Whether you’re a serious athlete – or just a serious sunbather – there’s something for everybody in this selection of the myriad private beach and yacht clubs that proliferate along the Sound Shore.
There is Champagne and laughter; there are languorous Saturday and Sunday barbecues. In the more conservative “buttoned up” clubs, there are dress codes. In others, members have their local Ralph Lauren store on speed dial. In short, there is a beach club for everyone. Brisk club secretaries, paneled club rooms, glass cabinets full of sporting trophies and a fistful of rules? If that’s your bag, you’ll find it. Or, are you more for firepits, kids’ camps, a laid-back vibe and sand between your toes? You will find that, too. There are “old money” clubs and newer money clubs, each with its appeal and allure.
One of the oldest established, the American Yacht Club in Rye, was founded back in 1883. The club takes its sports seriously, with world-class sailing and exceptional swimming and top instruction in both, everything carefully regulated by a punctilious board. Members here are sporty and outdoorsy, with a regard for tradition and adherence to the rules.
At 110-year-old Manursing Island Club, close to Playland amusement park in Rye, members are particularly strong on tennis along with competitive swimming. For nearly four decades, beginning in 1933, Manursing hosted the Eastern Inter-Scholastics, drawing as many as 100 secondary-school tennis players for the annual tournaments. Since 1961, the annual men’s doubles tournament, known as the Richardson Invitational, has attracted many ranking professional and amateur players. The club also benefits from beautiful public rooms, an elegant swimming pool and a creamy beach.
With 1,000 feet of prime beach on Long Island Sound, the beach and swimming are the chief attractions, too, at neighboring Westchester Country Club’s Beach Club, on Manursing Way. Golf, tennis, squash and fitness come not far behind. Founded by John McEntee Bowman as a key part of his vision for the Westchester Biltmore hotel (now the country club itself), the 62-acre Beach Club opened June 10, 1922 with a grand gala that featured a 25-piece orchestra playing for a formal fashion show.
Back in the day, the Beach Club boasted an 800,000-gallon saltwater pool, numerous tennis and handball courts, a 7-acre, man-made lagoon for swimming and canoeing and parking for 700 cars. Nowadays, the Fourth of July weekend is the busiest of the year, when more than 2,000 members and guests converge on the club to eat, drink and be generally patriotic and merry.
At the entrance to Mamaroneck Harbor, the Mamaroneck Beach & Yacht Club, founded in 1885, is another club in a dreamy position, with magnificent views across the Sound and a lovely, crescent-shaped, white-sand beach. The club has been busy renovating its pool area and upgrading its private cabanas. The quality of the food and banqueting facilities is also said to set an especially high standard here, with fresh and imaginative food and beverage offerings.
The Hampshire Country Club, in the exclusive Orienta enclave of Mamaroneck, concentrates primarily on golf. Its Devereux Emmet-designed 18-hole course, seven of whose holes feature water, is the club’s raison d’être, but it takes its swimming seriously, too, with one pool for “wading and relaxation” and another, a 25-foot beauty, designed as a lap pool. The pool area, says the club, reflects “the traditional elegance of days gone by.”
The Larchmont Shore Club started life in 1906 as La Hacienda, the private residence of Aimee Crocker, daughter of Judge E.B. Crocker, founder of the Southern Pacific Railway. Situated on seven acres in a near-perfect position on the Sound, the club has an impressive membership of around 500 families, who enjoy a large number of club activities, from ever-popular beach and pool swimming, to tennis, sailing, bowling, aquatics and even amateur dramatics. A children’s summer camp is another big draw for members.
The Larchmont Yacht Club, by contrast, pursues a more focused agenda, promoting and supporting yacht racing for its members and their families “in the Corinthian spirit” (signifying the highest standards of sportsmanship). With a full seasonal regatta schedule — racing several times a week through mid-October — the club also supports winter sailing, or “frostbiting” as it is known, a signature event held every Sunday (weather permitting), with some of the best sailors in the country taking part.
If yachting drives the Larchmont Yacht Club, competitive swimming is paramount at The Davenport Club in New Rochelle, where this year, the long tradition of welcoming another strong team of swimmers and divers will continue. A relative neophyte, this club came into being in 1941, when two managers and the chef of the Wykagyl Country Club joined forces to purchase the William Iselin estate — 11 acres on Davenport Neck, formerly known as “The Anchorage.” The Iselins had established several palatial homes in the area, of which the mansion of The Davenport Club is the sole survivor. Philanthropic and civic-minded, they used their wealth to create the first bank, a park and a private school in New Rochelle and to help develop some of the city’s residential areas.
Especially family-oriented, The Davenport Club adds pre-teen parties, costume parties, family luaus and talent-shows to its more traditional activities such as bridge and bocce.
Arriving at the end of our tour in Pelham Manor, size matters, or at least signifies, at the New York Athletic Club — Travers Island, which is a country cousin to its Central Park South Manhattan City House. It’s located on 33 glorious acres beside the Sound, with its own yacht club, saltwater swimming pool, tennis courts, an all-weather playing field, fitness center and rowing house. Less formal, as you would expect, than its older city cousin, NYAC Travers Island is tellingly the only club in this round-up which includes “sunbathing” as one of its many activities.
But while sunbathing on the beaches we’ve presented here may sound delightfully indolent, it’s clear that there’s also a healthy, athletic edge to the sporting and recreational activities on offer.
After all, “the breaststroke is not a Westchester stroke,” as John Cheever memorably wrote in his short story, “The Swimmer.” And that, judging by the county’s hearty beach and yacht clubs, is probably as true today as when Cheever wrote the story in 1964.
For more on the beach and yacht clubs mentioned, visit americanyc.org; manursing.com; wccclub.org; davenportcc.com; larchmontshoreclub.org; larchmontyc.org; hampshireclub.com and nyac.org/travers-island.