Rare, New Public Course Coming to Westchester County

It’s been 63 years since a new public golf course opened for play in Westchester County, New York. Exclusive private clubs abound (there were 59 at last count), but a dense population and sky-high real estate prices make the development of public-access facilities a virtual impossibility.

This shortage of affordable golf courses is something local players have come to accept. Indeed, the nation gained insight into this regional problem last year when The New York Times published a front-page story on the subject.

But help is on the way.

Ground will be broken this June at Hudson Hills Golf Course, an 18-hole daily-fee layout designed by architect Mark Mungeam, a partner with Cornish, Silva and Mungeam, Inc. of Uxbridge, Massachusetts. Developed by Westchester County itself, the course is scheduled to open for play in 2002 or 2003.

”The main portion of the land we’re using for Hudson Hills used to be a golf course,” explained Mungeam. “The club changed its name many times. It was called Pine Ridge when it opened in the 1920s; then Sunset Hills, then Pine Ridge again before it took the name ‘Hudson Hills Golf Club’ in the mid-1960s.” The club shut its doors in 1982 and today the site is totally overgrown.

”We’ve appropriated the most recent name for this new project,” Mungeam added, “but we’ve essentially designed a brand new golf course here, a completely new routing. This isn’t a restoration; it’s a reincarnation.”

How do 110 acres sit unused for nearly two decades just 30 miles north of New York City, in the heart of America’s most lucrative real estate market? Well, the club closed down because IBM purchased the property with plans to build a corporate research laboratory there. Those plans never materialized.

Five years ago, the county successfully negotiated to buy the property back for $3.64 million. At that time, the county had intended to develop the project off of Croton Dam Road privately, via a third-party lease arrangement.

”Eventually, the county decided to develop the course itself,” said Mungeam, who recently completed tournament renovations at Chicago’s Olympia Fields Country Club, site of the 2003 U.S. Open. “That was the only way to control green fees. In Westchester County, a private developer/operator could charge just about anything and get away with it. Better than anyone, county officials recognized the need for affordable golf here.”

County Executive Andy Spano is excited about the possibilities. “What a course it will be,” exclaimed Spano at the groundbreaking ceremony. “It has been designed by top golf architects, with great sensitivity to preserving our environment. The course will be the jewel of our system, challenging, well-maintained and beautiful.”

Spano added, “The demand by our residents for additional opportunities to play golf is well established. We remain committed to continuing our ongoing capital program to improve our other public courses.”

Mungeam, a member of the Board of Governors at the American Society of Golf Course Architects, has become a familiar name in Met-area golfing circles. His recent designs include High Bridge (N.J.) Hills GC, the North Course at Charleston Springs GC in Millstone Township, N.J., and Colt’s Neck (N.J.) Golf & Country Club.

Construction permits were secured for Hudson Hills back in 1997; Mungeam has spent the past two years honing his design plans for the course in New Castle. Several of the overgrown holes are still discernible, though none will be part of the par-71, 6,900-yard Hudson Hills, a $7-million course projected to host 46,000 rounds a year.

”We have aerial photographs of the old course, and if you go out in the field, you can see everything,” Mungeam continued. “You come across these depressions, and if you scrape around you’ll find the old bunker sand. We found a tee sign the other day – a post with fancy wrought-iron work and a board hanging from it. But the writing had been worn way by time.

”The former course was wedged onto just 110 acres, but today we have 150 acres to work with. It’s great land: steep in some sections but lovely, rolling terrain with nice views to the west. When we’re finished, I daresay Hudson Hills will be the best public facility in Westchester County.”

Much has been written about where President Clinton, now a resident of neighboring Chappaqua, will play his golf. Mungeam, for one, has a suggestion: “Hudson Hills will definitely be affordable enough for anyone on a government pension,” he said.

Having christened four original layouts last year (including partner Brian Silva’s much-praised Black Creek Club in Chattanooga, Tenn.), Cornish, Silva and Mungeam (CSM) will open four more original designs in 2001, including Mungeam’s LeBaron Hills CC, a private club in Lakeville, Massachusetts.

Partners Geoffrey Cornish, Mungeam and Silva currently have projects under construction in Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, all six New England states, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New Jersey, where the Mungeam-designed South Course at Charleston Springs will open this fall.