Golf's Golden Age, 1910-1930
The 1910s and 1920s were a time of rapid growth for golf, as economic prosperity and increased leisure time spurred the growth of country clubs and golf courses. Over a million Americans were playing golf on public and private links, and the sport was becoming Americanized as golf professionals increasingly took center stage, starting with the first Professional Golfers Association (PGA) tournament in 1916.
Brooklawn Country Club expanded its golf course to 18 holes with the purchase of additional land in 1910, bringing the club’s property to 145 acres. The club outgrew its original buildings, and opened a new clubhouse in 1916 that was described as “one of the show places of Bridgeport,” with views of the city, a large ballroom, and porches “suited to the serving of tea in the afternoon.”
As golf rapidly increased in popularity, Brooklawn - the only golf course in the area - started to feel crowded to some members. Fairfield’s “leading citizen,” financier Oliver Gould Jennings, was an avid golfer who was sometimes frustrated waiting for tee times. He organized a group of influential friends to create a smaller club, known as the Country Club of Fairfield, in 1914. Its goal was “to promote outdoor and indoor sports, mental and physical recreation, and social intercourse by its members, their families, associates, and guests.”
For location, Jennings was drawn to the Sasco Point area of Southport, where a few of his interested friends were already building homes. Riding along Sasco Hill Road with his son one day in 1914, he declared that the area’s onion fields and tidal marsh along Southport Harbor would be a “magnificent setting for a golf course.” The clouds of insects that arose from the swamp during the summer had led people to dub the area “Mosquito Hill,” but Jennings had a vision of transforming it. He purchased about 100 acres of farmland and the eastern section of beach, and signed a 200-year lease with the town and with Winthrop Perry for “the hummocks, salt meadow, marsh, and beach.” One of the old farm dwellings along the road became the clubhouse.
Transforming the property into a golf course was a monumental project that took seven years. As the nation mobilized for World War I, the federal government had mandated improvements to Southport Harbor to make it more navigable for patrol boats. So the club’s plan to dredge the harbor, fill in the tidal marsh, and culvert the tidal flow was a welcome opportunity. Teams of workmen from the Bridgeport headquarters of the Barnum and Bailey circus camped on the beach and assisted in the Herculean task of unloading the small steam locomotive that was bringing topsoil from Long Island to fill in the marsh. As the Country Club prospered, it played a part in making Sasco Hill a desirable place to live, and the dredging of the harbor made it attractive for the yachts that were becoming popular at this time.
The Country Club was officially opened on July 2, 1921, with some of the world’s top golfers - Johnny Farrell, Joe Kirkwood, Walter Hagen, and Jock Hutchinson – in attendance, and four of the club’s founders playing a foursome. Throughout the 1920s, special tournaments drew leading amateur players from all over the country to the club, where they attracted much publicity and praise for the course’s unique design. Membership in the club grew, at first by invitation to friends and relatives, and by the early 1920s the membership limit was raised to 150. In addition to offering golf, the club hosted social events including teas, luncheons, and special celebrations for the Harvard-Yale and Yale-Princeton football games.