Wildwood Golf Club's Colorful History

No one can say for certain, but Delaware and Shawnee Indians who lived in the Pittsburgh area probably once hunted deer, wild turkey and other small game over the gently rolling hills which have become the lush fairways of Wildwood Golf Club.

The Iroquois once claimed ownership of the land that is now Wildwood, and at various times, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Benjamin Herr family, a bank, several wealthy families, the Boy Scouts of America and the University of Pittsburgh owned it.

The Wildwood land, more than 170 acres, was part of the "depreciation lands" of Pennsylvania, some 720,000 acres acquired in a 1784 treaty with the Iroquois Indians. After the Revolutionary war, the state gave the land to Pennsylvanians who fought in the war to reimburse them for their "depreciated" scrip pay which had become worthless.

Benjamin Herr, a Mennonite from Lancaster, Pa., acquired the property in 1848 and farmed it until his death, but the farmland remained in the Herr family until the mid-1920's.

That's when Wildwood Golf Club's history began. George Wittmer, Jr., with the financial help of Dr. W. B. Ray, acquired the rolling farmland 12 miles north of Pittsburgh from Benjamin Herr's descendants and built an 18-hole golf course and a beautiful stone clubhouse. Wittmer and Ray opened the facility, which they called Wildwood Country Club, in late 1927. During its early years, Wildwood Country Club was the site for several major golf tournaments, including the Dapper Dan Open, which attracted some of the great professional golfers of that era, including Ralph Guldahl, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan.

Like most country clubs, Wildwood struggled financially during the Depression, and as World War II began, gasoline rationing dealt it a death blow. Considered as "out in the sticks" then, and hard to get to, the club began to lose members. It was sold in a sheriff's sale on April 6, 1940.

Ownership of the Property changed hands two more times before John W. Hubbard, a wealthy industrialist, acquired it on October 28, 1944. Hubbard donated it to the Boy Scouts of America.

With money it received from its participation in the 1956 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt), acquired the club on March 28, 1956, and used it as practice areas for its athletic teams and as a recreational facility for its faculty.

Pitt rejuvenated the facilities, including the golf course, and operated the club as Pitt Wildwood. After four years of operating at a loss, the university sold the property on June 28, 1960 to Stone Lodge, Inc., a group of members from the community and Pitt, for $535,000.

Stone Lodge, Inc., which owns the real property, leases it to Wildwood Golf Club.

2016 Wildwood Golf Course Scorecard

Golf Course News

Shorter days, changing weather patterns, and bracing winds have ushered in the latter days of Autumn.   Those golfers who enjoyed the course while the weather still favored found the vast majority of our crew’s labor was spent collecting and removing leaves throughout the property.  This in itself is no small task and can consume nearly 90% of our daily manpower.  When we weren’t playing catchup with the leaves, our crew was undertaking critical fall maintenance procedures which will pay dividends in the coming season.  One such procedure was the injection of sand into our greens, a technique that provides the positive effects of aerification with little to no surface disruption.  Specialized machines injected columns of sand similar to that of a drinking straw, approximately 5” deep into the soil every 2” as observed from the surface.  Aside from providing channels that better promote surface drainage; the deep injection fractures the soil creating air voids thus stimulating deep root development for healthier turf next year and beyond. 

Throughout the fairways, a vertical mowing procedure extracted thatch and excessive leaf tissue from the turf canopy which if left unchecked can lead to declining turf health and poor playing conditions.  Additionally, core aerification procedures throughout highly trafficked areas in the fairways and rough aids in dilution of thatch and improves surface drainage thus contributing to the turf’s ability to mitigate stresses experienced throughout the season.  Diving deeper into our fairway soil profile, a recently completed cultivation procedure sliced 7” deep channels spaced 10” apart, providing an avenue for both surface and internal water drainage.  An added benefit this offseason will result as the soil freezes and thaws at these newly achieved depths, revitalizing the soil’s physical structure via expansion and contraction. 

The balmy fall weather allowed us the opportunity to employ similar cultivation and seeding methods throughout the rough and have yielded great results in preparation for the spring 2017 season.  Three specific seeding projects located between 5 and 7 green, 11 Tee and the Driving Range, and left of 17 tee, will produce pure fescue native areas.  Careful consideration was taken in the size and position of these features as to maximize the aesthetic while maintaining a safe distance from play. 

In the coming weeks, our staff will begin renovation work on several bunkers throughout the property.  Improvements have already begun on the adjacent fairway bunkers between 1 and 18 fairways, and will soon move to 5 fairway, and 11 green.  Removal of existing sand, reinstallation of adequate drainage, and regrassing certain areas will ensure playable, labor efficient, aesthetically pleasing bunkers.

While the crew has been very busy with normal end of season soil cultivation and leaf removal, we still haven’t forgotten about preparing the greens for the coming winter.  Weekly fertilizations during the summer have given way to much less frequent feedings this time of year.   A shift from Ammonium based Nitrogen to a Potassium based fertility program will ensure the proper nutrients are readily available to the plant as it hardens off.  Applications of plant protectants as well as frequent topdressing will physically protect the plant from Winter’s grip. 

With any luck, we will have a ‘relatively’ nice weather day or two in the coming weeks that will entice golfers back to the course.  During times of winter course usage, please adhere to cart and temporary green policy where applicable.  Course conditions can rapidly change this time of year and policies are put in place for the good of the course and the membership.
Visitors to the club during the holidays will be greeted with seasonal displays both in and outside the Club.  To honor those protecting our Country, we have decorated the Christmas trees adjacent to the putting green to individually represent each of the 5 branches of the United States Armed Services with the sixth and largest tree representing the colors of the American Flag.  Thank you to all active and former service members!

Please feel free to contact me via email tfisher@wildwoodgolfclub.org, or by phone 412-487-1234 to discuss these or any other topics about the course and grounds.  Also, check out our Greens and Grounds Department Instagram account, @wgc_greens or search #WildwoodGolfClub for photos and videos of what our department is up to.  Happy Holidays from the Wildwood Golf Club Greens Department!