Association of Golf Club With A.I.G. Still Rankles

Corey Kilgannon and Noam Cohen|The New York Times

For years, the exclusive golf club here has been shrouded in myth: it was built by Chinese laborers; the sand traps were filled with expensive crushed granite; the privileged men who got to play the course were sometimes flown in on floatplanes, landing on one of the course’s gentle ponds.

The fact that local golfers could glimpse features of the mysterious course from the adjacent public course added to its legend, and to the envy of those who can only peek and wonder. “I’ve never seen anyone on it, and other guys who have worked here for years say the same thing,” said Dan Maier, 22, of Sherman, Conn., a greenskeeper at the public course, Richter Park.

The course is known as Morefar Back O’Beyond. The 12th hole at Richter gives the best view of Morefar, located on 500 acres of rolling land off Federal Hill Road an hour’s drive north of New York City. For Richter Park golfers, Morefar demands attention — a golfer’s dream beckoning and taunting like the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock in “The Great Gatsby.”

So who owns it? There has long been a rumor that it is the private playground of executives with American International Group , the embattled insurance giant. Morefar officials would not speak to a reporter when reached by phone, and efforts to visit the course to get more information met with little success. On one visit, a club official who would not give his name met reporters en route to the office and asked them to leave, saying, “We’re totally private, we don’t advertise.”

Asked about the club and its ownership, he said, “You are going to have to dig it up somewhere.”

Easier said than done. But here is what is known:

The course was opened in 1964 by Cornelius Vander Starr, who in 1919 founded the company later known as A.I.G. The local lore holds that his ashes are buried near the 14th green.

Morefar is now owned by a subsidiary of a company called Starr International. According to an A.I.G. spokesman, Mark Herr, Starr International “was a sister entity to A.I.G. It is no longer.” Starr International accepted questions from a reporter via e-mail but did not respond.

Beyond that former connection to A.I.G., Morefar is linked to the insurance giant through Maurice R. Greenberg, who ran A.I.G. for about four decades ending in 2005 and still runs Starr International. Mr. Greenberg, who settled with the federal government recently over accusations that he oversaw accounting fraud at A.I.G., was said to use Morefar to reward clients and executives. Mr. Greenberg keeps a home down the road from Morefar.

As this is the first summer after A.I.G. received $182 billion in the largest government bailout in American history, the envy among locals has become tinged with anger.

“All I’ve heard is that it’s a course for A.I.G. executives and that guys like us will never get to play it,” said Steven Woolf, 52, after playing the 12th hole at Richter Park. Mr. Woolf, an electronics salesman from Watertown, Conn., who was recently laid off, added, “It’s frustrating because in a sense, we’re paying for it.”

In April, the local newspaper, The Journal News, published a letter from Tsilla Flint of Suffern, N.Y., that concluded: “ ‘Morefar’ should be turned into a public course, and generate revenue. Revenue that can be used to pay the government for the huge loans they afforded A.I.G.”

Morefar straddles the town and state lines of Danbury, Conn., and Southeast, N.Y. Almost any local can offer a tidbit they say they have heard about it: the time Oprah held an event there; the Asian couple who prepares and serves meals to the golfers; the arrows painted on local roads that are thought to direct executives’ helicopters to the course.

“I heard it was built by the Japanese,” said Martin Tandler, 64, who had just finished a round at Richter Park.

“No, Chinese,” interjected another golfer, Martin Medford, 62, of Danbury, a retired executive who said he had played Morefar, as a corporate client while working for Union Carbide. Mr. Medford repeated a popular story about the origin of the name Morefar.

“Rumor has it that Chinese laborers were employed to build it, and that’s where they got the name Morefar,” he said. “It was a scramble of the English language for a Chinese worker” who, when asked directions, would say, “It’s more-far.”

According to several golfers who have played Morefar — including some who said they worked for companies that paid for playing privileges there — the course is immaculately maintained and has a collection of whimsical bronze sculptures throughout, including a boy and girl playing in a greenside bunker. There are a modest clubhouse and a pro shop.

Mark Boughton, Danbury’s mayor, said that his town was negotiating with the course owners to buy a roughly 180-acre parcel for parkland for about $2 million.

“Very few people here ever set foot on Morefar,” he said. “The course gets like six rounds a day.”

But Mr. Boughton sought to play down local residents’ anger.

“It’s so convoluted who owns the course that no one really attaches it to A.I.G. anymore,” he said. “If they bought the course after the bailout and kept it exclusive, then I think you’d see a lot of outrage. But since they already owned it, I think people kind of accept it.”

Not everyone. Back at the Richter Park clubhouse, Mark Simonelli, 53, a house painter who was touching up a patio railing, offered a proposal.

“I think they should open it to the public,” he said, suddenly a spokesman for the American taxpayer. “We should take every asset we can get our hands on.”