I’ve spent most of my life in Westport. Yet until a few years ago — when I went to an awards dinner there — I had never set foot in Birchwood Country Club.
Nor had I even thought about it.
For me — as with many Westporters — the 80-acre club that lies, barely noticed, on prime land between Riverside Avenue and the Post Road — might have been in another galaxy. It was out of sight, out of mind.
Birchwood’s current board of directors want to change that. They’d like everyone to know about the only private country club in Westport.
And they want everyone to feel welcome there.
Before World War II, the “Westport Country Club” boasted an 18-hole golf course. It was private or semi-private — details are hazy.
During the war, it lay fallow. Weeds replaced well-trimmed grass.
In 1946, returning veterans bought the land, and opened their own club — renamed Birchwood. The reason they didn’t join any existing club in the area: They couldn’t.
They were Jewish.
A redesigned 9-hole golf course became the #6 of its kind in the US, according to Golf Digest. The club added tennis and paddle courts, and a pool.
But — beyond the fact that it was located in Westport, and many members lived here — it had nothing to do with the community.
Over the past decade, directors say, Birchwood has grown much more inclusive. Club members still gather to break the fast on Yom Kippur — but there’s a gingerbread house at Christmas.
Children — once supposed to be neither heard nor seen — are now welcome in the restaurant.
Marco Spadacenta — the first non-Jewish president in the club’s 72 years — exemplifies those changes.
He moved to Westport 20 years ago. For 14 years, he played golf at Longshore. He’d never heard of Birchwood. But he wanted more flexibility in tee times, and found the club.
Since joining, he says, “I’ve met the most wonderful people. This is such a great place.”
Board member Thomas Freydl echoes Spadacenta. “I grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Country clubs there were” — he searches for the right words — “less approachable.”
At Birchwood, Freydl says, “kids can run around. Everyone is relaxed, and has fun.”
As part of their community outreach, Birchwood is figuring out how to serve Westport’s police officers and firefighters. The club welcomes local businesses for corporate meetings and golf outings.
They also plan Memorial Day fireworks. They’ll be shot off on club grounds — yet visible all over town.
Which is exactly the point. “We’re 10 minutes from any place in Westport,” Freydl says. “But when I get here, I feel like I’m out of town. There’s great views off the balcony — green grass, nature and beauty. I spend every summer weekend here.”
New chef Quint Smith has re-energized the restaurant. He’s introduced cooking lessons for kids and adults, and organized tasting sessions. The dining room is a warm, welcoming place.
Birchwood is a hidden wonder. Now, the club hopes more Westporters will find it.