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Can't remember the ultimate historical conclusions regarding hard evidence, but I know many hold/restate the opinion that the Dutcher, an arcane, crazy 9-holer in Pawling NY was a tad earlier...I think I have seen various evidence pieces on the board which suggest as early 1891/2.Disclaimer:as much research has been done and the evidence bandied, nobody has yet fixed it convincingly in such an early yearI don't recall whether it could be called technically a public course whenever it opened...think it was inaugurated as an amenity for the extant resort when Pawling was like New Zealand to that day's crowd.
Dutcher was 1901.Only competitor to VCP is Franklin Park in Boston, and depends how you measure it.
Josh,Is that an old aerial of Van Cortlandt?
To the best of my knowledge, Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, NY was the first public or municipal golf course in America.