Birchwood Country Club: Local Jewel, Hidden In Plain Sight

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.

I’ve been inside 3 times since then: for 2 A Better Chance “Dream Events,” and last November’s Catch a Lift fundraiser.

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.

The Birchwood Country Club main building.

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.

The Birchwood golf course.

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.”

Birchwood Country Club president Marco Spadacenta and board member Thomas Freydl, in the dining room.

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.

22 responses to “Birchwood Country Club: Local Jewel, Hidden In Plain Sight

  1. Birchwood’s Kammy Maxfeldt is an PGA professional who gives excellent golf lessons!

  2. this is welcome news. aside from tobogganing down the hills as a child, I have since wanted to know how to get a tee time there and home it will become more visible.

  3. That’s good news. I’ve cross-country skied there but have never been inside. That lovely fireplace looks welcoming. Might be nice if they opened their dining room to nonmembers.

  4. Nice.

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  5. Dan, your events were probably in the evening. The Westport Y’s Women has had luncheons there, and the view out the dining room over the golf course is beautiful.

  6. Vivianne Pommier

    Good Morning, and Dan, thanks for the updates as always,
    It is wonderful that many new people will have the opportunity to share in one of the other many wonderful places that I enjoyed growing up in Westport.

  7. Birchwood was the home course for one of the top amateur golfers in America in the ’60s and ’70s, Dick Sideroff. He might have even been #1 amateur golfer in the country for a time. I remember going to watch a Giants football game there with my father. That was back in the day when the games were “blacked out” by the New York T.V. stations so, at Birchwood, they simply turned the antenna towards Hartford and we could then see the game.

  8. Birchwood is the only private club in Westport with a golf course, but Westport has other private clubs too. The Hunt Club has equestrian facilities plus a clubhouse for dining/events, pool, and summer camps. The Saugatuck Rowing Club has state of the art athletic facilities and year round classes and camps in addition to indoor/outdoor rowing and a superb restaurant.

    • Peter Gambaccini

      I lived near the Hunt Club in my high school years. I was thinking about the place the other day, mainly about how much that property must be worth.

  9. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    It’s still pretty amazing to me that Westport was still “restricted” postwar and at the same time had contributed so many lives to the war effort.. My father was actually in the group of soldiers who liberated Dachau and yet, when most of the men returned they picked up where they left off despite the atrocities they had seen in Europe. I remember snide remarks being made about Birchwood and its members that didn’t abate until social justice came out of the closet in the 60’s. I’m not sure whether BCC should be lauded for the fact that it is so welcoming or mourned because its establishment was necessary in the 1st place. Perhaps both. Either way, I don’t think we should forget. It wasn’t really that long ago. I’m glad that Dan had the historical awareness to raise our consciousness especially in a tone of reconciliation that is so sorely needed but has never seemed so far away.

  10. Dan, it was not “returning veterans” who founded Birchwood in 1946. The founders were several pillars of the Jewish community who were not accepted at other area country clubs. They included my father-in-law, Michael Steinberg, attorney Leo Nevas, and real estate mogul Larry Wien. It was a pretty stuffy place, run with an iron hand by the German maitre d’. Children were seen only at holiday meals and at the pool in the summer, and had to comply with the dress code when they appeared. For years Birchwood was renowned for its food. The array of pastries on the dessert table was legendary. Every meal there was a dressy occasion.The New Year’s Eve celebration was black tie.
    It’s a much more welcoming place today, and it’s still a pleasure to dine there.
    Sybil Steinberg

    • Larry Wien was quite a legend. Owned the Empire State building. Started the CGA golf course in Easton. Owned Bye Brook in Weston. My mom said she was the 1st non-Jewish member (don’t know if that is true though).

    • Thank, Sybil. I got that info about the returning veterans from current board members. I appreciate the clarification.

      • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

        Dan, I’d suspect closer scrutiny would lead to the conclusion that the founding of BCC and Mr. Wien’s involvement and the return of Jewish veterans who sorely deserved and had earned “a club of their own” were concurrent events. I don’t want to create the impression that I get my education from Hollywood but I’ll never forget the impression that “Gentlemen’s Agreement” with Gregory Peck and Dorothy McGuire made on me the 1st time I saw it.

  11. Used to collect nightcrawlers there in the summer, sledding in the winter. Don’t remember ever getting kicked out, but it was always a stealth operation for us.

  12. Yes, it was! Thanks!

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  13. Beautiful looking club, good luck to the board on gaining exposure in a challenging climate and industry. We too, at Pine Lake Country Club, in Charlotte NC are working to gain exposure and new members with recent renovations and a top notch private course.

  14. If my memory is correct, Birchwood Country Club was known as the “doctors and lawyers” country club and Longshore was the “suit and cloakers” country club.

  15. Eric Buchroeder – was your grandmother’s nickname “Happy”\

    • Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

      “Happy” was my mother’s nickname by anyone in Westport who knew her going back to her childhood. I’m not sure if she were still here she’d be too “Happy” to be called my grandmother, hahaha. Does the “s” in sjdeegan28 by any chance stand for Sally? The same Sally who was admin staff at Staples?

  16. My wife and I looked into joining this club a few years ago and we found it to be anything but inclusive. The person who gave us a tour of the club told us that they prefer younger members and charge older people a premium (I think we were 48 at the time). We got the message and left. How is this inclusive? It doesn’t seem like it should even be legal.

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