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Golf in West Virginia

By Bob Barnett

Champion golfer Fritzi Stifel in 1936. Photograph courtesy of Ogleby Institute's Stifel Fine Art Center.

Golf has been a sports staple in West Virginia ever since the country’s first golf course, Oakhurst Links, was built in 1882 on Russell Montague’s farm in Greenbrier County. [See “Oakhurst Links: Golfing the Old-Time Way,” by David Cottrill; Summer 2004.] Country clubs were founded throughout the state from 1900 to 1940, and a boom in golf course construction began.

West Virginia’s first country club was chartered in Charleston in April 1898 as the Glenwood Athletic Club. Its clubhouse was located on the Kanawha River near Park Avenue and Kanawha Boulevard with its golf course in what is now part of downtown Charleston. But when the club’s land was subdivided for housing, the club moved to the Edgewood Addition and was rechartered in 1907 as the Edgewood Country Club. A new clubhouse and tennis courts were built that year. A nine-hole golf course came later, almost as an afterthought.

 Edgewood Country Club was a social center in Charleston through the 1920’s, despite not having a passable road leading to the club. Members rode street cars to the club and, when major dances or social events were scheduled, a special streetcar traveled through Charleston, picking up party-goers and depositing them at the clubhouse door. That ended after a paved road was completed in 1930. Bus service began in 1934.

The Parkersburg Country Club, incorporated in 1902, considers itself to be the oldest in West Virginia. Its colonial-style clubhouse was completed in June 1903 at a cost of $12,000. When the lights were turned on at the inaugural dance, the power surge overloaded the circuits and the dancers were plunged into darkness. However, the staff found enough lanterns to cast a romantic glow over the dancers. The club’s only outdoor activity was tennis until a six-hole golf course was added in 1905. Increasing interest in golf encouraged the Parkersburg Club to build a regulation 18-hole golf course in the 1920’s.

In 1921 Huntington’s Guyan Country Golf and Club was founded when the club bought the house and land of industrialist John Ensign. Guyan opened a rolling 18-hole course in 1922. The 1930’s were difficult for Guyan. In 1932 the clubhouse was destroyed by fire. In 1938 the club went bankrupt because of the Great Depression and was sold on the courthouse steps for $18,000.

In 1929 the Raleigh Coal & Coke Company established the Black Knight Country Club in Beckley to provide recreational and social amenities for its executives and visiting businessmen. The club had a par 36, nine-hole golf course and a three-story clubhouse. Three rooms on the third floor of the clubhouse were used to house visitors, and liquor was served at the club during Prohibition. Golf was a secondary attraction.

Likewise the Williams Country Club was built in the Northern Panhandle town of Weirton in 1932 by the Weirton Steel Company. The largest employer in West Virginia in its heyday, the company needed a place to entertain business clients in style. Named for John C. Williams, the president of the company from 1929 until his death in 1936, a clubhouse was built on top of a hill, providing a spectacular view of the Ohio River Valley. An 18-hole golf course was built along the flat top of the hill. A lavish apartment, called “The Lodge” was built near the clubhouse for visiting clients and company officials, especially E.T. Weir, one of the founders of Weirton Steel, who lived in Pittsburgh and commuted to Weirton.

Other early West Virginia golf clubs were built at the Fairmont Field Club in 1912; at the Bluefield Country Club, which built a short, hilly, nine-hole course in 1914; and at the Princeton Country Club in 1921. The Logan Country Club in Chapmanville built a flat nine-hole course along the Guyandotte River in 1934.

One of the outstanding public courses built during this era was the original course at Oglebay Park in Wheeling. The first nine holes were built in the 1920’s, but the second nine were not completed until the late 1930’s through a cooperative effort by three New Deal work relief agencies.

 Golfing began early in Wheeling when the Wheeling Country Club was incorporated in 1902, financed by the sale of stock. A list of the first stockholders read like a “Who’s Who” of Wheeling society, a community that included a number of millionaires. The clubhouse and golf course opened in 1906 with memberships costing a $100 initiation fee and $100 annual dues. The club’s main focus was golf, and it soon began to turn out champion golfers. In fact, Wheeling golfers dominated both men’s and women’s golf in West Virginia through the 1940’s.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.