Ironically, golf was not part of the original plans for The Country Club when it was founded in 1889. Prominent Cleveland industrialist and philanthropist Samuel Mather envisioned a clubhouse in the country suitable for picnics, parties and weekly horseback excursions into the countryside.
But on a trip to New Jersey in the spring of 1895, Mather was invited to play golf at St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, N.Y., and he instantly became infatuated with the game. Upon his return, he organized the Cleveland Golf Club and elected its first president. Cleveland G.C. was a subsidiary of The Country Club and only members of the latter were privileged to join. A short nine-hole course was laid out on land adjacent to the clubhouse, and golf soon became an integral part of the club.
The club continued to thrive over the next couple of decades with a new clubhouse being constructed in 1906 after a damaging fire, and the golf course growing to a full 18-hole layout. But by the early 1920s, urban sprawl had now reached the club’s current location near the shore of Lake Erie in what is now Bratenahl, Ohio. What had been a quiet parcel of land in the country was now surrounded by industrial property which began to encroach on the club’s tranquility.
So in 1928, the Van Sweringen brothers, assemblers of a railroad empire and creators of the suburb known as Shaker Heights, proposed that the club relocate to Pepper Pike with the promise of a larger parcel of land with which to build a new clubhouse and golf course. William Flynn was brought in to design the course and on Aug. 10, 1930, the club in its current form opened.
Five years later, the U.S. Amateur was conducted at The Country Club with Lawson Little completing what was known as “The Little Slam,” by winning the U.S. and British Amateur titles in successive seasons. Little also is the last golfer to have won the prestigious Sullivan Award, given annually to the best amateur athlete in the country.
The club was able to survive hard financial times during the Depression. It currently provides a variety of recreational activities for its members, including tennis, swimming, platform tennis, golf and skeet shooting.
The Country Club can also boast of the man who invented the Haskell ball, which was the first rubber-cored, rubber-wound ball used in the game. Coburn Haskell frequently played with Bertram Work, a superintendent of the B.F. Goodrich Company, which produced many products, including rubber tires and the Norka golf ball of solid gutta percha. This ball had replaced the feathery golf ball that was popular with one that had a stitched leather cover.
As the story goes, Haskell had played a poor round with the Norka ball and was sitting on the club’s porch twisting a rubber band around a finger when he was inspired with an idea. Work took the idea back to Goodrich and a patent was obtained. The first experiments with this new ball were carried out by The Country Club’s golf professional, Joe Mitchell, and several other members long before the balls were marketed commercially. The Haskell ball revolutionized golf and eventually made many of the early golf courses in the U.S. obsolete. History shows that Walter Travis used the new Haskell ball to win the British Amateur in 1904.