Future Of Chautauqua Point Golf Course Unknown
DEWITTVILLE — The exact history of Chautauqua Point Golf Course in Dewittville differs slightly depending on the source, but all are in agreement that the nine-hole layout is one of the oldest and most significant set of links in Chautauqua County.
Owner Stephen Elliot, who purchased the course in 1996, recently listed the 31-acre plot for sale, renewing debate over the history of the course and raising concerns about its future.
“I’ve always heard that three men from Pittsburgh that belonged to Oakmont (Country Club) wanted to play golf in the summer time because they owned homes at Point Chautauqua. They bought this land and set up a golf course,” Elliot said.
Since around 2014, Stephen’s son, Chris Elliot, had run the day-to-day operations of the course until his sudden passing in February of 2019.
“We were trying to get ready for this year and with Chris gone, my son-in-law Jim Bradford was about the only one left,” Elliot said. “We decided if we could sell it we would. We all owned it for Chris at that point, and when he passed away, it just kind of left an open hole in our stomach.” Elliot said that the property has been listed for continued use as a golf course, or as a site for future development.
“I really don’t have any kind of feelings,” Elliot said about the future use of the site. In a 1964 article published in The Post-Journal, Chuck Korbar explains that both Point Chautauqua and Chautauqua Golf Club were founded in 1914, but that no one knows which was started first. Korbar says that “Point Chautauqua has to go down as the first private club in the county. It was started by some golf-minded summer residents from Pittsburgh who used it as a ‘practice course’ for tourney play at Oakmont Country Club.”
Korbar highlights extensive use of the course during the 1920s, including by famed golfers like Walter Hagan, until the crash of 1929 caused it to fall into poor condition. During the early decades of the 20th century, Chautauqua Point was a haven for vacationers traveling north from Pittsburgh during the summer months to enjoy fishing and boating. According to the United States Golf Association, Henry Clay Fownes was born in Pittsburgh in 1856, and went on to design Oakmont on 200 acres in 1903 after amassing a fortune through the Carrie Furnace Company.
There is also speculation that famous designer Donald J. Ross may have been involved in the creation of the club. The Scotsman designed the 18-hole Lake Course layout at Chautauqua Golf Club in the early 1920s, while the Hill Course was designed by Xen Hassenplug in the 1980s.
Nancy Paul, co-secretary of the Point Chautauqua Historical Preservation Society, has been tracking down information on the history of the Chautauqua Point course.
“I was touching base with a lot of different people to try and narrow down the history because we didn’t have a complete history on it,” Paul said. “What we seem to have found out is that this Mr. Fownes, who founded Oakmont in Pittsburgh, because a lot of people that come to Chautauqua are from the Pittsburgh-Cleveland area, that he opened it as kind of a practice course for the summer. When he went back to Pittsburgh in the fall he was a little rusty after spending the summers in Chautauqua. I think that might be where there is the difference between the 1907 date and the 1914 date, it is possible it didn’t become anything other than just a community course until the 1914 date. But we haven’t narrowed that down yet because the libraries aren’t open and there is only a certain amount of information that you can get.”
Discrepancies may exist between the founding of the course as a practice site, and an official golf club.
A third name tied to origins of the course is that of H.C. Fry, founder of the H.C. Fry Glass Company of Rochester. According to “Legendary Locals of the Chautauqua Lake Region”, by Kathleen Crocker and Jane Currie, Fry played a key role in the overhaul of the Point Chautauqua Association charter in 1885, and would go on to become president of the Point Chautauqua Association.
A building project of Fry’s was “catering to a ‘wealthy and highly desirable’ clientele, primarily from Pittsburgh, he and his wife were intent upon the addition of a golf course and swimming pool, among other amenities.”
“A lot of people had been told over the years that it was a Ross course, well I contacted the people from the Ross Society and they said they didn’t have any indication that the course was ever designed by him,” Paul said.
The May newsletter of the Historical Preservation Society covers different aspects of the course’s history, and attempts to trace its ownership through the Point Chautauqua Land Company.
While Paul and others wait for local libraries to reopen with the hope of finding more information on the course, others have taken action to help preserve it for the future.
Garrett Hicks, who is on the board of trustees for the Historical Preservation Society, became concerned when the course was first listed for sale.
“A couple of months ago it came up on the for sale list. I was immediately taken aback and very nervous about it,” Hicks said. “I grew up in that neighborhood. I went to Chautauqua Lake and graduated in 2001. My family has been in that neighborhood for four generations. I just don’t want us to be caught on our heels if this gets sold.”
Hicks has made contact with the New York State Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation Department to see if it is possible to maintain the natural beauty of the site.
“It is one of the beautiful pieces of property in the county and there’s already clusters of unsold condos scattered throughout the lake and developments,” Hicks said. “It’s the oldest golf course in the county, so it has so much historical value.”
Hicks said that the state parks department already operates 35 different golf courses.
“So that gave me a lot of hope that it could stay,” he said.