A SHORT HISTORY OF THE DUPONT COUNTRY CLUB
Although the DuPont Country Club was founded in 1920, the roots of a recreational club for DuPont employees can be traced back to the 1880’s. The Eleutherian Mills Mansion on the grounds of the Hagley Museum was the location for the Rokeby Club. As members of the Rokeby Club, employees enjoyed sports and activities up through the turn of the 20th century.
A few years later, across the Brandywine River at the DuPont Experimental Station, after work employee activities had expanded to include the DuPont Gun Club, the DuPont Athletic Association for the nascent sport of baseball, and a small group of tennis players. This diverse group of sports enthusiasts incorporated in May 1920 to form the DuPont Country Club.
The original club facilities consisted of a two-story frame house that housed the gun club, a baseball diamond with grandstand, and three tennis courts. By late 1922, a 9-hole golf course was constructed by local pro Wilfrid Reid, and five new tennis courts were added.
Over the next few years, club membership increased rapidly and quickly outgrew their surroundings. Famed architect Donald Ross was hired in 1924 to build a brand new 18-hole golf course to replace the original 9-hole track. In the same year, Mrs. George Copeland, owner of an adjoining estate, provided local stone for the construction of a new clubhouse. By 1929, additional tennis courts brought the number of courts to fourteen. The continued growth and popularity of golf necessitated the construction of a second golf course in 1937. The course, named Nemours after the neighboring A.I. DuPont estate, was designed by Scottish architect Alfred Tull.
The 1940’s saw continued growth and change for the club. DuPont’s Experimental Station was quickly becoming one of the largest industrial research centers in the U. S. and the growth now encroached on the original Donald Ross course. By 1946, plans were underway for the original course to be closed and for DuPont Country Club to move up towards Rockland Road.
On May 28, 1949, the new DuPont Country Clubhouse and golf course were dedicated. The Georgian Colonial clubhouse included a grand Ballroom, dining areas, and rooms of various sizes for meetings and events. Modern state-of-the-art locker rooms with lounges awaited the ever-growing membership. A championship golf course, designed again by Alfred Tull, flowed from the back of the massive clubhouse. The new course was specifically designed for tournament golf with wide fairway corridors and expansive viewing opportunities for spectators.
The club now had 5,000 members who could enjoy 45 holes of golf, consisting of the DuPont Course, the Nemours course, and 9 reconfigured holes on the northern edge of the original Ross layout called the New Bridge Course. Not to be outdone by the growth of golf on the property, club tennis now could boast sixteen tennis courts.
1950s continued the frantic expansion of the club and its amenities. In 1955, the 9 hole New Bridge course next to the Experimental Station closed for good and was replaced by another 9 hole regulation golf course called Black Gates (on the site of the current Montchanin Course) designed by Pennsylvania architects William and David Gordon. An 18-hole golf course was also built at the Louviers DuPont location in Newark. (The Louviers property was sold in 1994 and is now the current Deerfield Country Club). The Black Gates Course was enlarged again to an 18 hole executive course in 1965 featuring twelve par 3s and six par 4s and renamed the Montchanin Course.
Tennis and other popular sports maintained their growth at DuPont during this period. Lawn bowling and deck shuffleboard facilities were added in 1956. And in 1970, with Tennis becoming a popular year-round sport, a tennis enclosure with 2 courts was completed. 1972 saw an additional three courts. By 1974, four all-weather tennis courts were completed at Louviers. The Black Gates Tennis Center opened in 1981, home to six enclosed courts, known as the ‘Tennis bubble’. The original 1970s Tennis enclosure was dismantled and the area converted to all-weather courts.
During the 1980’s, with club membership exceeding 9,300 members and the property encompassing 786 acres, DuPont rose to national prominence when the Ladies Professional Golf Association brought their McDonald’s LPGA Championship to the Club in 1986. This was one of the 5 yearly “major” championships conducted by the LPGA and it brought the world’s best female golfers to the DuPont course every year through 2003. Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb, and Juli Inkster are just a few of the legendary names engraved on the trophy.
The turn of the millennium was again a busy time for DuPont Country Club. The Black Gates Tennis Center was expanded and renovated in 1997 to now include 19 har-tru surface courts, 2 outdoor hard courts, and 5 indoor hard courts. Additions to the center were a new indoor Tennis Pro Shop, locker rooms, an observation deck, and a fitness center. In 2003, The DuPont course underwent a complete restoration by architect Lester George which retained the historic qualities of the course design while addressing the requirements of golf in the new millennium. The newly renovated DuPont Championship course opened for play on July 9, 2005. Clubhouse renovation and updates were completed in 2006, while maintaining the architectural qualities and construction of the original building design.
The DuPont Company had owned and operated the DuPont Country Club since the incorporation of the club in May 1920. The club was ‘organized and maintained for the promotion of the physical welfare and social intercourse among its members which consist of employees of the E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., subsidiaries and affiliated corporations’. During the latter part of the twentieth century, the club was overseen by the DuPont Hospitality Department, which ran the club, the Hotel DuPont, and the DuPont Theatre. It was during this period that the club membership began to transition away from a DuPont “employee only” facility. Members of the community and surrounding areas were now invited to join the membership of the DuPont Country Club for the first time in its history.
Rockland Sports LLC, led by Ben DuPont and Don Wirth (Delaware business titans and familiar names to the club), purchased the club from the DuPont Company in 2018. Since that time Rockland has been working to transform the club towards one that meets the needs of the modern family. Renovation and construction commenced almost immediately after the acquisition. Several changes were made to the clubhouse while maintaining the character and architecture of the original 1949 building. Recently completed is a 30-acre golf practice facility that includes a 4-acre short game area with three greens and eight bunkers; multiple practice putting greens; a secondary practice green, an outdoor patio, a driving range, and a 9,000 square-foot indoor teaching academy with six hitting bays outfitted with the latest TrackMan technology. The retooling and relocation of a tennis complex have now added pickleball to the plethora of racquet sports available, with paddle courts in the future plans.
The DuPont Country Club celebrated its 100th anniversary in April, 2020. And to mark the occasion, a 2-story fitness center and pool complex were opened to rave reviews. This is the first pool to have been built on the property in 100 years, which is unique considering the leisurely pursuits that country clubs are normally built to satisfy. The club has surely come a long way in the past hundred years and is constantly evolving to meet the needs of its members. Here’s to the next 100!