made by Bobby Jones, Billy Casper, Hale Irwin, Jackie Pung, Susie Maxwell Berning, Betsy Rawls, Roberto DeVicenzo, Fuzzy Zoeller and Davis Love III.

"For those who know Winged Foot intimately, it is much more fun and meaningful than a place of big occasions. It is a steady heartbeat of golfing pleasure and sportsmanship, where the game is the thing and where many matches and tall tales have been spun. Winged Foot is, in sum, a temple to the spirit of golf."

That Mr. Dey should know is proved by his record---he was Executive Director of the USGA (1934-1969) and Commissioner of the PGA (1969-1974) and elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.

He wrote the words above in 1983 for "Winged Foot Story," Winged Foot's official history, and in the twenty years that have passed since then, even more laurels have been added to the lore, such as the U.S. Open of 1984 and the PGA Championship of 1997, both hosted by Winged Foot. It is only fitting that this statement be repeated now as the game's best amateurs and professionals will soon be coming here again, making history where it has been made so often before.

October 1, 2003
Douglas LaRue Smith
Winged Foot Historian