By Kim Gianetti
Museum Moment: USGA Museum - The Back Story
Mar 31, 2011
The most frequently asked questions by visitors to the USGA Museum focus on wanting to know more about the mansion, the families who lived here and the architect responsible for designing it. Inevitably, one question leads to another and without even realizing it, a pleasant 20-minute exchange has taken place. To satisfy the curiosity of past, present and future Museum visitors and to generate a new appreciation for the building that houses the world’s premier collection of golf artifacts and memorabilia, perhaps some of the back story is in order.
Dogwood was the first name given to this sprawling and majestic estate when it was built in 1919. The original owner, Thomas Harris Frothingham, was a New York stockbroker, but it was his wife, Elizabeth, who was drawn to the location at a suggestion of a close friend. Their family would live in Dogwood for the next six years.
John Russell Pope, who is known for his design of the Jefferson Memorial and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as well as domestic architecture in New York and Philadelphia, was commissioned to design the home. Dogwood is one of the best preserved and admired examples of Pope’s domestic architecture. The Georgian Revival-style house was modified to accommodate Frothingham’s needs. In the October 1920 issue of Country Life Magazine, Pope discusses the significance of knowing the owner’s characteristics and writes that the house’s ultimate design was “for an outdoor man; a man fond of active exercise and imbued with a love for the country and for the activities of the country.”
This was evident from inside the home as well as outside. The surrounding landscape and rolling hills in the middle of equestrian country were visible from various points in the house. Literally a self-contained country estate, the grounds included a swimming pool, tennis courts, bridle path, gardens and pastures. Inside, the entrance hall was centered between the major living spaces and set the stage for the magnificent hanging staircase just off the main hallway. This particular staircase gained special attention for its architectural design when it was featured in a display of classical staircases in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Visitors would enter the house from the north side, enabling them to immediately see the layout of the house. The south side of the property, which originally served as a private garden for entertaining guests, now serves as the entrance for the USGA Museum.
Following serious financial difficulties, a divorce and an alleged suicide attempt by Frothingham, Dogwood was sold in 1926 to John and Elsie Sloane. Sloane, president of W. & J. Sloane, Inc., the famous New York home furnishing company, renamed the estate Pastureland. No major changes were made to the house, thereby keeping with Pope’s original design. Between 1926 and 1955 the Sloanes raised three daughters while in residence and all three were married while still living at Pastureland. Their eldest daughter, Grace, married Cyrus Vance, who was secretary of state under President Carter; Nancy married Benjamin Coates; and youngest daughter, Evelyn, married Percy Pyne III. John lost his wife Elsie in 1947 and after his retirement in 1955, sold the house and 60 of the original 300 acres.
The third owner, David M. Potter III, was founder and owner of Potter Aeronautical Corporation in Union, N.J. Having admired the estate for years prior to his purchase, Potter renamed the estate Murmur and was the first to make significant alterations to the home. These changes included converting staff quarters into a family room with a fireplace large enough to hold seven-foot logs. After living in the home for 17 years, Potter sold the house and property to the USGA in 1972, becoming its last private resident.
The USGA was formed in 1894 and the USGA Museum dates back to 1936, but by the early 1970s, the organization was starting to outgrow its space in New York City. The USGA chose the property due to a combination of factors, including the fact that many large corporations were in the process of relocating their headquarters outside of the city. There was also a possibility of developing a championship golf course on the grounds, but that idea was eventually set aside in order to address other needs of the organization and museum. For its first 12 years in Far Hills, the entire USGA operated out of the same building. The Museum was located on the first floor, while offices occupied the basement and the second floor. In 1984, both the Administration and Test Center buildings were added to the Far Hills campus.
Two significant renovations have taken place since the USGA’s move in 1972, one in 1987 and the most recent in 2008, resulting in optimum exhibit and display space, a more efficient storage facility for the collection, and a state-of-the-art HVAC system for climate control. In addition, The Pynes Putting Course, a 16,000-square-foot green located behind the museum, was added to give visitors an opportunity to try replica golf clubs and balls from the late 19th century. The course was inspired by the famous Himalayas green at St. Andrews, Scotland, and was named in honor of the Pyne family.
In addition to preserving the rich history and tradition of the game of golf, the USGA Museum and Arnold Palmer Center for Golf History is playing a part in preserving the rich history of this building, which is a vital part of Somerset County and our American culture. Accompanying the centuries of golf history housed in this building is an air of mystery that lingers in the spacious rooms and hallways that once hosted elaborate parties, conversations between titans of industry, the thrill of an anticipated hunt or the simple laughter of children playing hide-and-seek under the enormous staircase. Numerous treasures await not only the avid golfer or golf historian, but also those who simply enjoy American architecture and classic houses.
Kim Gianetti is the assistant manager of marketing and outreach for the USGA Museum. E-mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dogwood was the first name given to this sprawling and majestic estate when it was built in 1919. It is one of the best preserved and admired examples of Pope’s domestic architecture. (USGA Museum)
The Pynes Putting Course, a 16,000-square-foot green located behind the museum, was added to give visitors an opportunity to try replica golf clubs and balls from the late 19th century. (USGA Museum)
For its first 12 years in Far Hills, the entire USGA operated out of the same building. The Museum was located on the first floor, while offices occupied the basement and the second floor. (USGA Museum)