John McEntee Bowman
Founder, Westchester Country Club
A self made man from Toronto, John McEntree Bowman came to New York when he was seventeen. He began his career as a groom in a stable and worked his way up to eventually own the Biltmore hotel group, one of the most exclusive and largest hotel chains in the world at that time.
Mr. Bowman sought to create the sportsman’s paradise within easy reach from the bustle of Manhattan. He would go on to purchase land in both Harrison and Rye, New York for his flagship hotel project, the Westchester Biltmore.
Mr. Bowman had a vision:
Members would live in the hotel and in homes on the grounds. The Club staff would take care of all services, both in the hotel and in the homes. Meals would be delivered to the homes from the hotel kitchen. Maids and gardeners would be called in from the hotel to attend to all the Members’ needs. A large garage with a platoon of mechanics would service the cars of the Members. And maybe, there would even be an airfield to handle the Members’ planes in the coming age of flight.
As for sporting facilities, the Club would offer the finest in golf, tennis, polo, horseback riding, swimming, boating, squash, tobogganing, skating, shooting, skiing…everything. It was going to be the most beautiful, most luxurious hotel-club-community anywhere. And, of course, no expense was to be spared.
Originally 583 acres of land were purchased from Hobart J. Park, at $2,500 an acre. Two months later a 62-acre tract was bought on Manursing Island, valued at $375,000. The following month 35 acres were purchased from the old Hill Estate on Parks Farm. In the summer of 1919 construction of the eight-story hotel at the top of the hill was begun, under New York architects Warren and Wetmore in the style of a nineteenth-century Italian villa. Landscape architects were Charles W. Leavitt & Sons. Billington and Smith-Mertz were contracted to build the polo field and five miles of roads.
Walter J. Travis, the great British and American golf champion turned golf architect laid out the two 18-hole golf courses. The courses were built by the Philadelphia-based architectural firm of Toomey and Flynn who built the modern course at Shinnecock Hills toward the end of the same decade. The Club joined the USGA on January 13, 1922, four months before the course opened for play.
On May 15, 1922 John McEntree Bowman formally opened the Westchester Country Club. Almost 1,500 members joined, paying an initiation fee of $25. Gage I. Tarbell was named President and E.D. Miller Secretary-Treasurer.
The Beach Club opening took place two weeks later, when the large casino with a fine dance floor and handsome furnishings were unveiled. Facilities included eight hundred bathhouses, tennis and handball courts, an large saltwater pool, a seven-acre, man-made lagoon for swimming and canoeing and parking for seven hundred cars.
The total cost exceeded $6,000,000, but the facilities were unequaled anywhere in the world. In addition to 45 holes of golf and the aforementioned facilities at the Beach, there was a brokerage office in the clubhouse, three polo fields (now the driving range); he constructed a separate short game area near the par-3 course, a bridle path, a track for horse racing, and fifteen tennis courts, including five superb grass courts.