Friday, June 17, 2011

"Oakhurst" Golf Club

Oakhurst Golf Club marker Greenbrier County, WVGreenbrier County, WV

Marker Text: Site of the first organized golf club in United States. It was formed, 1884, on the "Oakhurst" estate by owner, Russell W. Montague, a New Englander, and Scotchmen: George Grant, Alexander M. and Roderick McLeod and Lionel Torrin.

Location: On U.S. Route 60 east of downtown White Sulphur Springs at the intersection with junction with WV Route 92. Erected by the West Virginia Historic Commission in 1965.  Marker is group another marker title, “Dry Creek Battle.”

Oakhurst Golf Club marker at intersection with Routes 60 & 92  The Oakhurst Golf Club course is located approximately two miles northeast of White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County off the Big Draft Road on Montague Drive. I found this marker particularly interesting, because the golf course is located in the same area where I spent some of my summers as a child, visiting relatives that lived along Big Draft Road. My father was born north of this location at the end of Big Draft Road.

  Oakhurst Links, near White Sulphur Springs, was the first organized golf club and course in America. The Oakhurst Links property began as the farm of Russell W. Montague, a native of Dedharn, Massachusetts who moved to Greenbrier County, West Virginia in 1876. Montague was joined in founding the club in 1884 by George Grant, a retired British army officer; Alexander and Roderick MacLeod from Scotland; and Lionel Torrin, who was the owner of a tea plantation in India, avid golfer, and regular summer visitor. Frazer Corron, a local carpenter, made golf clubs for the club members.

Oakhurst Links Historic Club House, Greenbrier Co. WV

This photo is the original club house on the Oakhurst Links.

  The nine-hole course is based upon traditional Scottish design elements and was played for about 15 years by the club, but as members aged or moved, the course gradually fell into disuse. Nonetheless, Oakhurst helped to establish golf in America. It was the home of the first regularly played tournament in the U.S., with the 1888 Challenge Medal as trophy; Montague was the first winner.

Oakhurst Links Sign at Entrance to Golf Club property

Photo is the sign at the entrance to the Golf Club on Montague Drive.

  Montague and company had first-hand knowledge of English and Scottish golf courses when they prepared the design for Oakhurst, which was less a formally designed landscape than it was a functionally integrated part of the topography; very little earth moving or wholesale modification of the pre-existing pasture was necessary to create the greens, fairways, traps, and tees.

  Laid out over an existing pasture, the Oakhurst Links golf course operates in a generally counter-clockwise pattern of play and covers most of the thirty-five acres within the present property boundaries. When viewed from Big Draft Road adjacent to the southwest margin of the property, the course appears at first to be nothing more than open sheep pasture land ringed by trees and mountains. Upon entering the property and traveling on the gravel drive to the main house, however, it is possible to make out areas of different color and texture on the valley floor that delineate the greens, fairways, and the rough areas of the golf course.

Oakhurst Links plaque as an National Historic Place  The nine holes of the course add up to a total of 2,235 yards, with most holes requiring two shots to reach the green. The first hole is known colloquially as the "road hole," since it passes over the gravel drive that leads to the house, which emulates the feature of the same name at the St. Andrews course in Scotland. The original greens at Oakhurst, if they were planted with grass at all, would have been native pasture grass and left to grow much longer than what is normal today.

  This geographic isolation at the far end of a narrow valley has kept modem development at bay and preserved a high level of historic landscape integrity. The Montague house and the layout and vegetation of the course have changed only slightly since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Oakhurst Links plaque as an National Historic Place

View of the golf course from the road leading up to the club house.

  Shortly after the establishment of the course, golf would begin a gradual increase as the recreation choice for America's growing urban and suburban middle and upper classes.' At the time Oakhurst began growing tall with pasture grasses, the neighboring Greenbrier resort would open its own golf course, bringing a connection between golf and resort-style vacationing in the U.S.

  Although Oakhurst remains the only pre-1900 golf course to maintain its original length, setting, and design characteristics. Most early courses over time were lengthened or altered to keep up with advances in ball and club technology, but Oakhurst, by virtue of its low-impact use as an isolated pasture between 1912 and 1994, has retained its approximate form and character.

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