By Joe Juliano
The members at West Chester Golf & Country Club do a lot in a relatively small space.
Despite an area of just 68 acres, the club that is bordered on two sides by Route 322 and Pottstown Pike continues to flourish as it celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2023. The private, family-oriented, members-owned facility sports a nine-hole course that has two sets of tees if you’d rather play a full 18, and also offers pool and tennis memberships.
“Our membership is about 450 total members, of which 220 are golf members,” said Joe Dugan, 59, who is in his first year as club president. “We have tennis members. We have pool members. One of the unique things is when you’re a member at West Chester, whether you’re tennis, pool, or golf, you are a country club member, a year-round member.”
West Chester Golf & Country Club was organized on Sept. 23, 1898 at a meeting where Carroll Brinton Jacobs was named its first president. However, as a result of unsuccessful negotiations with its landlord, the club voted in 1906 to lease the Lowndes Taylor property, a 55-acre tract on the north side of town, for 20 years and to build a nine-hole course and a clubhouse.
The course formally opened for play on April 1, 1908, and continues at that location today. It is rather short, playing at 5,606 yards from the blue tees and 5,115 yards from the red. But don’t let the distances fool you; the course can bite you at any time.
“When we play [BMW] GAP [Team] Matches, people look at the card and they see the yardage,” said Dugan, a project director for GlaxoSmithKline, who has been a member at West Chester for 16 years. “We’ll be having lunch with them and they’re like, ‘This course is way harder than I thought it was.’ The course is hilly. We have very, very small greens. When people come here, they say you never have a flat lie. It’s challenging.”
Duke Matzik, who is in his third year as West Chester’s head professional and fifth year overall, said he has the same experience with guests who examine the scorecard and think the course is a pushover – until they arrive at the first tee.
“It plays longer than what the yardage says it does,” Matzik said. “It’s a challenging golf course. It’s just the uphills and the downhills and the sidehills. The fairways are small. The greens are small. If you miss the fairways out here, the rough is really healthy and it’s hard to advance the golf ball.”
One of the unique landmarks on the course is called “The Ruins,” a log structure once called the “Pink House,” which was part of the property when the club moved in 1908. It collapsed from rotting wood sometime in the 1960s, leaving behind one stone wall with a fireplace that protects players putting on the fourth green from drives coming off the fifth tee.
Matzik said the course’s signature hole is No. 3, a par 3 that plays close to 134 yards on the front side and 115 on the back. He said members like to stand on the clubhouse deck and watch play on the third hole, which shares its tee box with No. 1.
The club recently completed the first stage of a three-year course upgrade that included the rebuild of the second green that was completed in June.
“We replaced bunkers on three of our holes and then did some drainage stuff,” Dugan said. “Next year (2024), a couple of different tees will be redone and another three holes for bunkers. The third year will be the final three holes.”
The club has experienced adversity over its long history. On Jan. 22, 1911, less than three years after moving to its present location, the clubhouse was destroyed in a fire with losses estimated at approximately $15,000. However, the foundation was largely intact, enabling a new clubhouse to be constructed and opened less than 11 months later.
The club had some lean times during the 1950s with membership dwindling and the treasury running out of money so officials set out to revitalize the property. The first step was the construction of a swimming pool on 3 ½ acres of land, purchased by the club, on the west side of the eighth fairway. The pool, diving area and wading pool cost $85,000 to build and opened on June 22, 1959.
The pool continues to be a popular attraction today. Dugan said that the pool was entirely redone following the 2022 season. The work included a recementing of the bottom and sides of the pool plus a new diving board. He said the replacement of the club’s pool house is “our big project down the road.”
Work has been done on other areas of the club. The clubhouse received approximately $750,000 in work over the last two years including a new roof, a rebuilt chimney, the replacement of two boilers and the painting of the entire building.
Dugan said the club has several categories for membership, but noted that a focus is on adding younger members, particularly those in the 21-29 and 30-35 age range.
“That has been our biggest increase in the last two years when we’re looking at percentages,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of young families that have come in and they have told their friends. I think a lot of it is our social stuff. You go there to hang out with people, and luckily enough we have nine holes to go with it.”
The club’s junior golf program runs for eight weeks in the summer and hosts close to 70 people. The club allows the golf team at West Chester Henderson High School to use the facility as its home course.
Dugan said three players who are part of this year’s team came through the junior program.
The West Chester Golf & Country Club clubhouse has a banquet room that holds approximately 125. The place was particularly busy during the club’s 125th anniversary.
The big celebration came in September beginning with men’s and women’s golf tournaments, plus approximately 50 tennis players participating in men’s, women’s and mixed events. Lunch and live music made up the afternoon schedule, followed by a dinner-dance in the evening.
“We had such a beautiful night,” Dugan said. “We were inside and we were outside on our patio, and we got a lot of positive feedback on the entire event. We gave everybody that attended a 125th commemorative set of wine glasses. The tennis players did 125th year tennis towels for everybody.”
The 125th was observed one more time before Christmas. The length of the celebration seemed to match the club’s purpose when it was chartered on June 4, 1900, which was stated as “the promotion of social intercourse among its members by providing and maintaining a place of entertainment and suitable grounds for the playing of golf and other games, sports and pastimes, and for the encouragement of the same.”
Apparently, mission accomplished.
Celebrating Amateur Golf since 1897, GAP, also known as the Golf Association of Philadelphia, is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 345 Member Clubs and 110,000 individual members are spread across Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. The GAP’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.
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