The Founding of Washtenaw Golf Club

The Founding of Washtenaw Golf Club Golfers with sheep in the background
Golfers at Washtenaw Country Club with sheep “mowing” in the background.

The Founding of Washtenaw Golf Club

For its 100th Anniversary in 1999, Washtenaw Country Club published a book detailing much of the club’s history. The source material had been collected over the years by Clark M. Greenstreet, who was a member from 1924 until his death in 1989. The text was written by WCC member Bill Sliger and Michele McElmurry Fecht. It is copyright 1999 by Edward Brothers, Inc.

I don’t know how many copies of the book are still in existence. I’d love to have one of my own, but have been able to scan the only copy I know of. Edward Brothers printing went out of business in 2018.

What follow is an excerpt on the early days of the club from the book. Of note, it identifies the architect of the original nine-hole course: Englishman Willie Way, who charged $10 for the work. It also points out that of the 99 charter members, 11 were women. I think that’s notable for the era.

I’m also fascinated by the fact that the Country Club had its own rail station on a line running along what now is Packard between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

From the 100th Anniversary book:

The founding of Washtenaw Golf Club. Clubhouse

The Early Years …

In the fall of 1898, two young, well-to-do Ypsilantians, Cora (Cornwell) Henry – having just returned from a summer vacation on Marthas’ Vinyard – and I. Newton Swift — a student at Yale – introduced their friend Daniel L. Quirk, Jr. to a “wonderful game” being played on the East Coast. Convincing a friendly farmer on the west edge of town to allow them to sink three decapitated tomato cans in his freshly cut hay field, the threesome invited friends to join them for the new game of golf. 

Enthusiasm for the game was infectious. On July 11, 1899, a group of 15 Ypsilan­ti and Ann Arbor residents met and offi­cially formed Washtenaw Country Club. Signers of the Articles of Association included A.A. Van Cleve, S.E. Dodge, R.W. Hemphill, Jr., E.C. Cornwell, J.B. Calvan, H.S. Platt, Charles D. Church, Henry W Douglas, William Gardam, David B. Dodge, D.L. Quirk, Jr., I. Newton Swift, W.L. Pack, Duane Spalsbury and David R. Morford. On July 18, 1899, the club was incorporated. 

While it has been acclaimed “the second oldest golf club in Michigan,” Washtenaw actually is the third. Detroit Country Club was started as a nine-hole layout in about 1889, while Saginaw Country Club started its course in early 1899, a few months ahead of Washtenaw. 

The Washtenaw Country Club railway station.

A 3 Hole Course On The Rice Family Farm 

Construction of a three-hole course was quickly begun on the site, which was part of the Rice family farm along Packard Road between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The club organizers leased the acreage for $25 per year; annual dues were $5. 

On July 25, 1899, a contract was signed with Joseph Hutting to build a clubhouse at a cost of $855. It opened for business a month later on August 26. For the money, it was amazingly large. It contained a good-sized central room with fire­place plus a lean-to kitchen and wood-burning stove. Members took their own lunches or cooked their meals on the spot. Locker rooms were in the basement. 

Golf course maintenance was also remark­ably reasonable. Sheep were kept in a movable pen. By relocating the pen on a regular basis the fairways were kept well-manicured. No noisy mowers were needed! Occasionally, how­ever, it was reported that sheep cries could be heard when an errant shot hit one of the graz­ing animals.  

This early use of sheep as fairway mow­ers may explain why the club’s insignia now contains the head of a ram. The club’s official colors established in those early days remain huntsman’s green and golfer’s red. 

Charter member DeLynn Whitmire in 1899

By the end of the first season the charter membership of Washtenaw Country Club had reached 99. Eleven of these members were women golfers. 

ln 1900, the groundskeeper’s wages were fixed at $35 per month. In 1901, the minutes note that club cleaner Ferdinand Henderson was autho1ized to paint golf balls of members and clean clubs at the fallowing prices: painting three balls, 10- cents; cleaning clubs, 10-cents. 

The golf ball most players used was the “gutta percha” brand, which was not built for distance. An old clipping from 1899 reports a drive of 50 yards as a record. At that time a complete set of “wood­en shafted” clubs consisted of two woods -a driver and a brassie -and three irons -a mid­iron, a mashie and a putter.  

In 1900, three more holes were added to the course expanding it to six holes. In 1901, the 9-hole course -“short but tricky” -was com­pleted with a total yardage of 2,423 and a par thirty-four. Englishman Willie Way, one of the best-known professionals of that time who was teaching in Detroit, was hired to complete the nine holes. His fee: $10. 

Because this was the era before automobiles, most members would get to the club by hop­ping on the Detroit Interurban street car, fare five cents. It wound its way along Packard Road between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. The street car platform was within 16 feet of the clubhouse 

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I’ll have more excerpts on the founding of Washtenaw Golf Club in the coming weeks.

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