Knollwood Country Club, the historic golf and recreation destination nestled into a quiet corner of Elmsford, is all about shaping up these days.
With a history entwined with some of golf’s most notable names – both local and national – the venerable club that opened in 1894 is in the midst of a renaissance.
And members coming back this year – or those attracted by the current membership drive – will find plenty that’s new.
A five-year renovation is under way, with features designed to attract new and younger members, especially young families.
“I think a lot of people look at country clubs in lieu of a second home,” says Nelson Soracco, membership chairman.
Indeed, Knollwood – whose early membership boasted Bouviers, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts – is a family-friendly club where generations gather for everything from a day on the links to an afternoon in the pool to an evening of outdoor dining capped by a night filled with fireworks.
The projects under way or completed within the past couple of years speak to what today’s members are looking for. The fitness center was revamped into a state-of-the-art facility, while the main dining room was redesigned. A new executive chef will expand the menu to include lighter fare and half portions, and a men’s lounge adjacent to the locker rooms is being completed. Course work, including hole redesign, also continues.
All is following a master plan that the 136-acre club has fashioned in tandem with its 11-member board of governors.
Club president Bob Hughes notes that Knollwood is “in the midst of a million-dollar renovation.”
All work is being done with an eye to balancing today’s needs with retaining the club’s vintage sensibility.
“That’s the charm of it, but also it’s the challenge,” Hughes says.
But, he adds, membership support of the projects is a clear sign that “everybody recognizes what we’re doing.”
Throughout, the importance of tradition and history at Knollwood remains palpable, from the historic stone arch at the first tee, to the treasure trove of framed memorabilia that lines the hallway to the Grill Room to plaques such as one that commemorates the club’s ties to the Masters tournament (through Knollwood member Cliff Roberts’ friendship with Bobby Jones).
The history, after all, is one to be proud of. Knollwood was one of the first clubs to join the United States Golf Association and was a charter member of the Metropolitan Golf Association. Over the years, the club has served as prime training ground for legions of scholastic golfers who have gone on to college and professional play.
And any talk of Knollwood would not be complete without mention of the Turnesa family, recognized most visibly through the Turnesa Room.
“Every year we pay homage to the Turnesa family,” says Hughes of the golf dynasty – seven brothers strong – that included Willie, the two-time U.S. Amateur champion and British Amateur Champion (1947), and Mike, a touring professional who would become the Knollwood head pro for more than 40 years.
As a handful of committee chairmen and general manager Mauro Piccininni gather to talk about the club and offer WAG an informal tour on a recent evening, Knollwood’s powerful drive forward is evident.
The main dining room, with sweeping views of the course, was modernized in 2012, with a lighter feel that better capitalizes on its opening onto a patio, also used for dining. A rotating collection of art, provided by a local gallery, gives the room an individual appeal.
Adjacent to the spacious clubhouse is a heated pool, children’s playground, fully equipped fitness center and men’s and ladies’ locker rooms. Walking through the facilities, it feels like you are in a well-loved and well-cared-for historic home.
“It’s got a very casual flow to it,” Hughes says. “That’s what we want. We want you to be comfortable.”
There is talk of family barbecues and babysitting services, a pro shop and happy hour at the stylish bar, of Play for Pink and other charitable endeavors and a golf program for young players.
The showpiece, of course, is the 6,500-yard MGA course, which has hosted a U.S. Open qualifier and the LPGA MasterCard Championship and this year will also host events including the Westchester Amateur Qualifier.
With holes being renovated, this year’s work focuses on the 18th and includes everything from expanding the green to tree removal to widening the fairway. The 19th hole – a literal hole and not a bar – is a club signature said to be used to break ties.
There are accredited teaching professionals and a full driving range, putting and short-game centers and a new automated tee-time system. In addition, new Har-Tru tennis courts are also planned.
An active social calendar ties it all together, from themed dining such as the Peter Luger steak night to an Easter egg hunt that draws hundreds.
“Free time is so important so you have to have amenities here for the whole family,” Hughes says.
As with all clubs, the setting serves multiple purposes. Soracco says a lot of members do business at the club, hosting clients and holding company events.
“It’s a private setting,” he says. “It’s a prestigious, private club.”
But no matter what draws someone to Knollwood, the camaraderie makes it a winning place, says Tony Procops, the golf chairman.
“I think the other thing that’s important, what makes Knollwood different than the other country clubs, is the membership. This membership is very unique. It’s very eclectic … and everyone gets along.”
As the club builds toward the 120th anniversary of its opening this September, it seems positioned to carry on what has become the Knollwood tradition.
And today’s efforts, club president Hughes says, are designed to do just that.
“That’s the way I look at it – putting modern touches on a timeless gem.”
For more, visit kccclub.org.