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The US Women’s Open Tournament was held at The Orchards golf course in South Hadley in July 2004. Wistariahurst Museum installed an exhibit which tells the story of Joseph Allen Skinner and his daughter Elisabeth, and their life in South Hadley in relation to this golf course. We also explored The Orchards through the eyes of former pro golfers who worked there and members who cherish memories of knowing Elisabeth Skinner and golfing on a Donald Ross designed course.

Current Scorecard from the Orchards Golf Course
Current Scorecard from the Orchards Golf Course

The Orchards Golf Course 

  • 1922 – Joseph Allen Skinner hired Donald Ross and Mr. Hatch to build a 9-hole golf course for his daughter, Elisabeth, a promising golfer.
  • 1927 – Ross built the second nine holes at The Orchards
  • 1905 -1931 – Skinner joined the Board of Trustees and became board president in 1912.
  • 1922 – James D. Young (Jimmy) was hired as the first pro. Mary (Minnie) young, his wife, helped at the clubhouse.
  • 1941 – Mount Holyoke College purchased The Orchards for $25,000.
  • 1948 – East Area Air Force Golf Championship played a The Orchards
  • 1949 – Champion long-ball hitter Jimmy Thompson gave a demonstration at The Orchards
  • 1960 – Jimmy Young retired
  • 1968 – Connecticut PGA Championship played a The Orchards
  • 1970 – Bob Bontempo hired as pro; started Mount Holyoke College golf team
  • 1973 – National Women’s Intercollegiate Championship held at The Orchards.
  • 1987 – The Orchards hosted the USGA Junior Girls Championship
  • 1993 – Mount Holyoke College hosts the National Golf Coaches Association Division II and III National Championship
  • 1998 – Prichard took over restoration of the course; he fixed the drainage problem and watercourse management, refaced and regressed the bunkers with turfgrass and rebuilt the second green.
  • 1999 – Mount Holyoke College entered 25-year lease with Arnold Palmer Golf Management to run the golf course. APGM launched $1.5 million renovation program to clubhouse, grounds and course. This included $800,000 restoration of course to original Donald Ross design
  • 2002 – Mount Holyoke College hosted Division III Women’s National Championships
  • 2004 – The Orchards hosts the US Women’s Open Championship

The Orchards Golf Course in South Hadley was designed by golf architect Donald Ross.  Joseph Allen Skinner (1861-1946), who grew up at Wistariahurst, commissioned Ross to build the course in 1922. The Orchards served as an opportune place for Joseph’s daughter, Elisabeth, and Mount Holyoke College students to develop their golf skills.  Miss Skinner went on to become a well-known golfer in Western Massachusetts.

Donald Ross

Donald Ross grew up in Scotland near St. Andrews Golf Course, where he was a professional golfer, groundskeeper and club manufacturer.  Ross immigrated to the United States and built over 399 courses in his career all over America and Canada.  One hundred and eight major championships have been held at Ross designed courses.

Lewis Wyckoff, from White & Wyckoff Paper Company, paid for Ross and his family to relocate to Holyoke while Ross worked on the Wyckoff Golf Course.

Trademarks of Donald Ross golf courses are crowned greens, deep bunkers, and subtle fairways.  His goal was to make each golf hole present a different challenge.  Ross built his courses according to the existing topography of the landscape.  The course was arranged so that every stroke had to be made with full concentration.

Joseph A. Skinner
Joseph A. Skinner

Joseph Allen Skinner, son of Holyoke industrialist William Skinner, was instrumental in the birth of The Orchards golf course in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Being a man who loved to watch golf and build, the land purchased in South Hadley seemed perfect. He hired Donald Ross to design his Orchards course, named after the apple orchards that lined the course.

Though it is widely believed Joseph built The Orchards for his daughter and her love of golf, Elisabeth asserts that her father liked to play golf and he liked to build. “He also liked the game of golf so well that he decided to have the Orchards course built.” He contracted Donald Ross to design a nine-hole golf course in 1922. The course became known as The Orchards because of the rows of apple trees Joseph planted along the 200-acre lot over the years.

After a walk on a mild summer day, Joseph comments of his golf course that “the lawn has been mowed as also the putting green flower beds trimmed and everything looks beautifully. It seems as though I have never seen the place so fine.” Joseph Skinner’s Journal, May 18, 1941. Skinner Family Collection, Wistariahurst Museum

 “Such a beautiful day and as I was feeling splendidly I went out with E[lisabeth] and played four holes. Enjoyed it very much.”  Joseph Skinner’s Journal, June 25, 1941. Skinner Family Collection, Wistariahurst Museum

Elisabeth Skinner mid swing on the golf course

Elisabeth Skinner
Elisabeth Skinner

Joseph’s daughter, Elisabeth took up golf and became one of the top golfers in the state, winning the Endicott Cup twice.

Elisabeth Skinner held The Orchards course record (74) for forty years. This was a record established in 1933 from the men’s tees because there were no women’s tees at the time. Pat Bradley (LPGA) broke Elisabeth’s record in 1973 with a score of 73.Joseph Skinner sold the course to Mount Holyoke College in 1941, which took care of management until they leased it to Arnold Palmer Golf Management in 1999.

“The College took over my golf course and at once set the painters to work on the club house.  I am surprised, for I did not think it needed it.” Joseph Skinner’s Journal, June 30, 1941. Skinner Family Collection, Wistariahurst Museum

With the help of Donald Ross, The Orchards became an icon in South Hadley. Elisabeth Skinner, along with the women from Mount Holyoke College, forged a place for women in golf in Western Massachusetts.

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