Pelham Country Club was founded in 1921 and in 1923 hosted the PGA Championship (won by Gene Sarazen) on its Devereux Emmet-designed course. In 1954 the building of a highway resulted in an Alfred Tull remodel and now Mike DeVries is conducting a long-term renovation.
“After playing Meadow Brook on some 300 acres the day before,” commented Mr. Top 100 (Rudo) in his blog, “playing Pelham on 119 acres (including pool, tennis courts, clubhouse, etc.) squeezed on all sides by apartment buildings, a Costco warehouse store, Amtrak (alongside I-95 running right through the middle of the course), and flights on landing patterns into Laguardia, [it] felt at times like a very different game, but in many ways just as much fun. The remaining Emmet holes are very special and it is obvious that this was a great championship track before the Thruway was constructed.”
DeVries Designs has been consulting at Pelham Country Club since 2008 and 2019 completed another phase of a long-term renovation project involving the redesign of five holes.
When one arrives at Pelham you come to a course that is clearly connected to its neighborhood. Interestingly, that "neighborhood" hems in the facility on all sides -- including Interstate 95 (New England Thuway). Getting all of this to function is no small feat and the club realized bringing on board a talented architect could really add meaningful coherence to a layout touched previously by others.
Mike DeVries is no stranger to updating of courses -- most especially in the Westchester area, The issue with Pelham was trying to tie different versions of the design into something more consistent.
Beyond the strategic calculations there was a more significant engineering issue. Four holes of the course play on the same side of the clubhouse and to the west of the split with I-95. The remaining 14 holes are located on the east side of the Interstate. One of the central concerns was handling a nagging drainage issue that impacted a few holes nearest to the highway.
The solution was not a simple one or one that could be done quickly -- given the need for various governmental approvals. DeVries smartly changed the nature of the course -- taking the old par-5 1st and converting into s much more dynamic long par-4. The 2nd hole is a terrific par-3 that was kept as is. The elevated tee showcases a target green fiercely protected by two deep and unforgiving bunkers
When you cross under I-95 the new routing takes hold with a long par-5 -- replacing the former par-4 12th. To assist the aforementioned drainage issue a new stream has been added and it impacts the hole in a serpentine fashion on the left side and then feeds into a detention basis nearly completed. The solution clearly has assisted in alleviating the prior excess water issue and the "new" par-5 hole does play well even though it's fairly rudimentary.
DeVries went boldly further -- eliminating the previous number one handicap hole -- the long par-4 13th. Given that the "new" 3rd was extended a new green was added that takes up a portion of the for old 13th. What one now finds is a very clever short driveable par-4 at the "new" 4th. DeVries created a slight rise in the fairway and the putting surface sits on the far side out of view. Those attempting a bold play from the tee had best be sure to marry distance and an archer's accuracy. Falls off exist by the green and those who gamble and lose will pay a price for the brash effort.
The routing then heads to the par-5 5th -- which was formerly the 14th hole. At this point the routing goes to the far corner of the property -- crossing Mt Tom Road and one plays the former 4th thru 9 holes as the "new" 6th thru 11th. The terrain for this part of the courser is hillier and it does provide for some meaningful differentiation. The cross bunkers at the uphill par-4 6th was added by architect Stephen Kay and while the hole is short at 330 yards the need for placement is crucial as the green is perched on a high spot.
The old 6th becomes the long par-4 8th and it was maintained as is. At the par-4 7th -- now the 9th the hole turns in the drive zone and the green is appropriately defended by bunkers. Plans call for a new green to be placed more to the right and slightly behind where the existing green is today. When that happens the overall stature of the hole will clearly rise. The par-3 8th -- now the 10th -- has been altered with the previous greenside bunkers being taken out. The "new" hole is frankly nothing more than a transition to get back to the other side of Mt Tom Road.
The rest of the "new" routing provides a different positioning of the former holes. Previously, the par-4 9th and short par-3 10th have been routed to be the 11th and 15th holes respectively. Both are exceptional holes. The "new" 11th provides for a delicious blind tee shot to a green placed on the high ground. In addition, DeVries was smart to expand the putting surface at the "new" 15th hole providing for a wide range of challenging pin positions.
DeVries did add a par-5 into the mixture given the par change at the 1st. The "new" 16th -- formerly the long par-4 11th, plays to a max of 556 yards and the same creek one encountered at the 3rd is now once again in play on the left side.
The final two holes occupy land closest to the clubhouse and are a quality combination ending. The long par-4 17th works to the right in the drive zone and it's important not to either push or pull one's tee shot. Having a closing par-3 18th is a bit out of the ordinary, yet plays well with an approach over water to a green sufficiently contoured.
I doubt Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen - the two final match combatants from the 1923 PGA Championship -- would remember the layout they played for the Wannamaker Trophy.
Credit the club for bringing on board DeVries and for using his creative mind . There is still work going on and it will be interesting to see how all the moving pieces are finally handled. For such a small piece of property there's much to see -- and to admire.
M. James Ward