NHGA History

NHGA History

The New Hampshire Golf Association traces its beginning back to 1905. It appears that the prime, if not sole purpose of the organization was to conduct an annual tournament to determine the men’s amateur champion in the state. The organization was formed by individuals from Exeter, Beaver Meadow, Middlebrook, a predecessor to Cochecho, and we suspect may have also included persons from Portsmouth and Keene. The first officers were Mr. A. F. Cooper of Beaver Meadow, President; Mr. R. F. Kingsbury of Keene, Vice President; and Miss Harriett Huntress of Beaver Meadow, Secretary and Treasurer.

Golf had been first introduced to New Hampshire eleven years earlier when, in 1894, three ladies from Colby Academy in New London laid out a five-hole course on the property of the academy president. They learned the rules from the Encyclopedia Britannica and commissioned a local blacksmith to fabricate metal plates that were attached to field hockey sticks for clubs. By late 1895 a six-hole course had been established in Exeter as was a nine-hole course at the Waumbek Hotel in Jefferson. The latter became the state’s first eighteen-hole course in 1897. From those modest beginnings, golf spread rapidly throughout New Hampshire. By the arrival of the twentieth century it is estimated that there were thirty-two courses in the state, fourteen of which have survived to this day. Many of the early courses were located at the grand hotels of the White Mountains and served as an inducement for resort guests who had exposure to golf in their home locales. Inter-hotel competitions were well established by the early years of the twentieth century.

Records indicate that a men’s state amateur championship was held beginning in 1901 and may have begun as early as 1899. The 1901-1904 tournaments were conducted at Beaver Meadow which opened for play in 1897 and had been formed in part by the efforts of Miss Harriett Huntress, the NHGA’s first Secretary/Treasurer. Under whose auspices those events were administered is unclear but we do know that competitors vied for a trophy known as the Rollins Cup. The cup was contributed by Frank W. Rollins, Governor of New Hampshire from 1899-1901. Governor Rollins sought means to arrest the declining population trend in New Hampshire and viewed tourism as an important industry that could retain and develop employment opportunities in the state. The ex-Governor’s wife attended the 1905 tournament held at Portsmouth Country Club, the first state amateur championship conducted by the New Hampshire Golf Association. The tournament was conducted over three days. The first day was thirty-six holes of stroke play qualifying for the championship flight of eight. The second day consisted of quarter-final and semi-final matches followed by a thirty-six hole final on the third day. Clifford W. Bass was both the qualifying medalist with a score of 158 and the ultimate champion. The cut line for the championship flight was 176.

Consistent with the growing popularity of golf across the United States, the sport flourished in New Hampshire in the first three decades of the twentieth century. By 1929 there were fifty-nine courses operating throughout the state. The renowned golf course architect, Donald Ross, first worked in New Hampshire in 1910 when he built nine holes at Wentworth-By-The-Sea. His design firm went on to build the Panorama course at the Balsams Grand Resort, The Maplewood, Mount Washington, Manchester, Bald Peak Colony Club, Carter, Kingswood, Lake Sunapee and Crotched Mountain. Ross personally was on site during the construction of Wentworth-By-The-Sea, The Balsams Panorama and Lake Sunapee Country Club. Also busy designing New Hampshire courses during that era was the firm of Stiles and Van Cleek whose works include Cochecho, Hooper and a re-design of Nashua. Native son, Ralph Martin Barton of Newport, was another architect active in this period. Educated in mathematics and civil engineering at Dartmouth, Barton was employed by esteemed architect Charles Blair MacDonald before returning to New Hampshire to launch his own firm. Of courses that remain today he is credited with Lisbon Village, Newport and the original nine holes at Concord. He is also responsible for modifications at Laconia, North Conway, Mountain View, Profile, Sugar Hill and Waumbek.

The onset of the Great Depression and World War II caused a contraction in golfing activity across the nation. In New Hampshire at least twenty-four courses permanently ceased operations. Nevertheless, with the exception of the World War II years, the New Hampshire Golf Association continued to conduct the Men’s Amateur and Junior Championships and initiated the annual New Hampshire Open in 1932. The 1950’s and 1960’s were an era of renewed interest in golf across the nation by the public at large. By 1966 there were sixty-nine courses operating in New Hampshire.

With the appointment of Robert S. "Doc” Elliott to the position of Secretary/Treasurer of the New Hampshire Golf Association in 1963, the NHGA grew dramatically and its influence on the game of golf in New Hampshire became more pronounced. By 1972 there were forty-five NHGA member clubs. The number of member clubs grew to 51 by 1977; 64 by 1988; and 74 by 1991. In Doc’s thirty-five years as NHGA Secretary/Treasurer the scope of the NHGA’s activities expanded to include the following:

  • The immensely popular NHGA Amateur Championship took on its current format of thirty-six holes of stroke play qualifying to determine a sixty-four player match play format in 1969
  • The annual NHGA Senior Championship was initiated in 1974; the Mid-Amateur Championship in 1984; and the Father/Son Championship in 1990
  • Slope and Course Rating services commenced in 1985
  • In 1987 the NHGA adopted the USGA’s Golf Handicap and Information System (GHIN). By 1992 there were seventy-six NHGA member clubs and over fourteen thousand male golfers enrolled in the GHIN system.
  • The Thomas J. Leonard Jr. Player of the Year award was inaugurated in 1993

The scope of activities continues to grow; new annual tournaments such as the Stroke Play Championship, NHGA Players Championship and Four Ball Championship have been added to the schedule. In addition, the NHGA has also assumed management of the New Hampshire Junior Golf Association and regularly conducts a number of events during the summer months for kids ages up to the age of 18 under the NHGA Junior Tour, sponsored by the Thorpe Family Foundation.