Tee It Up! Golf Courses in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

This post is part of an ongoing “road trip” featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.

140 Hole No. 2 of the 18 Hole Golf Course, 1949 (National Archives ID 76643212).

The weather has turned warmer and it’s time to get outside and expose your body to some Vitamin D! So grab those clubs and head out to play some golf. The records of the National Register contain nearly sixteen hundred records of golf courses. Maybe you live in New York and you want to head to the Lake Mohonk Mountain House (National Archives ID 75316093) to tee it up at the eighteen-hole golf course at this resort in New Paltz, on the Hudson River. It’s possible that this guy, pictured below, who grew up to be the 32nd President of the United States, may have played there. “The earliest development of the complex at Lake Mohonk in the Shawangunk Mountains was begun in 1869 by twin brothers, Alfred and Albert Smiley . . . The hotel and grounds today comprise 7500 acres of gardens, trails, and woodland situated in the Shawangunk Mountains southeast of the Catskill Mountains that lie between Port Jervis and Kingston. This large hotel is set on the northwest shore of a glacial lake 2000 feet in length . . . Also part of this resort complex are swimming and boating facilities, an 18-hole golf course with putting green, and large well-tended gardens.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt with Golf Clubs (National Archives ID 196066350).

Golf is certainly the sport of choice among our presidents, as is the case with President Clinton, who got some pointers from golfing legend Jack Nicklaus at the Vail Golf Club in Vail, Colorado. They could have also gone over to the City Park Golf Course (National Archives ID 84126033), which “represents a substantial commitment of urban open space to recreational use; it provides unequaled mountain views; and it is illustrative of early (1913) municipal golf course design.” The park features the “Pueblo Revival Golf House at the northwest comer of the course was built in 1918 and enlarged in 1923 . . . The natural topography of the land permits an unequaled view of the mountains and the Denver skyline. From the high point near Colorado Boulevard, the terrain drops to the west. In a natural swale there are giant plains cottonwoods (which also are the street trees along the west perimeter) and willows. Looking back to the east, the rise in the course becomes the horizon, providing an illusion of vast space. The layout of the course itself is conventional, consisting of wide and straight fairways. The fairways are, for the most part, planted only with grass. As if for counterpoint, however, the greens and tees are surrounded by islands of evergreens (ponderosa and white pine, spruce, Douglas fir, cedar, and juniper), all of which appear to have been planted subsequent to 1915. These islands are an expert mixture of forms, colors, and textures and they are both a sculptural contrast and measuring scale against the horizon and the sky.”

President William J. Clinton Golfing with Jack Nicklaus at the Vail Golf Club in Vail, Colorado (National Archives ID 3396264).

Just last month, the first “major” of the golf season took place at the Augusta National Golf Club, “a tradition like no other,” The Masters. President Eisenhower was one of the more prominent members of Augusta, and the course featured the infamous “Eisenhower Pine” that sat in the middle of the 17th fairway at Augusta. The President, who was an avid golfer, lobbied the course to have the tree removed as it interfered with his golf game. The club refused, but Mother Nature intervened and the tree was removed after an ice storm severely damaged the tree in 2014.

President Reagan got in a round at Augusta, which features a grand clubhouse, named Fruitlands (National Archives ID 93209367), which “is significant architecturally as an early concrete structure, and historically as the home of the renowned mid-nineteenth-century Belgian horticulturists L.E.M. and P.J.A. Berckmans and their famous nursery, and, since 1930, as the home of the Augusta National Golf Course. The early estate was landscaped to include the plant specimens developed by the Berckmans. Parts of the early landscape were retained when the golf course was added. The design of the course, attributed to Dr. Alistair Mackenzie and golfer Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., is significant in its own right.” 

“Fruitlands is nearly square, measuring fifty feet wide and fifty-five feet long and is two stories high with an eleven-foot first floor and nine-foot second floor. An eleven-foot, square cupola surmounts the roof and was originally built as an observation post for the plantation. A gallery nine and one-half feet wide encircles the house on both stories, with twenty square pillars supporting the gallery and roof.”

“About 200 feet southeast of the clubhouse area is the Eisenhower Cottage, where the late President and Mrs. Eisenhower used to stay and which was built for their use. It is a simple white frame one-and-one-half-story building with a small, one-story pedimented portico supported by four square columns. Two dormer windows are above the pediment and there is a central brick chimney. The architecture is similar to that of the clubhouse additions and to other cottages on the grounds, but its special use is indicated by a bronze eagle in the pediment and furniture and memorabilia of the Eisenhowers on the interior.”

10/22/1983, President Ronald Reagan Playing Golf at The Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia (National Archives ID 75853055).

As for the course itself, something on my “bucket list” – to play (or at least walk) someday, it is “beautifully landscaped. Each hole is named for the dominant shrub or tree nearby, many of which are remnants of the Berckmans nursery. There are banks of azaleas, stands of large pines, camellias and other shrubs originated by the Berckmans nurseries. The course covers some 365 acres. Landscaped by Dr. Alistair Mackenzie and golfer Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., the scape as a golf course retains much of the flavor and components of the Fruitlands estate. The combined talents of the Berckmans, Mackenzie and Jones have made this one of the most beautiful and famous golf courses in the world.”

Maybe your vacation plans will take you to “Vacationland” – the state of Maine, where you can hit the little white ball at Cape Arundel Golf Club, in Kennebunkport, Maine, where both President Bushes have played golf.

President Bush Plays Golf at Cape Arundel Golf Club with his Father, George H. W. Bush (National Archives ID 6734054). July 2-August 8, 2001 Photo by Eric Draper, Courtesy George W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum.

“The Cape Arundel Golf Club on the northeast bank of the Kennebunk River in Kennebunkport is among the oldest surviving golf clubs in Maine. The golf course was first established in 1896 as the Kennebunkport Golf Club and reorganized four years later as the Arundel Golf Club. The club house was designed by Prosper L. Senat in 1900, and the first nine holes were laid out by Alexander H. Findley, a professional golfer from Scarsdale, New York. The course was thoroughly redesigned, and expanded to eighteen holes, by the noted golf architect Walter J. Travis between 1920 and 1922; shortly thereafter the size of the club house was increased. The Cape Arundel Golf Club is significant as an example of a designed golf course by a well respected landscape architect who specialized in golf course design. The design reflects attempts to modernize the game as its popularity grew and its participants became increasingly skilled. The formation and evolution of the Club was fueled by the well-heeled residents of the nearby summer colony that had developed at the end of the 19th century, and it became an important recreational outlet for the summer residents of that colony.”

Golfing is a sport that all can enjoy – you can play against yourself or with friends in a friendly “skins” game or any number of golfing games that are widely-known to duffers around the country. You can play at My Old Kentucky Home (National Archives ID 123851536) State Park in Bardstown, which features the structure known as “Federal Hill,” “popularly known as “My Old Kentucky Home,” because it was here that Stephen Foster is said to have been inspired to write some of his immortal ballads. During a

visit with the Rowans, he wrote his famous ‘My Old Kentucky Home.”  “Federal Hill” was built ca. 1795 by Judge John Rowan, who was born in Pennsylvania, and came west at an early age, and who eventually was to become a United States Senator.

Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway – Golfing at My Old Kentucky Home State Park (National Archives ID 7720048).

Perhaps you can find your way to South Dakota, where golfing was a popular recreation for Bureau of Indian Affairs employees, including the Tomahawk Lake Country Club (National Archives ID 93205216) in Deadwood. “The Tomahawk Lake County Club is significant as a designed landscape created by golf course designer Lawrence Hughes. It is also significant as being one of the first architect designed golf courses in western South Dakota. It is eligible for the National Register under criterion C as a designed landscape. In 1933, three Deadwood businessmen, John H. Hannah, Atherton A. Cobum, and Leeland V. Moreford, purchased the land for the golf course which was located on the Johnson and Drollman ranches. The three businessmen incorporated the Tomahawk Lake Country Club in September of 1933. The corporation consisted of 1000 shares valued at $25 a piece and had a board of seven directors.”

Golf is a Favorite Recreation for the Office Force (National Archives ID 32204461).

“The land was located adjacent to the Tomahawk Lake project, which was part of the Sawyer Memorial Park donated by Nellie Sawyer. The land for the park was donated under the condition that it be used for public recreational purposes. The construction of the lake had been started with Civil Works Administration (CWA) funds, but was finished with funds from the Sawyer estate.”

“Tomahawk Lake Country Club was a private venture built next to the lake for its recreation potential. Construction of the golf course began in September of 1933 with R. L. Ewing overseeing the company of Chauk and Birdsall who were hired to do the initial dirt work, timber clearing, and seeding. Work was halted in the winter and construction began again in the spring under the direction of golf course architect Lawrence Hughes. By May of 1934, the greens had been molded and were to be seeded as soon as the water system was installed. The course was completed and opened on 14 July 1934.”

South Carolina’s beaches are a popular destination for people of all ages and there are a number of golf courses up and down the coast, which are popular tourist destinations. None more so than Hilton Head Island, which includes the picturesque Hilton Head Light. This record in the NRHP files is not the recognizable red and white striped lighthouse, but the more functional light tower, the South Carolina SP Rear Lighthouse of Hilton Head Range Light Station (National Archives ID 118997171), which was “designed and built by the United States Light House Board in 1879-1880. The Rear Lighthouse, the major surviving element of the complex, consists of a cast-iron skeleton, a cylindrical stair tower, and a wooden watch room and lantern room structure. Six concrete foundation bases define a hexagon some thirty feet in diameter. The sectional cast-iron columns are bolted to the concrete bases. The columns rise in five stages, with cast-iron channels connecting the columns at each junction. Wrought-iron tie bars with pinned connections provide diagonal bracing at each stage. The stair tower is built on a concrete base at the center of the hexagon. It contains a castiron spiral stair with four intermediate landings and four windows. The tower was originally sheathed in wood; sheet steel sheathing was added, probably in 1913. The stair cylinder is tied to the iron skeleton by iron tension bars.”

A GOLF COURSE ON HILTON HEAD ISLAND (National Archives ID 546959).

“The lighthouse is currently vacant and situated in a pine grove adjacent to a golf course.”

If your vacation plans include a trip to the more arid areas of California, there are any number of golf courses that you can play in Death Valley. Be sure to avoid the Devil’s Golf Course, however, unless you have an unlimited number of golf balls, which, of course, isn’t really a course at all.

Death Valley National Monument, Devil’s Golf Course, Looking East (National Archives ID 155824097).

You can stay in the California SP Death Valley Junction Historic District (National Archives ID 123858819), which “first appeared on the map in 1907 upon completion of construction of the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad by the Pacific Coast Borax Company. Originally, a spur of the T&T Railroad ran six miles to the southwest. At the distal terminus of the spur was the town of Ryan, the “Lila C” mine, a roasting mill and assorted railroad equipment. In 1916, the Borax Company closed the “Lila C” mine and moved the mill to Death Valley Junction, moved the town of Ryan ten miles to the Northwest on the West side of the Funeral Mountains, and extended the T&T spur as the Death Valley Railroad, a narrow-gauge railroad 16 miles long. With the mill located at Death Valley Junction the town suddenly became a village of some consequence. The population rose abruptly to about 300 housed in shacks and tents. In 1922 the Borax company acquired by purchase additional land (West of the present highway 127) and in 1923 began to construct the two groups of Buildings which remain at Death Valley Junction.”

Here in the DC area, there are many choices, including the Langston Golf Course (National Archives ID 117692253), where I have played several times. “Langston Golf Course is a Federally owned public facility located in the Northeast quadrant of Washington DC. The 18-hole course is sited on 145 acres within a man-made landscape of gently undulating terrain . . . The land for Anacostia Park was reclaimed from the Anacostia River wetlands by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Creation of the flats was first promulgated in an appropriation act of March 3, 1909 and funding for planning and acquisition continued until 1928. The establishment of the Anacostia Park was a planning effort to increase recreational facilities and to protect the scenic river shorelines . . . The beginning holes of each nine are laid out in a northerly to northeasterly direction. The length of the course is 6340 yards, 3243 yards for the front nine and 3097 yards for the back nine. Typical golf course hazards are man-made sand traps and natural water hazards. A driving range is located at the far southeast corner of the area and is set off from the golf course by a natural berm. The course retains most of its historical layout/ both the original nine holes and the nine holes added later. Some minor changes have been made to accommodate playing conditions.”

The Langston Golf Course is also well-known, as it was established to bring the game of golf to African-Americans. “Early participation of Blacks in golf is also evidenced by the fact that the golf tee was invented by a Black golfer. In 1899, Dr. George F. Grant, a prominent Black dentist and an avid golfer was granted a patent for the golf tee.”

Patent Drawing for G. F. Grant’s Golf Tee (National Archives ID 6920296).

“The Black golf movement found its own path, however, in spite of these restrictions. The city of Washington DC and Langston Golf Course provided the means for this development. The tradition of golf played by Blacks in Washington can be traced to the turn of the century. As in other cities, Black men regularly caddied at the area’s public and private golf courses. Along with the caddies, some of the city’s Black physicians, dentists, etc., also became golf enthusiasts. Opportunities to practice were severely limited, however, as the city’s only golf facility open to Black players was the nine-hole course located in what is now Constitution Gardens portions of the Lincoln Memorial north ground, and the old Naval Hospital grounds at 24th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. The greens were round, about 25 feet in diameter/ and were covered with sand. All but three of the holes could be driven with irons. This course had been built for “colored” golfers. Even under these restricted circumstances, the ranks of Washington’s African American golfers continued to grow.”

So, if you’re ready to get out there and “let the big dog eat” – find a golf course near you and head out to enjoy a “good walk spoiled” – to quote Mark Twain.

Golfing Season, by Clifford Berryman (National Archives ID 1693433).

Click on any of the hyperlinked National Archives ID numbers above to open the fully digitized records in the National Archives Catalog. The NRHP files include additional documents, photographs, drawings, and maps.

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