Seven Oaks Golf Course: Colgate’s gorgeous greens

By Rebecca Downing

Before our Robert Trent Jones–designed course was completed, Colgate’s golf course went through several iterations — and a move across the road.

Golfer drives from the tee with the Colgate campus on a hillside in the background
Golfer drives from the tee with the Colgate campus on a hillside in the background

Seven Oaks Golf Course, June 2015

Colgate’s Seven Oaks has been operating as an 18-hole golf course since 1965 — but its history goes back much further, to another location: the original nine holes above West and East halls now known as the “Old Golf Course.”

Filston Hall in Sevenoaks

Filston Hall in Sevenoaks, western Kent, England, was the ancient home of the Colgate family. May 1867; E. Dunmore, photographer

Filston Hall in Sevenoaks

Originally called the Hamilton Golf Club, the first iteration of the course opened in 1916. It was renamed Seven Oaks in 1928 in honor of the Colgate family estate, Filston Farm, near the community of Sevenoaks, in Kent, England.

With a planned relocation to the Payne Farm across Hamilton Street from the campus in mind, Robert Trent Jones Sr. was hired to create a design for the course in 1934. His approach followed British and American Open title holder Gene Sarazen’s vision to create an “Augusta of the North.” Major world events, including the Great Depression and World War II, as well as property acquisitions over time, required many revisions to Jones’s design. Jones submitted no fewer than 13 different course designs (naturally) between 1934 and 1964. Ultimately, the course was built in two phases.

The front nine holes for what was first called the University Golf Course officially opened July 4, 1958. Colgate students looking for extra cash had been hired, both in the fall of 1957 and spring of 1958, to rake stones, smooth rough areas on the fairways, and collect debris to help ready the course.

A woman in a long dress prepares to put in a group of golfers, observed by a group in lawn chairs
Two golfers on the old golf course, with Andrews and Stillman Halls visible in the background
Four men look over a map while in a field
Three men observe as a fourth breaks ground with a shovel. A photographer snaps a photo from the left.
Two men hold a ribbon while a woman cuts it, and a crowd watches. The clubhouse is visible in the background


  • Greens fees in 1922 were $.50 (9 holes)
  • Women were first allowed to wear shorts — with a length of 1 inch above the knee — as of July 4, 1954.
  • The new course’s first hole in one was shot by Captain Richard B. Morrin MA’60, on the 141-yard #2 with a five iron in June 1959. It was witnessed by Kenneth O’Brien, a professor of history.
  • A brickyard and kiln that supplied bricks for several buildings in Hamilton once sat in the area of the 13th tee.
  • If you stand at the roadway and look toward the 10th tee, you will see seven oak trees

Story continued below ↓

Once the new nine-hole course opened, the “old golf course” on the campus hill was used for intramural play and physical education instruction. After two years, Colgate retired it because of the expense of running two courses.

Illustrated program cover of three golfers for the 80th annual NCAA golf championship at Seven Oaks in June, 1977

In June of 1977, Seven Oaks was host to the NCAA National Golf Championship.

Illustrated program cover of three golfers for the 80th annual NCAA golf championship at Seven Oaks in June, 1977

The second phase was completed with the opening of the back nine on September 4, 1965. The foursome of Stuart Benedict, Class of 1962; Jim Harberson, Class of 1964; William Burke, Class of 1954; and Don Tiffany, Class of 1943 (for whom the clubhouse terrace is named), took the first outing on the greens.

Seven Oaks remains a popular — and challenging — course for alumni and members of the public. As the home course for Colgate’s varsity golf team, Seven Oaks has hosted both Patriot League and NCAA championships over the years.

In 2006, the university opened the Perkin-Sumption Driving Range. Its construction caused a stir during excavation when local heavy-equipment operator Stub Baker unearthed a large cache of fossils. He notified the geology department, and soon professors, students, and local fossil buffs were swarming the area to collect trilobites galore.

Golfweek has ranked Seven Oaks among the best campus courses (22nd nationally, 2013) as well as among the best public courses (15th in New York, 2010).

The Clubhouse

Archival image of the Seven Oaks Clubhouse when it was still a farmhouse
The Seven Oaks Clubhouse — today a restaurant open to the public — was originally the home of Deacon Charles C. Payne, the ninth of 16 sons of Colgate founder Judge Elisha Payne. Built around 1835, it was purchased by Dr. I.N. Wheeler in 1905 (pictured above when known as the Wheeler Home, circa 1909. The barn in the background would become the Pro Shop in 1959.


Notes & Sources

Images in order of appearance
  1. Andrew M. Daddio, photographer, 2015. Colgate University Office of Communications
  2. E. Dunmore, photographer. University photograph collection, A0999, Colgate University Archives and Special Collections
  3. E.H. Stone, photographer. Buildings and grounds collection, A1000, Colgate Special Collections and University Archives
  4. Office of Communications records, A1009, Colgate Special Collections and University Archives
  5. Courtesy of Jim Ford
  6. Buildings and grounds collection, A1000, Colgate Special Collections and University Archives
  7. Courtesy of the Marian Blain collection
  8. Courtesy of Jim Ford
  9. Edward H. Stone photograph collection, M2010, Colgate Special Collections and University Archives

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