In 1785, Samuel Mickle Fox, patriarch of a wealthy Philadelphia family, purchased 1,100 acres of mountain property, east of the Allegheny River and south of the Clarion River. He built the family’s summer estate and over the years added another 117,000 acres to their real estate portfolio. He could not have believed that nearly 100 years later, his great-great-grandson, Joseph Mickle Fox, would leave the country a world-class cricketer and return an Old Tom Morris acolyte who would turn a small corner of their property into a piece of national golf history.
Today, Foxburg Country Club and Golf Course is a semi-private, nine-hole course about an hour’s drive northeast of Oakmont Country Club, the storied host of the 2016 U.S. Open. What it lacks in amenities and star power it makes up for in humble standing as the nation’s oldest continuously operating golf course.
In 1884, Fox returned from his cricket junket with the All American Cricket Team in England, Ireland and Scotland. He didn’t rush to hold court with his pals at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. He needed to indulge his fascination with this new game, taught to him by Morris during a team stop to St. Andrews. Morris sold him clubs and gutta percha balls and Fox headed west, carving out a three-hole course on the family grounds. Before long, the course couldn’t handle the volume of play and by 1887, Foxburg Golf Course was born.
Denise Mains has been secretary of Foxburg’s board of governors that oversees the club for 20 years and is in her first year as pro shop manager. She says modern-day Foxburg golfers share Fox’s do-it-yourself sensibilities.
“We are very proud of our two greenkeepers and three other part-time employees,” said Mains. “Our members do a lot of work on the course and around the clubhouse. We have 85 members – we once had as many as 300. The members have work days three times a year. We plant all the flowers, weed the flower beds, clean the porch and patio areas and do extra work. Our members designed and built our Hickory Stick Pub and the back patio area.”
Playing at 2,514 yards, the course doesn’t look intimidating at first sight. But as so often is the case, its looks are deceiving.
“We have a lot of people who play golf at Foxburg for the first time and think they will dominate the course,” said Mains, laughing. “But our fairways are narrow and lined by trees, our rough is thick and our greens are small and fast. The course is a challenge and that is why people love to play it so much.”
“Walking is encouraged, especially for nine holes. We have a junior program for children who can join for only $50 per year. Several members volunteer to help beginning golfers learn the game.”
In 2007, Foxburg was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Its three-story Adirondack-style log cabin clubhouse was built in 1912 by a resident; the club bought it in 1942.
“Our log book has entries for golfers from all 50 states,” said Mains. “We do about 15 rounds a day and get most of our golfers from Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
“We also used to have a lot of events on our front lawns, where people would picnic, talk and relax without all their electronic devices! It was a joy.”
Foxburg Facts: Yardage: 2,514 yards (nine holes), 5,202 yards (18 holes); Weekday rates: $15-$20, walking; $20-$25, with cart; Weekend rates: $23-$28, walking; $28-$33 for 18, with cart. Location: 369 Harvey Road, Foxburg, PA, 16036; Website: foxburggolf.com
History on Display: The second floor of the Foxburg clubhouse houses the American Golf Hall of Fame, a collection of about 300 pieces of golf artifacts, including clubs and balls from Joseph Mickle Fox’s first encounter with Old Tom Morris.
David Chmiel is manager of Member content for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org