Forgotten Foxburg
America’s Oldest Golf Club?
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The United States Golf Association (USGA) was made aware of these particulars and in April, 1952 John P. English, the founding Editor of the USGA Golf Journal penned an article for the USGA Journal and Turf Management magazine titled, “The Case for Foxburg’s Old Course”. In it, English repeated the account of Miller and Harvey (Harvey’s affidavit is reproduced verbatim), but also includes the following corroborating accounts.

“H.J. Crawford of Emlenton, PA, a banker who is more than 80, deposed on September 9, 1947, “that for a period I was a member of the Foxburg Country Club and to my personal knowledge know the said club was organized and began doing business in the year 1887, that said club has been in continuous existence and operating without interruption since that date.”

“C.H. Adams of Parker’s Landing, PA, 86, deposed on October 30, 1950, “that in my younger days I was a commercial traveler. In 1888 I made the territory adjacent to Foxburg, Pennsylvania, every thirty days. One of the places covered regularly was St. Petersburg, a distance of three miles beyond Foxburg. Returning by livery team on an early spring trip to St. Petersburg, I passed a field on which a game new to me was being played. This I found to be the game of golf, and on several occasions I stopped to watch the players. This field is still part of the Foxburg Country Club golf course. I fix the year from the fact that in 1888 I first began traveling in that section. Also it was the year of the great blizzard of March, 1888.””

“The late C.A. Miller of Foxburg deposed on September 29, 1951, “that he attended Clarion State Normal School during the years 1887 and 1888 and made frequent trips on the narrow gauge railroad which passed the golf grounds of the Foxburg Country Club in the Borough of Foxburg, Clarion County, Pennsylvania; that he usually returned home from Clarion to Foxburg for weekends and says that during the spring vacation of 1888 he played golf on the Foxburg Country Club course with Mr. A. J. Dixon of Philadelphia, who he understands was one of the original members of the Foxburg Country Club; that he has been a citizen of the Borough of Foxburg, Clarion County, Pennsylvania, practically all his lifetime and that he believes the Foxburg Country Club has been in existence since sometime during the year 1887 continuously until this time. “ The opening of the Normal School in Clarion in 1887 and the existence of the railroad are confirmed facts.” (author’s note: Miller was the brother of the aforementioned Col. Hubert Miller whose account was mentioned earlier)

“The late Mrs. Major R. Morgan of Foxburg, who was then 87, stated in 1948 that in the autumn of 1888 she had been married and moved to Foxburg, where her late husband had regularly played golf with Frank and Harry Harvey, Fox and visitors from Philadelphia. “The men all played on land belonging to the Fox estate. This is the same land on which the Foxburg Country Club still has its course”, she wrote.

“Several years after the men had organized their golf club, a lady’s golf club was formed of which I was the first President, and with the exception of two intervals I retained that office for thirty years. Although we used the same course, this was an entirely separate organization with its own rules,” she added. “I do not remember a time when golf was not played either on the course laid out by Mr. Fox around his residence or on the links adjoining the Petersburg Road on land Mr. Fox allowed the new club to use.”

“The lack of documentation regarding these early activities is simply explained. Harvey relates that he took care of the simple details of running the club with the sole assistance of a small notebook into which he entered the names of the members and the dates on which they paid their dues, originally one dollar a year. The dues eventually were used to pay one John Dunkle at the rate of $15 a year to cut the fairways with a scythe. Collecting the dues and paying the “greenkeeper” were Harvey’s only duties in the early years, and when all financial entries had been made, the records were considered complete for the year. Eventually the notebook disappeared, probably when Harvey changed his residence. There were no minutes and no newspapers were published at the time in Foxburg, so there was no medium for other records of club activities in the earliest years.”

“Although organized as the Foxburg Golf Club, the name was soon changed to the Clarion County Golf Club. When it became apparent that players were being drawn from the counties of Armstrong, Butler, and Venango, it was decided that it would be more diplomatic to revert to the Foxburg name. Since then, it has been the Foxburg Country Club. The course, which had been enlarged from five to nine holes in 1888, later great to 18 holes, but the newer nine subsequently were abandoned, leaving only the original nine.”

Perhaps diplomatically, Mr. English offered no conclusions in his article, but simply let the facts and the various accounts speak for themselves. With that history as backdrop, let’s move forward 130 years and turn our attention to the golf course as it exists today. This broad description from the Pittsburgh Press, September 19, 1954 remains apt to this day;

“The golf course is short, as it to be expected in one laid out before the invention of the modern, rubber-cored ball. But it is picturesque, with old tone sand and water containers, the scars of tanks from the halcyon days of oil, and just about the world’s greenest golf green, still richly fertile (according to old tradition) from the days when the town slaughterhouse drained its blood there. Many of the bunkers were built by Foxburg boys for the privilege of playing there.”

Today’s course features two sets of tees for an 18 hole round, but at its max plays to 2,688 yards, par 34. With the clubhouse high on the bluff at near the highest point, the course stretches down to the valley below, but contains more than enough internal undulation to keep interest.

Interestingly, from an architectural standpoint, most of the drives play down into valleys with subsequent uphill approaches needed to perched greens on hilltops, the better to drain certainly, yet one or two play down into natural bowls that drain beyond.

As mentioned, tree planting done primarily in the 1970s timeframe (according to aerial photos) today have grown to a point where some holes are choked tight and the great views across the rolling landscape are diminished.

This 1939 aerial shows the course probably much as it existed originally, with a few groupings of mature trees but mostly open pastureland.

Contrasted with this modern aerial, one can see the tree plantings that have grown up over 50 years.

The first tee is enshrouded with tall oaks and pines but looking beyond provides a sense of invitation.

The uphill approach to a perched green is sound golf design in any century.

Looking back to the tee one gets a sense of how overzealous tree plantings dictate play.

The horse shoe bunker behind the first green speaks to its design era.

Rather than go through a hole by hole pictorial display, the following pictures provide a good sense of the historical course at Foxburg, as well as the potential. A comprehensive course tour provided by Joseph Bausch can be found at http://myphillygolf.com/uploads/bausch/Foxburg/index.html

Hole 2 is an uphill par three that crosses a still active dirt road.

The tee shot on the 3rd is constricted indeed!

The dirt road that crosses through the golf course provides a sense of earlier times.

From behind the perched third green one gets a sense of how the thick trees limit views and options.

The long, lovely expanse of the 4th hole.

The long, uphill par five 5th plays to 475 yards featuring a blind, Alps-like second shot.

The blind approach on 5 requires faith in your line and a steady hand.

The intervening hand of man is evident on this banked up green and bunker left of the par three 6th.

Cross bunkers that used to be sand filled protect the green on the short, downhill 7th par four.

A lone golfer contemplates what must have been and what could be. The green abuts the road behind.

Looking back to the 7th tee the man-made cross bunkers and fall-away green offer a nostalgic appeal.

The par three 8th requires a precise shot over bunkers.

Golfers begin their ascent up the narrow, uphill 9th hole.

One more uphill approach to yet another perched green brings a glorious morning to a close.

In many ways, it’s amazing to consider how well preserved the golf course at Foxburg is all these years later. While playing shorter than most modern designs, the golf holes still hold the same basic appeal to our adventurous sporting instincts that is universal and timeless in spirit. It exemplifies the fact that golf at its core need only be what it is; a simple game in the limitless variety of the great outdoors that brings people together in a spirit of honest competition and bonding camaraderie.

It’s also impossible to visit Foxburg without considering what it can and should be to the game of golf. Although lovingly tended by the club and its staff, it’s clear they are operating on a shoestring budget. A well-considered tree and turf management program perhaps provided pro bono by interested benevolent individuals and expert assistants could do wonders in sprucing up the old joint, and helping it to shine for future generations in the coming centuries. A little infusion of cash wouldn’t hurt, either.

The author hopes you have enjoyed your tour of historic Foxburg Country Club and highly recommends a visit by students of golf course history and architecture. It would be fantastic to see the USGA take a more active role in the preservation and enhancement of such national sporting treasures but regrettably that has not been their role in recent years. Instead, Foxburg may be a place where interested parties who frequent GolfClubAtlas.com and/or some Hickory Golf organizations could take a custodial interest in making the architecture shine through greens expansion, recovery of bunkers, and general economic upkeep to preserve and highlight the wonderful historical and architectural heritage of the game in the United States.

A time capsule has been left for posterity’s sake.

For posterity’s sake. Sources: www.newspapers.com

Pittsburgh Press

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

USGA Journal & Turf Management

Harper’s Official Golf Guide 1899

The author wishes to thank his wonderful golf companions who accompanied him on a glorious visit to Foxburg and encouraged this work; John Yerger, Joe Bausch, and Matt Frey. Every golfer should be blessed with partners who love the game as they do.

Footnote – The author is familiar with the claims of Dorset Field Club (VT) that golf was played there earlier (i.e. September 1886) so you’ll note that there are no claims stated that Foxburg is the oldest continually operating golf course in the United States, although it may well be. However, if one accepts the dates of golf at Dorset to be correct it seems that group did not formalize into a club until 1896. Thus, the claim that Foxburg is the oldest continually operating golf club in America is believed to be accurate. The author welcomes additional evidence and informed debate on the matter.

The End