Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Friday, February 16, 2018

What Do Bill Kilgour Golf Clubs Have to Do With Pelham History?

Recently an unusual item popped up for auction on eBay.  It is a right-handed hickory-shafted antique golf club known as a "dot face Mashie Niblick" -- a club with a loft between those of a mashie and a niblick today's closest relative of which would be about a six iron.  The reverse of the club face is inscribed "BILL KILGOUR PELHAM BAY PARK, N.Y.     X     MASHIE . . NIBLICK"

With the opening of the auction, another Pelham history mystery was born.  Who was Bill Kilgour?  What, if anything, did he have to do with Pelham Bay Park?  Today's Historic Pelham article attempts to answer such questions.

In early April, 1900, the New York City Park Commissioner August Moebus of The Bronx, arranged for his engineer, Daniel Ulrich, to survey the area of Pelham Bay Park near the old Delancey Mansion opposite Hunter's Island for the construction of a proposed eighteen-hole course.   Only days later, on April 16, 1900, a gang of workmen began construction of the new course with the hope that nine holes would be open for play by the following June.

Portions of the course were planned for the area that once served as the polo grounds and steeplechase course of the old "Country Club at Pelham" that operated in the 1880s on land that it leased before the formal creation of Pelham Bay Park and the annexation of the park lands to New York City.   I have written about construction of the course a number of times.  See:  

Wed., Oct. 14, 2015:  More on the Beginnings of the Pelham Bay Golf Course in 1900.

Thu., Mar. 19, 2009:   More on the Early Efforts To Develop the First Nine Holes of the First Pelham Bay Golf Course.   

Tue., Dec. 20, 2005:   An Early Description of Construction of the First Nine Holes of the Pelham Bay Golf Course.  

Fri., Oct. 02, 2009:   Failed Efforts in 1900 to Build a Golf Course on Hunter's Island Rather than on the Mainland in Pelham Bay Park.

Construction of the original nine-hole course was slower and more chaotic than planned in 1900 and 1901.  The course opened, however.  It still exists, though somewhat evolved, as a portion of today's Pelham Bay Golf Course in Pelham Bay Park bordering the Village of Pelham Manor boundary.  The course later was joined by a second adjacent course known today as the Split Rock Golf Course.

William Kilgour, also known as "Bill" and "Willie" was a golf pro who began with the Pelham Bay Golf Course in 1911.  He was an early golf professional in the region.  Though virtually nothing has been written about him (and his professional accomplishments are little known today) he was a golf architect who designed several holes at the Mosholu golf course in The Bronx, redesigned several holes at the Van Cortlandt golf course in The Bronx, and even spent several months in late 1913 and early 1914 designing an entire course overseas in Prague.  

Bill Kilgour was instrumental in expanding the popularity of the Pelham Bay Golf Course in the years leading up to World War I.  As one article notes, although one hundred lockers had been built in the old Delancey Hunter Mansion (that later became Hunter Island Inn) when that structure was first co-opted for use as the Pelham Bay Golf Course clubhouse, Kilgour had to oversee construction of an additional 100 lockers and feared more would be necessary.  

Kilgour served as the golf pro at the Pelham Bay Golf Course until at least late 1917.  

Periodically Bill Kilgour golf clubs appear for auction.  Last night one such auction was ended when the "dot face Mashie Niblick" referenced above sold for about $40.00.  An image of that club appear immediately below.

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"Going to Pelham.

As the season advances the congestion at Van Cortlandt Park links becomes more apparent.  Many who used to golf there have gone elsewhere, and among others 'Willie' Kilgour, who looks after the interests of the enthusiasts at Pelham Bay Park, is finding the truth of the saying that 'it is an ill wind that blows no one good.'  That the throng is wending Pelhamward is evidenced by the fact that more than one hundred additional lockers have been installed there, making a total of more than two hundred.  The early season rush soon accounted for the first batch.  Now it begins to look as if still more will soon have to be installed."

Source:  Going to Pelham, The Evening Telegram [NY, NY], Jun. 5, 1912, p. 10, col. 6.


'Willie' Kilgour, who has had the clubhouse and golfing privileges of the Pelham links for the past two years, has been engaged to lay out an eighteen hole course near Prague, in the heart of Bohemia.  He will leave on Saturday, but will spend some time in the British Isles, from which he graduated as a golfer.  His intention is to look over the field and to note the very latest developments there of links architecture."

Source:  KILGOUR GOING ABROAD, N.Y. Herald, Dec. 3, 1913, p. 14, col. 7.


Declaring that he had found golf fast becoming the king of outdoor sports wherever he had turned during his travels abroad.  'Willie' Kilgour, professional to the Manhattan Golf Club, of Pelham Bay Park, returned to this country on Monday and already is making his preparations for a busy season at Pelham.  Kilgour went abroad several weeks ago for the purpose of laying out a golf course at Prague, in the heart of Bohemia.  He is perhaps the first professional golfer connected with an American links and club to receive such a commission.

While away Kilgour found time to pay a visit to many of the leading British golf courses, noting the very latest developments there.  He tells an amusing story of how while looking over a links near London he was more than surprised to hear a familiar 'Hello Bill,' come booming over the links.

'Gee,' said Kilgour when telling the story, 'I thought for a moment I was back at Pelham.  Imagine my astonishment when I turned to behold 'Dan' Mackie, the same Dan who used to hail me when we would be running around New York on business of a Monday,.'

Mackie, who is professional at the Century Country Club, of White Plains, was married recently.  He and his bride are spending their honeymoon abroad."

Source:  "BILL" KILGOUR RETURNS, N.Y. Herald, Feb. 11, 1914, p. 14, col. 2

Several Additional Traps To Be Installed -- Old Bunkers to Go.

Preliminary work relative to the improvement of the public golf links at Van Cortlandt Park began yesterday when Thomas W. Whittle, the Park Commissioner; William Kilgour, the professional, and Hamilton, the superintendent, went over the ground and decided to place a number of additional traps.  One or two old-time bunkers, including the zig-zag affair close to the first tee, will be removed.

Most of the work which the Commissioner expects to have started in the near future will consist of trapping about the greens.  In all probability a sand hazard will be dug a few yards short of the first green, thereby adding considerably to the difficulty of the second shot.  Going to No. 5, the bunker on the other side of the brook, will be knocked down and the green trapped.  The new tenth green will be trapped and so will the eleventh, while the plan is to have a sand hazard to the side of the twelfth green.

Mr. Whittle admitted yesterday that he expected soon to take up the game.  Before he appears in public, however, the Commissioner will have a few lessons at an indoor school.

The new Mosholu links also will be gone over.  Last season this course consisted of only nine holes, but Kilgour declares it will not be long before the entire eighteen holes will be playable.  The 'pro' is enthusiastic over the possibilities of this course, which, in his opinion, is destined to become more popular than the old.  There appears to be little doubt now that considerable time and money will be expended on municipal golf this year."

Source:   WORKING ON LINKS AT VAN CORTLANDT -- Several Additional Traps To Be Installed -- Old Bunkers to Go, N.Y. Tribune, Feb. 17, 1915, p. 10, col. 3

Change Is Made In Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course.

Golfers who frequent the public links at Van Cortlandt Park will be surprised to learn that it has been decided to make a new first hole.  The layout was staked off yesterday under the direction of William Kilgour, the professional at Pelham Bay.

The tee of the new hole is to be between the skate house and the boathouse.  The green will be near the clump of trees just beyond the drain that runs past the milk booth.

The line of play, about 170 yards, will be between the lake and the road that forms at the police booth.  This arrangement will make the present first hole, the beginning of the meadow holes, the second.  To make room for this extra hole the third and fourth holes (old tenth and eleventh) will be played as one, skipping the third green.  The distance of this combined hole, which was suggested in The Eagle three years ago, will be about 520 yards, a fine three-shot hole.

It is feared that sliced balls from the new first tee may hit persons on the sidewalk or that pulled tee shots will injure persons at the boathouse.  One idea of the authorities to avoid this danger is to build protective network along the roadside.

Other changes now under way are a moving of the water-hole tee (the eleventh) back to the railroad fence.  The marsh at the cop bunker of the tenth is being drained and the brush has been cut away, changes that will take away the dog's-leg character of the hole.  The green of this has been spaded up for new grass, and some of the cross bunker at the west end has been leveled down.

The cross bunker at the tee of the old first meadow hole has been taken away and a new gravelled path has been constructed where the old tee was.  The new tee will not be raised and will be about twenty feet nearer the lake.  The cross bunker at the first (old twelfth) hole, or water jump, just beyond the brook, was levelled yesterday, and a ring of shallow traps about as deep as the one back of the fourth green has been dug around the fifth green on three sides, the front being left untrapped according to present arrangements."

Source:  NEW FIRST HOLE PLANNED -- Change Is Made In Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mar. 18, 1915, p. 2, col. 7.


The public links situation looks more encouraging every day.  William Kilgour, the Pelham professional, who has been requested to complete the details incident to laying out the links at Mosholu, has been over the ground twice since the time Thomas W. Whittle, Park Commissioner for The Bronx, made the trip.  Kilgour will make another inspection and report his findings to the Commissioner.

Some time ago some one referred to the socket club as being an American invention.  Kilgour is authority for the statement that the idea was the invention of Charles Spinks, of Leith, Scotland, and was brought out about twenty-five years ago.  Klgour was a youth then, but remembers the occasion. . . ."

Source:  SOME SHOTS OFF THE FIRST TEE, N.Y. Tribune, Mar. 12, 1915, p. 10, col. 6.

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