In the 1920’s interest in golf was just getting underway in the United States and golf courses were being established all across the country. Local interest was growing and in 1928 the present tract of land was purchased by a group of local businessmen to be the home of a course established exclusively for golf. Quite remarkably the local organizers retained the services of famed course designer, Donald Ross, to design the present 9 hole course. Mr. Ross came to this country prior to 1900 from Scotland where he trained and developed his craft at St. Andrews. Mr. Ross, in his lifetime, designed over 400 American golf courses and is widely recognized one of the founding fathers of American golf and American course design. We give a tip of our hat to James W. Tufts who founded the Pinehurst golf development in Pinehurst, North Carolina for having the foresight to both develop the Pinehurst property and for supporting Mr. Ross’s life’s work in developing American golf.
A number of stories are told regarding how Mr. Ross came to design the course. The most likely is that Donald Ross was working with his friend David Ogilvie, an Augusta professional, who knew of the interest of the Washington group in establishing a course. As the story goes, Mr. Ogilvie invited the Washington group down to Augusta for dinner to meet Mr. Ross who happened to be in Augusta at the time. They hit it off, a trade was made, the course was designed by Ross and opened for play in 1929. Sadly, no copies of the original course design have survived.
At that time, we believe the course had few trees and perhaps reminded Ross of the treeless “links” terrain of his native Scotland. In the late 1920’s Wilkes County was coming to the end of the cotton economy that had dominated the Southern Piedmont for over 100 years. As a result the land had long since been cleared of trees to maximize the planting of cotton. The massive pines that now line the fairways of holes 6 through 9 simply did not exist at the time of the courses’ design.
Interestingly, the course was originally named “Oak Hill” when it opened in 1929. Given the largely treeless nature of the terrain in 1929, one wonders if the present cluster of oaks between the greens of holes 4, 5 and 7 and the number 6 tee box were at that time a dominant feature of the course. Perhaps this predecessors of the present day cluster of oaks were the only significant trees on the course in 1929. Mr. Ross was also designing at this time his famed Oak Hill course in Rochester, New York, later to host the 1989 US. Open. Perhaps the site of our course reminded Ross of his other Oak Hill course and led to the naming of our course.
Though unknown at the time, 1929 would usher in a difficult period to open and operate a new golf course. Anyone ever hear of “black Friday” or the “run on the banks” or the Great Depression? Nonetheless, the organizers of the Washington Golf Club, led by leaders Clement Sutton, George Armstrong and Henry Sparks, somehow kept the club alive through those difficult years of the great depression. Those early organizers and committed golfers have our gratitude and appreciation to this day. Without their commitment and persistence the club would not exist today.
The improved economy following WWII brought an infusion of talent, interest and resources to the club. The late 1940’s and early 50’s saw the construction of present club house. The original pro shop and caddy shack were located near the present day intersection of highway 78 and highway 80 at the east end of the property. The construction of the present clubhouse resulted not in the relocation but rather in the re-numbering of the holes. Present day no 3 was originally no. 1 and present day no. 2 was originally the finishing hole, no. 9. Also, in this period, the original sand greens where converted to Bermuda grass and greens irrigation was installed. Putting on sand greens is hard to imagine to golfers of the present era. However, in the 1920’s bermuda grass and irrigation systems were unknown and sand greens were a common design feature. Golfers at that time literally raked the sand smooth between the ball and the hole before each put. The lake and pond that now influence play on holes 1 and 5 were also built in this time period. The pines that now dominate the course, would have been approximately age 20 years of age at this time and would have just started to influence play. Today, those same pines are now 80 plus years old, are massive and are a major feature influencing play on the course. Finally, in the post WWII era the club was re-organized and the Washington Golf Club, the “Oak Hill” name and its founding members gave way to the present name of Washington-Wilkes Country Club, Inc.
The surge of economic growth following the war and which supported the major renovations of the club have now in our times evolved to the present era of overseas manufacturing and the loss of our local manufacturing base. Today, in a very real sense, we have come full circle. Just as the original organizers back in the tough economic times of the 1930’s struggled to keep the course alive and operating, the present day leaders of the club are looking for creative ways to build revenues and cut expenses to keep our beloved Donald Ross alive golf course alive and well in the present challenging economic environment. Today, our membership is low, golf seems to be in declining popularity and it is through the major continuous donation of labor by half a dozen members that the club remains economically viable. We hope revenues from our new RV Park will play a part in our plan of survival. Hence, we continue the historic commitment to the survival of our course and keeping golf alive and viable in Washington and Wilkes County, Georgia.
We invite you to come play our historic course. Perhaps you can linger a bit among our massive pines and imagine the treeless links landscape that Donald Ross found here 90 years ago. Perhaps you can enjoy with us the history and evolution of our hidden gem of golf, right here in Washington, Georgia. We are delighted to share it with you.