Tough Times: 1931-1945
The Great Depression put a halt to the growth of golf clubs, forcing the closure of many and spurring others to take drastic steps to economize. The collapse in the economy that began with the stock market crash of 1929 caused country club members to resign in droves, creating a 78% reduction in total membership nationally.
Like other clubs around the country, Fairfield’s golf clubs responded to the economic crisis by making membership more affordable and reaching out to provide more family-friendly amenities beyond the golf course. For instance, in 1932, Brooklawn decided to build a swimming pool that would become part of the club’s family atmosphere. Similarly, in 1935 the Country Club of Fairfield chose to broaden its appeal by building a beach house and tennis courts, creating a more affordable membership category that would attract non-golfers and younger families. The beach became a popular part of the club’s appeal, in part because the board, somewhat daringly, allowed men to wear topless bathing suits.
The Depression also gave rise to the area’s first public golf course, D. Fairchild Wheeler, which was created by the city of Bridgeport as part of its work relief efforts in 1932. Like leaders of other cities around the country, Bridgeport’s mayor, Edward Buckingham, believed a public golf course would benefit the entire community. Unemployed men from the city were given work clearing the rocky farmland in order to create a first-class golf course. Although it was owned by the city, the course was located in Fairfield, on a large tract of land that Bridgeport park commissioner D. Fairchild Wheeler had donated. More than a thousand WPA relief workers cleared the woods and farmland that had earlier housed the Wheeler family’s paper mill, and under the guidance of architect Robert White, turned it into one of the area’s most popular courses.
Bridgeport’s new public golf course was the first municipal course in New England to offer a full 36 holes, divided into four 9-hole courses that could accommodate as many as a thousand players on a busy weekend. Organized in 1934 as aprivate association, the D. Fairchild Wheeler Golf Clubsponsored a series of tournaments at the course for its members. With the constantly growing interest in golf, a local newspaper noted in 1941, the sport was no longer seen as “a rich man’s pastime”; defense workers flocked to Fairchild Wheeler’s greens after finishing their shift in the factories.