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Architect – Pryde

Robert D. Pryde, a Profile

The story of American golf begins in 1888 in Yonkers N.Y. with John Reid, the “Apple Tree Gang”, and the St. Andrew’s Golf Club. [1]

The story of Yale golf begins in 1885 in Tayport, Fife Scotland where 15 year old Robert D. Pryde was working as an apprentice in the shop of the Scotscraig Golf Club, “making and repairing golf clubs”. [2] Scotscraig, located just north of St. Andrews was established in 1817 and is the 13 th oldest course in the world. Pryde had attended Harris Academy in Dundee and the Technical College in Glasgow , where he qualified as a teacher in drawing. However, he chose to play golf and serve his apprenticeship. At age 22 he immigrated to America . By 1895 he was working as a cabinetmaker for David H. Clark in New Haven.

Photo at right: circa 1900, Yale Golf Coach.Pryde young

Justus S. Hotchkiss, a retired New Haven business man, decided that he wanted a cherry wardrobe built to match a similar one in his home at the corner of Wall & Church Streets. He contacted David H. Clark, and Bob Pryde was sent to do the work. At a meeting of the New Haven Lawn Club, Hotchkiss and Professor Theodore S. Woolsey of Yale had been assigned the task of exploring the idea of starting the game of golf in New Haven . When Hotchkiss discovered that the tradesman working in his home was from Scotland ; he asked the obvious question. The affirmative answer resulted, within one day, of Hotchkiss, Woolsey & Pryde finding, “suitable ground for a nine-hole course between Prospect Street and Winchester Avenue from Division to Goodrich Streets”. The land was rented. When the cherry cabinet was done, Pryde laid out and built the course, and “it was ready for play when College opened in the fall” [1895] [3].

The New Haven Golf Club was organized in 1895. At the beginning the membership was mostly Yale professors and undergraduates. The undergraduates, according to Pryde, “took to Golf as easily as a duck to water”[4]. They organized the Yale Golf Club, also called the University Golf Club or The Golf Club, in 1896. From the club, a team was chosen to play an inter-club match in October. against Brooklawn, and intercollegiate competition in November against Columbia .

At the New Haven Golf Club, Pryde was the greenskeeper, he made and repaired clubs, and he was “to instruct those who need it, and also to enter into a game with those who may be more advanced.” [5] He imported from Scotland red coats for the Yale team, which they wore when they won the first intercollegiate championship, administered by the USGA in 1897. That first “national” tournament had teams from Yale, Harvard, Princeton , Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania . By 1911 Dartmouth , Williams & Cornell had joined the competition. But, Yale continued to win the intercollegiate championship with regularity. By 1913, 12 championships. During this period, Robert D. Pryde was at times referred to as “trainer”[6] or as the “professional coach” [7] of the golf team.

The New Haven Golf Club was expanded to 18 holes, with land acquired that extending to Millrock Road. By 1898 professors and businessmen agitated for another location where they could play without being crowding by undergraduates. New Haven Country Club in Hamden was organized and again Pryde laid out the course. [20 years later Willie Park Jr. would alter the course to its present configuration].

In 1913 Yale University and others purchased land in Orange and organized the Racebrook Country Club. The rented land in New Haven was beginning to be sold off and large homes were being built there. The first of those, built as a wedding present, is now the “Rosary” building of Albertus Magnus College. Again, Pryde laid out the course in Orange. Later he did the same at the New Haven municipal course [Alling Memorial], Pine Orchard Yacht & Country Club, and Wethersfield Country Club. From 1913 until 1937 he served as the Secretary-Treasurer of Racebrook C.C. 150 memberships were set aside for Yale undergraduates and Pryde continued as unofficial [if not official] golf team coach. But, even when expanded to 36 holes Racebrook was crowded. In a 1922 letter to the Yale Graduate Manager of Athletics, endorsing the proposal to build a Yale golf course, the team captain, Nathaniel Lovell wrote,“due to the efforts of Mr. Pryde” student memberships have been maintained, in spite of a waiting list for non-Yale members. [8]** At Racebrook, Yale won 3 more intercollegiate championships. The first paid golf coach, Ben Thomson [$1,800 per year]arrived with the opening of the Yale Golf Course in April 1926.[*] His teams won 5 intercollegiate championships, before he was fired in 1942, due to the “economic pressure of WW II.” [8] Yale won the 1943 championship with Widdy Neale as coach. Credit Pryde with 15 of 21 national intercollegiate championships.

As Secretary of the Connecticut Golf Association (1922-1946), Bob Pryde wrote to the Yale Athletic Association on December 20, 1928 to inform them, “that the Yale Golf Club was elected to membership”. [9] He was active in USGA national committee work as well as the CSGA. He retired in 1937 and spent the next year traveling around the world. He visited golf courses in the western U.S., Japan, South Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the British Isles. He wrote periodic reports for the New Haven Register and the Hartford Courant. [10]

In 1947 he presented a paper before The New Haven Colony Historical Society on The Early History of Golf in New Haven . He also presented the society with his collection of golf memorabilia. There were 77 items. They included: a golf coat {red}, one of many he imported from London with the monogram, Yale University Golf Club, on the pocket [retail cost in 1900, $9}; a “branch from the original apple tree”, probably obtained from the sons of John Reid, {John Reid Jr., 1898 intercollegiate champion, and Archibald M. Reid, 1904 team captain}; and various golf clubs. The most important of these was a club he made and patented in 1922, “with a reversible type of brass weight with a tongue running towards where the ball was hit, on the top of the club. This would tend to keep the ball low when it was hit, and if the weight was put in the bottom of the club it would tend to raise the ball off the ground.” .[11] Of course this same idea can be seen today in 2 page golf magazine ads or on television as the latest club head technology is ballyhooed. These clubs have the logo of Callaway or TaylorMade, not the Pryde bulldog logo. Pryde’s advertising was interesting; “every golfer knows what these clubs are and there is no need of talking about them.” [12] It was very effective since, by the time of his presentation, 50,000 of these club heads had been sold. [13]

Robert D. Pryde died in his home on Racebrook Road , across from the 3rd green of the country club, in 1951. Certainly no one had more influence on Yale golf in the first quarter of the 20 th century than did he.

JAG/WWK 3/7/2006

Pryde old

This 1947 portrait is hung in the New Haven Colonial Historical Society.


  1. HWW book, The Story of American Golf, 1975
  2. 1947 paper
  3. same
  4. same
  5. Alumni weekly 1895 on web site
  6. Caption on picture on site
  7. NYT Feb. 18, 1907 pg. 7 “Professional Coaches at Yale “
  8. NYT 3/20/42 pg. 28 “Yale Drops Baseball and Golf Coaches”
  9. Letter on site
  10. Plaque in Pryde Room at RBCC
  11. 1947 paper
  12. ad on site
  13. 1947 paper

* minutes of Board of Control 1/28/1926 {per Zonder}

** both Lovell and Raynor would die before the course opened

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