Monday, October 13, 2014

"A Tricky Little Course:" A History of the Campus Golf Course

October is North Carolina Archives Month, an annual observance of the agencies and people responsible for maintaining and making available the archival and historical records of our nation, state, communities and people. The 2014 NC Archives Month theme is "North Carolina at Play: Health and Leisure in Our State.” All of our Spartan Stories in October will focus on this theme.

Mary Channing Coleman, director of the physical education department at Woman's College from 1920 to 1947, was a strong force for the development of athletic resources on the WC campus. In addition to advocating for the construction of the first building used solely as a gymnasium, Coleman oversaw the development of tennis courts and other facilities for WC students to use in both academic and recreational pursuits. In the fall of 1929, a single golf hole was constructed on the west side of Rosenthal Gymnasium, and plans called for extension to a nine-hole course.

WC students on the campus golf course, 1940
In Fall 1933, President Julius Foust announced the approval of a number of Civil Works Administration (CWA) projects at WC, including the much-anticipated golf course construction. In a March 9, 1935, memorandum, Dean of Administration (and future college president) Walter Clinton Jackson announced that "the little golf course which was constructed here last year as a CWA project is now ready for use." The 1935-1936 College Bulletin lists a nine-hole golf course among its description of athletic facilities, noting that "lessons in golf will be available as part of the work in Physical Education."

At its initial opening, the course faced challenges due to low use. A Woman's College Golf Club was founded to maintain the course, with low-cost memberships offered to students, faculty, alumnae, and guests of members. In a 1937 memo, however, Jackson noted that "for two years and more, the whole matter [of the golf course] was a source of unending difficulties, annoyance and trouble. Neither the faculty nor the students would support the club." In 1940, the course was reduced to three holes due to poor patronage and high costs of upkeep. During World War II, the remaining three holes were left unmaintained.

Golf exhibition at the WC course, 1959
It would be the Fall of 1954 before plans for a new campus golf course took form. While this course would occupy the same physical space as the previous course, it would not follow the design of its predecessor. Instead, this new course would be developed with leadership from WC alumnae and faculty member Ellen Griffin, an innovator in golf instruction and one of the three original organizers of the Women's Professional Golf Association (now the Ladies Professional Golf Association, or LPGA).

The grand opening of the new course took place in October 1957. The Physical Education Department's Christmas bulletin reported that "we had all of the finest local pros play the course the opening day. It was exciting with radio and television coverage and lots of pictures ... It's a tricky little course and being used a great deal by all of the college community." The nine holes measured only 1,120 yards, about a third the length of nine holes and a regular golf course, and had a par of 31.

Indeed, the course saw extensive use for class instruction, clinics, and exhibitions. WC hosted the National Women's Collegiate Golf Tournament in 1953. Griffin directed the LPGA National Golf School on the course from 1961 to 1963, and a number of LPGA touring professionals used the course to teach lessons or play exhibitions. In Spring 1962, eight sections of Beginning Golf were offered through the Physical Education Department.

A view from the 9th hole tee, 1968
At the same time, however, campus administrators were beginning to question the course, both in terms of costs of maintenance and use of land. Chancellor Otis Singletary wrote in 1966 that "the University has been questioned frequently over the past few years, both officially and unofficially, concerning the future of the golf course. This usually arises in connection with the University's need for land for additional building. Our standard has been that land is too valuable for us to keep this entire area as a golf course. We hope we might keep one or two fairways for instructional purposes in golf, but that much of this land would be needed for other outdoor physical education facilities." Although no immediate action was taken, two years later, Griffin left UNCG to open her own golf teaching facility.

In the ensuing years, construction of the new campus recreation center, other outdoor recreation facilities, and additional campus parking eliminated most of the course's nine holes. Maintenance was spotty, with many fairways becoming overgrown and drainage problems plaguing others. Finally, in 1998, campus administrators broke ground on a 150-yard practice fairway with two greens and a bunker on the West Market Street side of campus. The fairway and greens occupy what was the sixth hole of the nine-hole course.

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