Part 2 Michigan Golf History 1911-1920
By Art McCafferty
During the years 1911-1920, the participation in golf in this country exploded. However, World War I slowed golf course construction in both Europe and the United States. Michigan mirrored the country and at the end of the decade, the golf inventory of the state totaled 63.
"What is there about this game that has increased its players from the 5,000 of ten years ago to the 2,500,000 or 3,500,000 of today?" is the question. And the answer is "Try the game once." Read an article in the New York Times in 1915. Another answer to the question, might have been the dramatic U.S. Open win of Frances Quimet over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in 1913. The youngster, just 20, beat back a strong European field to capture the victory. The following year, he was followed to the victory stand by the ever-flamboyant Walter Hagan. American golf was on its way.
In Michigan, 40 golf courses were added from 1911-1920. Tom Bendlelow and Willie Park, Jr., who designed many of the courses from 1896 to 1910, kept up their pace by collectively designing seven more courses during this period. However, the story of the era was the emergence of Donald Ross in Michigan. During this decade, Ross designed nine courses in Michigan, some of which were to become nationally renowned.
Born in Dornoch, Scotland in 1872, Ross left behind a legacy of 413 golf courses that his company designed, including such luminary venues as Seminole, Pinehurst No. 2, Oakland Hills, and Wannamoisett in Rhode Island.
Ross continued to contribute to the game in his later years by helping to found the American Society of Golf Course Architects in 1946 and then serving as its first president. Ross died in 1948 but his work continues to be honored by the Donald Ross Society.
It has been said that of the 413 courses Ross designed, he probably only saw a third of them before or during construction and perhaps visited another third that had been completed by his staff, later on in his life. The courses were constructed in 30 states, six Canadian provinces, Cuba and Scotland. He, much as Tom Fazio, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer or Arthur Hills, had a stable of eager architect apprentices working for him. They worked out his office/cottage behind the third green at Pinehurst.
It was at this cottage in Pinehurst that L.C. Walker, a prominent businessman from Muskegon who wintered there, met and became friends with Donald Ross. L.C. Walker was one of many furniture moguls that arose from the western part of Michigan. He loved golf and was a real evangelist for it.
The Muskegon Country Club was organized and incorporated in 1908. In 1909, under the aegis of Country Club President Paul S. Moon, Tom Bendlelow the Scottish architect, was hired to develop the course. The first nine holes opened for play in late 1910. In 1911 the course had grown to 18 holes, 6,380 yards and a bogey of 80.
However, L.C. Walker, who was the chairman of the grounds committee at the time, felt a need to upgrade, what he considered a very 'primitive' course. It was during that time that he approached Ross, who made a visit to Muskegon in 1920. In a letter dated September 16, 1920 Ross laid out the plans to do a major renovation of each of the 18 holes. This fact contrasts considerably from the 1911 date that is cited in the Ross book; "Golf Has Never Failed Me: The Lost Commentaries of Legendary Golf Architect Donald J. Ross," a publication of Sleeping Bear Press.
Shaw Walker, L.C. Walker's son, continued the Walker tradition in golf, business and involvement in Muskegon and with the Muskegon C.C. Collectively, father and son represent a membership of some 80 plus years.
Shaw had the opportunity to play with Ross on a number of occasions. Shaw was a member of the Yale golf team in the mid 30's. He was a good player, but not good enough to beat Ross. "Donald Ross was always an impressive dresser. He wore knickers, a jacket and tie when playing and it never seemed to hinder him. We always played Pinehurst No. 2 and in one round, I remember that he shot a 72 and I shot a 78. As I recall, he was about 60 at the time. He had a complete game. He was an accurate driver, good with his irons and he putted well. Ross was a fine gentlemen and a friend of our family until his death," said Walker. In a letter to the Muskegon Board of Directors, Ross said: "It is a magnificent property and a wonderful golf course. When you get all the adjustments made and get it into good condition it will rank high as a test of golf."
Another father and son team of Ray and Mike Sruba can attest to the greatness of the course. Ray, who joined the club as pro in 1949 held the course record of 65 until it was recently beat by a 64 in an Open qualifier a couple of years ago. Mike, who took over from his dad in 1977, has seen many good players humbled by this storied course.
Richard Topp, immediate past president of the club and host of our visit, is currently busy pulling together the archives of Muskegon Country Club. They also have some major clubhouse renovations on the drawing board.
Muskegon Country Club (Private)
Gull Lake Country Club (Private)
Spring Lake Country Club (Private)
Wesburn Golf Course (Public)
Grand Beach Golf Course (Semi-Private)
Atlas Valley Country Club (Private)
Red Run Golf Club (Private)
North and South Courses at Detroit Golf Club (Private)
Red Run Golf Club (Private)
Traverse City Golf & Country Club (Private)
Petoskey Bay View Country Club (Private)
Birmingham Country Club (Private)
Lochmoor Country Club (Private)
Meadowbrook Country Club (Private)
Designed by Willie Park, Jr
Remodeled by Jerry Matthews & Associates 1976/85/96
Shadow Ridge Public Golf Course (Public)
West Shore Golf Club (Public)
White Lake Golf Club (Private)
Oakland Hills Country Club -South (Private)
New Paw Paw Lake Golf Club (Public)
Leland Country Club (Private)
Country Club Of Lansing, The (Private)
Sylvan Glen Municipal Golf Course (Public)
Barton Hills Country Club (Private)
Grosse Ile Golf & Country Club (Private)
Klinger Lake Country Club (Private)
Michigan Tech. University G. C. (Public)
Orchard Hills Country Club (Private)
Pontiac Country Club (Semi-Private)
South Haven Golf Club (Public)
Barton Hills Country Club
Ann Arbor (1920)
Bloomfield Hills Country Club
Bloomfield Hills (Remodeled 1936)
Dearborn Country Club
Detroit Golf Club
Detroit (North Course 1916: also remodeled, 1936). (South Course, 1916)
Elk Rapids Golf Club
Elk Rapids (Nine holes, 1923)
Franklin Hills Country Club
Fred Wardell Estate Golf Course
Detroit (Nine holes, 1920)
(This course has closed)
Grosse Ile Golf & Country Club
Grosse Ile (1920)
Hawthorne Valley Golf Club
Dearborn (Twenty-seven holes, 1925)
(This course formerly known as Brightmoor Country Club, has closed.)
Highland Park Golf Club
(Remodeled nine & added nine, 1922)
Highlands Country Club
Grand Rapids (Added nine, 1927)
(This course has closed)
Kent Country Club
(Remodeled nine & added nine, 1921)
Monroe Golf & Country Club
Muskegon Country Club
Oakland Hills Country Club
Bloomfield Hills (North Course, 1923), South Course, 1917)
Rackham Golf Course
Huntington Woods (1925)
Rogell Golf Course
(This was formerly Redford Country Club.)
Shadow Ridge Golf Club
Ionia (Nine holes, 1916)
(This was formerly Ionia Country Club.)
Warren Valley Golf Club
Wayne (East Course 1927)
(West Course 1927)
Western Golf & Country Club
From "Golf Has Never Failed Me," by Donald Ross, Sleeping Bear Press.
1896 Charlevoix Country Club
Thanks and a tip of the tam to Peter Fitzsimons of the Petoskey CVB for the correction.
Note* I started this article by visiting Muskegon Country Club to write about Donald Ross's first Michigan Golf course. Instead I found out Tom Bendlelow actually designed the course and that Ross did a major renovation in 1920. Such historical variations indicate that this series will undoubtedly have some errors in it along the way. We just ask that you help us set the record straight. Art McCafferty firstname.lastname@example.org
In our next issue, Michigan Golf and the Roaring Twenties
Part 1 Michigan Golf History from 1895-1910:
The Bendelow and Willie Park, Jr. Era
By Art McCafferty
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