In 1899, leaders of the village of Riverton, New Jersey, which sits on the banks of the Delaware River looking out at Philadelphia, decided to introduce golf to the bustling community. The town had come to life in 1851 as a summer retreat for many of Philadelphia’s business leaders. By 1899, Riverton was home to the 9th oldest yacht club in the country, a gun club frequented by the East’s most prominent sportsmen, and a baseball team famous among amateur nines, according to an issue of Philadelphia Golfer. The plan to launch a golf club gained traction as the calendar turned to a new Century. The club’s founders read like a Who’s Who of Philadelphia merchants and businessmen.
Riverton Country Club’s nine-hole course opened in the summer of 1900; a two-story clubhouse with rooms for overnight stays was open by yearend. It was a good time to be in Riverton, which had become the permanent home for many who initially summered there.
As the club and town prospered, leaders decided in 1915 it was time to expand the course to 18 holes. The club made what is likely the most important decision in its 117-year history. For its new course, the club hired Donald Ross, considered the best architect in the game’s history. Adjacent land was purchased and the 18-hole course opened in late summer of 1917. Ross retained one original hole, today’s 14th, and otherwise used his judgment and skill that today tests the mettle of golfers on more than 400 courses in this country.
Ross is considered a genius when it comes to selecting sites for a course’s putting greens. The greens are his defense against those who might otherwise produce record low scores. Today’s 18 greens are where Ross put them 100 years ago. Nearly 70 years after his death, Ross still has more courses on Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses’ list than any other architect, and his courses still host the most national championships.
Like most clubs, Riverton had tough times from 1930 until about 1950, a result of the Depression and World War II.
It was doing much better by the 1950s. For 25 to 30 years beginning then, the club was guided to a considerable degree by two brothers, Ernie and Percy Ransome, whose parents and grandparents played key roles in the club’s early years.
Ernie was the Green Chairman for those years, and Percy was the House Chairman. Ernie also assumed a prominent role at Pine Valley Golf Club, which is about 20 miles from Riverton and is considered the premier golf course in the world. For 24 years, Ernie was the President or Chairman of Pine Valley.
In the latter half of the 20thCentury, Riverton had some of the best female players in this area, and for a few years one of the five best in the world.
Dorothy Porter, whose five USGA national championships rank 7thall time, also won eight Philadelphia Women’s Amateurs and three Women’s Western Amateurs. One year in the Western Amateur, she defeated Mickey Wright, who today is considered the best female golfer ever in this country, 5 and 4. Ann Laughlin, who grew up on the Riverton course, played collegiately at the University of Miami (Florida). She won the NCAA Championship once and finished in the top 3 two other times; she is in the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame. Ann also has won 11 Philadelphia Women’s Amateurs, the 2ndmost all time, and remains active in serious amateur golf.
Since the early 1990s, the club has engaged Ron Prichard, considered to be the golf architect who knows the most about Donald Ross courses, to help it preserve its Ross course. A master plan is in place and must be followed when any change is made to the course. In 2018, the club completed phase I of the Donald Ross restoration of the golf course.
Learn more about the centennial anniversary of our Donald Ross golf course here.