A History of Southern Pines Golf Club

Page 3

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The land which was to become SPGC passed through several hands before becoming a 36 hole golfing area. The region itself was almost entirely settled by Scottish immigrants in the 18th century. Their customs arrived with them and stayed in use for generations. It was only after the Civil War that the use of the Gaelic language faded away. Most of the immigrants were granted fairly large tracts within the Cape Fear basin. These were primarily used for farming and logging/naval stores. A number of those original farms still remain with those families to this day. However, as the years progressed these parcels or parts of them were often sold off to be used for a variety of purposes.

The earliest known records show the land which was to ultimately become the distinctive SPGC golf course was originally owned by a man named Daniel Blue.

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Blue’s tract was sold to one of the first Northern settlers who went by the name of George Kemp. He attempted to turn the area into an orchard and a vineyard. The subsequent owner followed Kemp’s horticultural path.

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Although the area was no longer known as “Shoe Toe” and Mr. Bilyeu’s “wonderful Lucretia Dewberry” quit the stage many years prior, the dramatic contours of the land remained very much in tact. And it was upon this land they set about forming a course suitable enough to make a good number of visitors delay the westward trolley ride.

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In Richard Mandell’s excellent book “Pinehurst, Home of American Golf” he described the formation of the course as being one “shrouded in mystery”. That is an apt description because the documentation of the earliest days is sparse. However, there are more accounts of these days than has been understood. Before interpreting these accounts let’s look at the facts which can be accounted for.

1906

1906/7 – Course begins as 9 holes – citation

1912 – 2nd 9 added – citation

1914 – Ross consults and does a major rearrangement of the course – citation

1922 – 2nd 18 planned with 3rd 9 in development – citation

1924 – 3rd 9 finished – citation

1928 – SPGC course remodeled – citation

1928 – 4th 9 under construction (by Donald Ross) with plans for a 5th 9 + an 18 hole “miniature course” (plans abandoned due to Depression) – citation

1929 – Two full 18 hole courses open – citation

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There is one question which gets asked more than any other: is it a Ross? By looking into the documented facts behind this particular question the overall arc of the early developmental stage of the course can be established to the degree current information makes possible.

An interesting fact about SPGC is that its origination and development were virtually concurrent with Pinehurst No. 2. Later Ross modified both courses to the point where you could say they were total transformed.

Regarding the very first days of both it is simply impossible to say exactly what role – if any – he played. Pinehurst owner Richard Tufts was quoted as saying he wasn’t sure if Ross had anything to do with the first iteration of No. 2. That hardly matters because (like SPGC) it began as a very simplistic 9 hole course. In No. 2’s case it merely went down today’s first fairway and back up today’s 18th. All 9 holes fit into that area.

The original version of Pinehurst No. 2. The colossus we know today began in the most primitive manner possible.

The original version of Pinehurst No. 2. The colossus we know today began in the most primitive manner possible. The very first iteration of SPGC may have been very similar. Courtesy of the Tufts Archives.

Courtesy of Mike Cirba we find information regarding SPGC in the USGA Bulletin of January 1913:

“A nine-hole golf course was laid out by the Board of Directors.”

“The nine-hole addition was laid out and constructed under the direction of the present manager, G. Irving Lenker, assisted in the planning by the president of the club, Dr. W.P. Swett and Mr. Peacock.”

Here is a slightly different account from the local newspaper:

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Mr. Peacock is included in both accounts. As you can see in the second account he is joined by James MacNab. And who were these chaps – Peacock and MacNab?

They were Donald Ross’s assistants for many years in Pinehurst.

They started with Ross very early on – years before SPGC began. In addition, they were very close to him personally as well as professionally with MacNab being a Scot and co-owning the Pine Crest Inn with Ross. Peacock was a very good player, club maker and was the head pro at the St. Andrews-by-the-Sea Algonquin course in Canada during the summer.

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Courtesy of the Tufts Archives.

Here is a photo of Ross with MacNab:

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With Peacock and MacNab working for Ross (in Pinehurst) at the exact same time they were involved in building SPGC there is no doubt Ross was familiar with the project. Golf course design turned out (surprisingly) to be in Ross’s blood. Ross and other professionals of the era were trained and expected to wear many hats: greenskeeping, club making, caddy master, etc. However, elaborate design artistry was not in a professionals portfolio at the time. They may have been expected to modify courses or lay out a simple one but the artistry Ross brought to bear in so many places was something latent within him that came to bloom fully.

The point of the previous paragraph is that Ross had an extraordinary degree of natural curiosity and fascination with golf course design. Ross was undoubtedly a perfectionist. This was the period when his profound interest in design was first moving into very high gear. During this period in particular his keenness to master design would have been on a maximum level. When you combine that with his closeness to Peacock and MacNab it is likely – even probable – to say that he would have at a minimum consulted with the individuals building the initial version of SPGC.

Again, there is no known documentation which places Donald Ross as the designer of the first version of either No. 2 or SPGC. That does not necessarily mean that he was not involved to some degree. Whether he was there on site for the beginnings of SPGC or No. 2 is largely academic because as was previously stated Ross ultimately changed them enormously through the course of many years.

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The precise configuration of the earliest version of SPGC is unknown. There are a few photographs of what was most likely the first design but the routing remains unclear at this point.

However, there is an extremely detailed account of the comprehensive changes Ross made in 1914 (and possibly 1913). We know this from a May 1914 article in the Charlotte Daily Observer which was kindly provided by Joe Bausch:

“It is understood that quite a number of changes and improvements in the course will be found by golfers who return to SP for the season of 1914-1915. While this course has been growing in popularity from year to year from the date of its inception, it has been the subject of much discussion among the players and stockholders whether it might not be greatly improved by the judicious expenditure of a comparatively small sum of money. the directors at the close of the 1913-1914 season gave this matter most serious attention, and having obtained the advice of the professional-in-charge Mr. William Norton, a recognized authority, and that of Mr. Donald Ross perhaps the most prominent golf professional in the country with the concurrence of the chairman of the greens committee, Mr. T.A. Kelley, himself an excellent golfer with experience of many courses North and South, decided upon the following changes which are already well advanced.

The club house will be remodeled and removed to a site near the seventeenth and eight greens hitherto know [sic], the eighteenth hole of last season will now become the first and will be practically unchanged except that the shoulder will be removed from the putting green. The present second becomes the third and will be improved by moving the putting green a little further back so that it will be without shoulders or banks. The present third becomes the fourth and will be changed by the removal of the tee further down the hill to a distance of 175 yards from the ditch crossing the fair green. The putting green is being moved about 25 yards further back. All who play at SP think ___ about the wood path and the climb from number three green to number four tee and few will regret its elimination. The new tee will be near the fourth green, and the old fourth hole, now the fifth will become an elbow hole, with no alteration.”

The article continues to go on in the same detailed manner for many paragraphs. If you care to try to work your way through the small type here is the original article:

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The following may be the first the first photograph of SPGC:

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This photograph (and the photo at the top of the page) show the Bilyeu house – which was the original clubhouse. But more importantly the hole which is beside the house bears no resemblance whatsoever to any of the holes which ultimately made up the course. What is the significance of that? It shows the extent of the Ross transformation. The hole you see above (obviously) is free of the advanced styling which was later to be found. It seems likely that the very first version of the course was a primitive affair.

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The case of SPGC is quite similar to No. 2. Both started primitively and through Ross’s extended attentions evolved into very advanced courses. One can debate the degree to which he was involved in the very first days but in both cases the assertion that they are Ross courses remains valid.

From 1929 and 1932 Pilot articles.

Excerpts from 1929 and 1932 Pilot articles.

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