The first New Jersey club to join the Golf Association of Philadelphia was Riverton, which was founded in 1900 and became a GAP member two years later. The new century had barely dawned when several of the leading citizens of Riverton, a Quaker village on the Delaware established in 1851 as a summer retreat for Philadelphia businessmen and their families, decided that the community ought to have a golf club.
After all, though its population was a mere 1,300, Riverton already had four churches (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Roman Catholic),a Quaker meeting house, a newspaper, grade school, post office, public library, fire company, concert hall, women's club, bicycle track where professionals raced, athletic fields for baseball and football, and, dating back to 1865, the Riverton Yacht Club.
The country club's first president was Edward H. Ogden, a Civil War veteran who, in 1894, had been elected the town's first mayor. But the inspiriting force behind golf in Riverton was the club's first secretary, James S. Coale (the Coale Memorial Tournament is named for him), a convivial bear of a man who loved all sports, who had first played golf at the age of 18, and who was also a member of the Moorestown Field Club.
He built his own house directly across Thomas Avenue from the Riverton clubhouse, and though he broke 80 only a couple of times in his life, his passion for the game was such that he played often at the better courses on both sides of the river.
For less than $8,000 the new club bought 62 acres of gently sloping land with tall hardwoods and beautiful wildflowers. A graceful wood-shingle clubhouse was erected on the brow of a hill about an eight-minute walk from the Riverton train station. It afforded a pretty view of the distant Delaware.
Coale and John Reid, the professional at Atlantic City, laid out the nine-hole course within days of the incorporation of the club, which took place on March 21, 1900. Reid believed that the property, with its rolling ground, its streams, and its woods, had as many natural advantages as any in the Philadelphia area.
The local newspaper reported that the course opening, scheduled for late April, had to be delayed till June 30 because the turf was stolen from one of the greens.
Riverton was a very short course, just 2,360 yards. It began with its longest and hardest hole, a 414-yarder that followed roughly the same route as the present 13th hole. The tee perched on the knob of a gravel pit, and the drive had to carry a brook. Beyond that water hazard came another stream, this one running on the diagonal. It emptied into another large gravel pit.
The green was sited just beyond this excavation. If you managed to negotiate these obstacles successfully and were able to write down, say, a 6, you were off to a good start and could look forward to some 5s and 4s, perhaps even a 3, by the time you got back to the clubhouse. For though water popped up on several other holes, distance was not much of a problem. The yardages from the 2nd through the 9th: 166, 212, 205, 211, 385, 191, 257, 315.
Annual dues were $15 for men and women with full privileges, $10 for women who were only house members. The visitor's fee was 75¢ a day, $5 a month. The clubhouse was open from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Servants' meals cost 50¢. Caddies were not to be paid more than 10¢ an hour. The "upper hall" (second floor) of the clubhouse was the ladies' domain—reception room, locker room, bathroom, etc. Smoking was prohibited on this level.
House rules forbade alcoholic beverages, gratuities to employees, card games on Sundays, and card games for money at any time. Decades later, Riverton would find itself operating slot machines
By the time the course opened for play that summer of 1900, the club could already boast more than a hundred members. From the outset its success seemed assured, and over the years to come the construction of a very good Donald Ross course and the emergence of such outstanding players as Dorothy and Nancy Porter, Ann Laughlin, and Robert "Beetle" Beirne served only to confirm the club's early promise..