The Country Club Plays Role In Game's History

Flynn-Designed Course Home To Father Of Modern Golf Ball

The original Haskell ball, which revolutionized the game, was designed by The Country Club member Coburn Haskell at the turn of the 20th century. (USGA Museum)
By Tom Paul and Wayne Morrison
August 1, 2012

The Country Club in Cleveland, Ohio, was formed in 1889, the second club in America so named. Initially, golf was not an activity available to the membership. The club offered a country setting for riding horses, boating and swimming, in addition to attractive grounds for picnics and parties.

When the club’s first president, Samuel Mather, traveled East on business he was entertained by some members of the original Apple Tree Gang from St. Andrew’s Golf Club in Yonkers, N.Y. Mather returned to Cleveland fully smitten by the game of golf and was determined to introduce it to the membership.

At a board meeting in March 1895, land was secured for the golf course and a motion was made and seconded that a golf club be organized. Mather was elected the club’s first president.

On July 13, 1895, the formal opening of the golf course took place. The club retained the original nine-hole course until 1913 when an additional nine holes were constructed.

One of the club members, Coburn Haskell, created a sensation in the world of golf – one that later necessitated that the club look elsewhere for new grounds for golf. Haskell was one of the club’s better players. After a day of struggle on the links, Haskell sat on the club porch playing with a rubber band. In doing so, he came up with an idea to improve upon the solid gutta-percha ball. Haskell and his friend, Bertram G. Work, the superintendent of the B.F. Goodrich Company factory, developed a ball with a solid rubber core with windings of elastic rubber much like the construction of a baseball, which likely influenced Haskell.

In 1903, Joe K. Bole and Sterling Beckwith played with the new Haskell ball in the finals of the club championship. Both gentlemen flew their tee shots into a cross bunker 230 yards from the tee. They found the ball hard to control and after the second hole both men returned to their customary gutta-percha balls.

The first few balls Haskell produced had essentially smooth surfaces, but the next prototype had a mesh marking on it. Walter Travis used this improved version of the Haskell ball to capture the 1904 British Amateur, becoming the first American to win the championship.

Over the years, the improved distance of the golf ball relegated The Country Club, and several other golf courses, to shorter than championship standards. Factories and residential developments also began to encroach on the once pastoral site of The Country Club, so a committee was formed to look into the feasibility of moving the club. The club acquired a new tract of land next to the Pepper Pike Club, a William Flynn design. In the spring of 1928, Flynn was hired to design a modern golf course and Flynn, along with Howard C. Toomey, was commissioned to construct the new course. The ability of Flynn’s companies to design, build and grow-in a golf course in an integrated fashion was an attractive selling point to prospective clients. The new course opened for play in September 1930.

The course itself has only about 50 feet of elevation change. Natural ridges and hollows were used throughout a number of holes. The greens were angled from the line of play, providing for preferred positions in the wide fairways. The bunkering was initially more curved in appearance. Today the outlines are a bit more generic in presentation but the placement of the bunkering still results in excellent strategic implications. The routing is basically counter-clockwise with a number of changes of direction so that no two consecutive holes are oriented in the same direction. The holes are varied and the routing progression is a balanced plan with a thorough test of the golfer's acquired skills.

Tom Paul and Wayne Morrison are members of the USGA Museum & Library Committee. They have played key roles in helping develop the USGA Architecture Archive, the world's first and only central Web repository of historically significant materials on golf course architecture.


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