The Site

The Site

Adee had graduated in the Class of 1895 and had been present at the beginning of Yale golf, although he himself was an All-American quarterback. As an involved alumnus, a Wall Street stockbroker, a former chairman of the US Lawn Tennis ­Association, and a member of the Westchester Country Club, he had the experience and the connections to get things moving. Adee’s letter proposed two options to the Athletic Association. The first was to purchase 122 acres of land in Orange, directly adjacent to Race Brook Country Club on Derby Avenue. Adee estimated land and construction costs for a course and clubhouse would be about $260,000.

1922 letter from George Adee to John Blossom

But a second course in Orange would still be distant from campus, and Adee’s sights turned closer to an unusual parcel of undeveloped woodland within the city limits. This was the estate of the late New Haven businessman, John M. Greist. Adee suggested that Yale try to obtain 120 acres or so of the extensive property, which actually bordered the Yale athletic fields beyond the Yale Bowl and stretched all the way out to Woodbridge. He noted that construction costs would be even higher because they would have to clear dense woods and deal with rock and ledge, but he urged the University on: “It seems to me that a modern up-to-date, 18-hole, Championship golf course would be a tremendous asset for Yale University, and would draw many of the most desirable men to the University.” Within a few months, the University agreed, and as it pursued the Greist option, the project grew even grander.

Marvelwood, home of John M. GreistThe Greist estate that Adee had set his sights on was a 720-acre nature preserve that began on the north side of present-day Forest Road in Westville and stretched up to the present boundary of the Wilbur Cross Parkway. It was the pride of a local German-American manufacturer, John M. Greist, who had developed his company into the world’s largest maker of sewing machine attachments. His main factory was on Blake Street in Westville (part of it remains across the street from the well-known dining establishment, 500 Blake Street), and he built one of the city’s finest homes along Forest Road, adjacent to his friend Donald G. Mitchell. Mitchell was Yale Class of 1841 and was then one of the country’s best-known writers. He wrote under the penname of Ik Marvel, which inspired Greist to name his own estate Marvelwood. Around the turn of the century, Greist bought up all the land from their two estates northwards towards Woodbridge; almost all of the land had last been farmed in 1880 and was now largely covered by second-growth forest and inhabited by birds, wild animals, and fish in ponds and lakes. It became the second-largest protected open space in the state.

With a staff of supervisors and workers, Greist maintained it as natural woodland, not a hunting preserve. He surroundedWithin the Marvelwood nature park it with seven miles of wire fence and created fifteen miles of interior paths for fire protection. The fence was not to exclude local residents, who could enter through one of seven gates and were welcome to walk the preserve. Rather, it was to keep the wildlife from crossing into the surrounding neighborhoods. Greist wanted the park to preserve the flora and fauna of New England, although, in 1905, he did introduce a small herd of elk and deer from Colorado. Unfortunately, the next year, Yale senior, Chauncey Brooks McCormick, was badly gored by an elk, and Greist thereafter closed Marvelwood to the public during rutting season.

Greist died in 1916, and the preserve remained in family hands. By the early 1920s, real estate developers were pressuring to buy it for housing for an expanding city. This must have been on Adee’s mind when he made his proposal to the University, and he even had a strategy in mind that involved one of University’s earliest football stars.

Ray Tompkins had been captain of the Yale football team in both 1883 and 1884, at the beginning of the long Walter Camp era. Tompkins achieved considerable financial success as the president of the Chemung Canal Trust Company in upstate New York. When he died in 1918, he left his wife an estate valued in excess of a million dollars, with the provision in his will that, upon her death, the remainder was to pass to Yale University “to furnish facilities for extending and developing the practice of athletic exercises on the part of students of the University.” In early 1923, just after Adee’s proposal, the University approached Sarah Tompkins to ask her to purchase the entire Greist estate as a gift to the university in her hus­band’s memory. She readily accepted, and Yale immediately bought the 720 acres for $375,000, a much lower figure than the real estate developers had offered. When Yale President James Angell accepted the gift and designated the property as the Ray Tompkins Memorial, he emphasized its use for “recreational sport first and competitive athletics next: i.e., the golf course, natural outdoor swimming pools, gun club ranges, cross country courses and similar developments.” Later it was announced that the Memorial was to be used “in the development of an out-of-doors program of sports in­cluding tobogganing, skiing, skating and tramping.” Finally, 200 acres were set aside as a preserve for native plant and animal life at the request of Dean Harry Graves of the School of Forestry.

Seth Raynor’s original 1924–1925 design for two 18-hole layouts. The layout in light green was

A Yale Golf Committee was quickly formed, with George Adee as chairman. Other alumni members were J. F. Byers (at the time, president of the usga), R. A. Gardner (then serving as usga vice-president), and the former usga treasurer, M. N. Buckner. Junior student Jess Sweetser and John T. Blossom, the Graduate Director of Athletics, represented the University. Jess Sweetser told David Paterson in a 1989 interview that he was the one who suggested that the committee consult with Charles Blair Macdonald to confirm his view that the land had “beautiful potential.” Sweetser had a deep admiration for Macdonald from playing several of his courses, especially Lido on Long Island. Correspondence indicates that Adee himself approached his good friend Macdonald. Macdonald, then sixty-eight, had “renounced having anything to do with building another golf course,” but he agreed to serve as a consultant and immediately recommended that the com­mit­tee hire his former associate, Seth Raynor, as the architect. Raynor was duly hired at his usual fee of $7,500. He spent the summer of 1923 surveying the entire property and, by the fall, had completed a design for two eighteen-hole courses and a cost estimate for building the first.

Thus, the Yale course was fashioned by two of the most important figures in golf at the time — Charles Macdonald, the first national champion golfer and the American father of golf course architecture, and Seth Raynor, a non-golfing engineer whom Macdonald had brought into the course design business and who had deeply imbibed the tutoring of his men­tor to become successful in his own right.

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