“What a wonderful place for a golf course.”
When Robert W. Nelson stepped off the train at the Westfield Station in 1908 looking for a new home, he had no idea that he would be part of golfing history. Mr. Nelson, president of the American Type Founders Company, was looking to move his family from Great Kills Staten Island New York to somewhere in the Westfield area. He told a local realtor that he wanted a farm with a lake. He was shown the Lambert farm located just over the border of Westfield in Fanwood Township also known as Scotch Plains. The Lambert farm at one time was widely known for its flour and cider mill. The farm had everything Mr. Nelson was looking for, meadows, woods and a lake. Mr. Nelson had found the perfect place to call home.
Some years went by and many improvements were made to the property. The old farm house was completely renovated and a new concrete dam was built to expand the lake. Justifiably proud of his estate, Mr. Nelson had many visitors but none would change his life more than Mr. Wadsworth A. Parker, a good friend and avid golfer. Mr. Parker, after touring the natural beauty of the land, looked at Mr. Nelson and said, “What a wonderful place for a golf course.” Mr. Nelson could not have agreed more and set out to build a first class golf course.
Mr. Nelson named the course Shackamaxon Country Club to honor what he believed was the name of the Native Americans that he thought once lived in this area. However, the word Shackamaxon is actually an Indian word for “place where chiefs meet.” It could very well be that the area in or around Shackamaxon was a special meeting place of the local Native Americans. As time passed and Shackamaxon Country Club grew in popularity it would affectionately be known as “The Shack.”
The course design takes shape
Albert W. Tillinghast was contracted to design the new course. Tillinghast used the natural lay of the land to create each hole to be in harmony with its surroundings. He wrote about the course just before it opened.
“The most recent course in the metropolitan district is that of Shackamaxon Country Club, near Westfield, New Jersey and certainly this must be numbered among those of distinction when complete. The ground is ideal, not broken by hills that bring fatigue with every round, but beautifully rolling into profiles which delight the eye of the golf architect. On the front nine holes nature has been particularly lavish with her bounty, leaving the architect with little to do.
When Shackamaxon is completed entirely the course will present a very exacting test of the expert’s game yet on not a single hole will the player of ordinary ability be confronted by necessary shots which are beyond his powers. Always there is to be found a safe and not terrifying route to the green.”
Much praise from golfers
Of all the great holes that Tillinghast designed at Shackamaxon none received more notoriety than the ninth, one of the first island greens in the United Stated. The famous ninth green has been written about in several golf design books, newspaper articles and even used in advertisements. It was voted one of the most intimidating holes in the metropolitan area.
On September 3rd 1916 the new Shackamaxon Country Club would have its opening day. Complete with a newly renovated club house, boat houses for canoeing on the lake and an ice skating shelter for winter recreation. The course was opened over the Labor Day weekend and the public was invited. Over six hundred local residents visited the club that weekend.
The membership list grew rapidly. A membership certificate entitled the member to an interest in the property and assets of the club.
Experts on Staff
Every great country club needs a great professional golfer to head its staff and Shackamaxon has had more that its fair share. The first head pro was Cyril Walker, a well established tournament player. Walker was a diminutive man but could hit the ball as long as anyone. He was the head pro at Shack for three years before moving on to another club. In 1924 he would win the US Open.
Walker would be replaced by Pete O’Hara an Irish professional who would win the first New Jersey State Open in 1921. But it was the year before that in 1920 that O’hara along with his brother Patrick whom he brought on as his assistant played some of his best golf. In an exhibition match O’Hara and his brother took on the six time British Open Champion Harry Vardon and Ted Ray the reigning 1920 U.S. Open Champion. The 36 hole event drew huge crowds. It was reported that a gallery of fifteen hundred witnessed the afternoon round in which the O’Hara brothers beat Vardon and Ray by a score of 6 up in match play.
The next head pro to come would be Bobby Cruickshank in 1922. He was head pro at Shackamaxon for four years. During that time he would achieve some of his greatest success as a professional golfer. In 1922 and 1923 he finished third in the PGA Championship. Also in 1923 he would battle the legendary Bobby Jones for the U.S. Open title loosing in a two man playoff. Cruickshank would later be one of the original inductees into the PGA Hall of Fame.
After Cruickshank came Danny Williams one of the most interesting of all Shack’s pros. Danny started at Shackamaxon as caddie and in 1918 became Caddie Master. He also worked in the pro shop and then became first assistant to Cruickshank. He became head pro in 1925. Danny stayed with the club until 1938. He is an inductee into the New Jersey PGA Hall of fame.
Shack was also fortunate to have as a head pro Milton “Babe” Lichardus from 1969 to 1973. Babe won five New Jersey PGA championships, was named New Jersey Golfer of the Decade in 1972 and New Jersey Player of the year seven times. He also won several PGA tour events. He won the Dodge Open twice and the Volvo Open. He is an inductee into the New Jersey PGA Hall of Fame.
Our tournament pedigree
Shackamaxon has also hosted several prestigious golf tournaments. A total of five New Jersey State Open tournaments were held here: 1922, 1925, 1937, 1972 and 2002. Two New Jersey State Amateur Championships in 1924 and 1977 and the 2009 New Jersey Senior State Open.
New Jersey State Senior Golf Assn. championship was founded at Shackamaxon 1922. Shack hosted the event for the next 12 years.
In 1928 Shack hosted the Metropolitan Open. At that time the Met Open was a recognized tour event and was considered one of the sports “major tournaments.” This Met Open saw Johnny Ferrell the defending U.S. Open champion come in second to great Tommy Armour, the ‘Silver Scot’.
Most of game’s top players came to Shackamaxon in 1955 for the first Cavalcade of Golf, a brand new PGA tour event. The $50,000 purse was the second largest purse the pros would play for all year. The $10,000 first place winnings would be twice that any other previous winnings for a tour event on the east coast. This was a big event.
The PGA reported that 80 per cent of the top money winners on tour would be playing. Some of the players in the event were Gene Littler, Jerry Barber, Gene Sarazen, Johnny Farrell and Jack Fleck, the defending U.S. Open champion to name a few. The eventual winner of the tournament was Dr. Cary Middlecoff who beat the legendary Sam Snead by two shots.