DORSET >> This year, the Dorset Field Club, Dorset, VT, is celebrating its 130th Anniversary with a series of special commemorative events. The Club traces its origin to the Sunday afternoon of September 12, 1886, when its first President, Arvin Harrington, of Troy, N.Y., along with Frank Holley of NYC, and William Kent of Dorset, laid out a nine hole golf course, assigning a name to each hole. The original map of the course was attested to by Ransom Gillett, also from Troy, with a notation that Harrington's course design effort was "assisted by a crowd of thugs, touts and loafers." While it is highly likely that these men had been playing for some time prior to laying out a measured course with named golf holes, the Dorset Field Club looks to that occasion as its official founding date. Interestingly, the men initially chose to call their new club the Dorset Golf Links, consistent with Scottish naming tradition. However, when the clubhouse was completed in 1896, members changed the name to Dorset Field Club to more accurately reflect the variety of recreational activities they enjoyed.
The State of Vermont has posted an historic marker on the highway near the ninth green with the heading "Dorset Field Club: Oldest Continually Operated Golf Course in the United States." Other clubs such as St. Andrews Golf Club, originally in Yonkers and now in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York (1888), and Foxburg County Club, Pa. (1887) have often been recognized by golf historians as the oldest golf clubs in the US. However there is ample proof that a form of golf was played much earlier for a short time in the low country of Charleston and Savannah. What makes the Dorset Field Club truly unique in the annals of American golf history is that the game has been continually played on the same grounds for over 130 years. In addition to the golf course map dated 1886, the club possesses several archival photos also dated 1886 bearing the caption Dorset Golf Links.
On the tennis front there are also archival photos dated 1886 with members holding flat top tennis racquets which were typically used in that time frame. They were also wearing tennis attire that was unique to that period. Again it is highly probable that tennis was being played on the grounds of the Dorset Field Club much earlier than 1886. These photos serve to corroborate the Clubs founding date, 1886.
Originally the Club President, Arvin Harrington, offered his home which adjoins the club grounds to serve as the clubhouse. However, as the summer crowds grew and Harrington could no longer accommodate the growth the members decided to build a clubhouse. Work began in 1895, and the building was completed in August 1896. Henry Woodruff provided significant funding for the project but unfortunately suffered a fatal accident while working on the building. The clubhouse still bears his name, Woodruff Hall, and has undergone several renovations, serving the membership for 120 years. It is believed that only the clubhouse of The Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southhampton, N.Y. built in 1891 predates Woodruff Hall as a standing clubhouse still in use.
The Dorset Field Club has retained Daniel Beck, an accomplished freelance writer who specializes in club histories, to write and publish an authoritative club history which will be available in Fall 2016. He addresses the matter of "The Oldest Golf Club" and will produce a pictorial book with rich visual imagery. It will be an essential addition to every golf library.
The Dorset Field Club is planning an exciting series of historic activities to commemorate this special occasion. A hickory golf tournament will be held on the July 4th weekend along with a putting contest using nine different styles of hickory putters on a uniquely challenging green. In a throwback to former times there will be a scavenger hunt, horseshoes, a hayride, a tennis tournament, a speaker's night, a gala dinner, and several other activities.
For further information please contact the Club's General Manager, Patrick Maguire, at 802-867-5539.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) plans to recognize and commemorate the Dorset Field Club's 130th celebration of its founding by presenting a proclamation to the Club.