Club History

Albany Country Club was founded in 1890.

The original association became a membership corporation in 1894. The first clubhouse was a tumbled down tavern on the old Schenectady Post Road. It was located in the Sand Plains which is now the site of the State University of New York at Albany. To reach it, one went from Manning Boulevard on a continuation of Washington Avenue and then by a trail to the grounds. The old tavern was rented with several acres of land.

A murder had been committed in the cellar and reputed presence of a ghost gave the building a romantic feature. The site was simple and primitive but the concept was bold, being one of the first thirty such clubs in the country. Hunting and social gatherings were the primary functions of the early club with the club's hounds kept in an adjacent yard. In 1890, to celebrate Thanksgiving, a fox hunt was held. It was a disaster with neither the dogs nor the fox much interested in the hunt! This soon changed with twelve meets held the following year and a proposal to hire a "tally-ho" coach.

Objections about the location soon multiplied. Members resented having their carriages scratched by the brambles. Some wanted to buy land on New Scotland Avenue, arguing that the road was better. However, there was no pond for winter skating and hockey, thought to be necessary for the long-term success of the club. Finally in 1897, the agitation was ended with the $12,000 purchase of the 18 acre Knowles farm property off the Western Turnpike, called "Wellhurst", directly south of the original tavern location.

After the move $26,000 was expended on the renovation of the house, adjacent buildings and the grounds. A piazza was added around the house and a dam built across the stream that traversed the property, in order to make a lake that provided swimming, boating and skating. Tennis courts were installed and gradually improved. Golf started about 1897 with a 9-hole links course worked into the natural Sand Plain. Early participants were ridiculed as "British Cranks" and some objected to the annual $5 golf fee. The Madison Avenue street car was now met by a stage transporting members to the club. In 1899 the active membership included such historic names as James Fenimore Cooper, Erastus Corning, Charles and Robert Pruyn, William Rice, John Boyd Thacher and Dr. Howard Van Rensselaer.

The club flourished as a social and sporting center throughout the first half of the twentieth century. 1902 brought the distinguished architect Marcus Reynolds to expand and remodel the clubhouse in the Tudor style. In 1904 the Hendrickson property and a portion of the Seeley farm along Western Avenue were acquired and golf became more popular. The original 2600 yard nine, considered one of the finest in the country, was followed by an 18-hole course which matured to lush beauty and challenge. In the 1930's Gene Sarazen exclaimed, "God has done so much for this layout, and man so little". In 1954, under the direction of Golf Pro/Superintendent, Willie Ogg, the entire course was updated with thousands of trees planted, a modernized watering system added and turf nurseries established for renovation and experimentation.

Suddenly, in 1960, Governor Rockefeller, seeking a new campus for the State University, discussed the possibility of using the Club's acreage for the project. Together with the ACC's 500 members, Albany Mayor Erastus Corning strongly opposed the idea. The high handed "land grab" was decried in newspaper editorials, cartoons and articles. Nevertheless, on January 3, 1961, the State took title to the old clubhouse, rich in tradition, together with the golf course and all additional property, indicating that it would pay no more than $2,119,000. The Club immediately started a search for a new site and, after an appeal, was awarded a final price of $3,602,806. Five hundred acres in the Town of Guilderland were quickly chosen as the new and present site, a magnificent area overlooking the Hudson Valley on a hill between the Helderbergs to the south, the mountains of Massachusetts and Vermont to the east and the Adirondacks to the north. Robert Trent Jones designed and built the 7100 yard championship golf course taking full advantage of the terrain and unique surroundings. The first nine opened for play the summer of 1963 with the full eighteen available the following spring.

The clubhouse designed by Parker Dodge Associates and built by John P. Sewell opened July 23, 1963, with a gala membership celebration August 10th. Tennis courts and pool facilities completed the complex. From 1970-present, the golf course matured and modifications were made, most notably to the greens on holes #2, #8 and #9. The scenic surroundings became the backdrop for a new range and short game practice area. Paddle tennis courts were added in 1990. By 1995, the "new" clubhouse held a special place in the hearts of many members, but after over thirty years it needed to be updated to meet the changing needs of the club. The Albany Room, the Shelf and the lower-level Ball Room were lost in the renovation but the new Formal Dining Room (new Albany Room), enlarged Grill Room, Family Dining Room (Helderberg Room), Banquet Room (Berkshire Room), locker rooms and patios made ACC ready for the twenty-first century. The current layout takes complete advantage of the spectacular views from all the dining areas.

Albany Country Club continues to grow and change to meet the demands of the times and its membership. Looking back on our history gives us a greater appreciation of our unique heritage and future.

From the archives of the Albany Country Club.

Janis Dorgan