Washtenaw GC Survived Depression By Going Public

Over its hundred-twenty-plus year history, Washtenaw Golf Club has — in turn — existed as a private club (1899 – 1932), a semi-private club (1933 – 1945) a private club (1946 – 2018), a semi-private club (2018 – 2019) and finally as a public course (2020 – present).

From Washtenaw’s founding in 1899 to 1933, it was a private club counted among the luminaries of Michigan golf. Washtenaw Country Club was one of the ten founding members of the Michigan State Golf League in 1906, an organization which morphed into the Detroit District and finally into the Golf Association of Michigan.

St. Joseph Herald Press Feb. 25, 1929

The Great Depression hit Washtenaw hard, though.

In a bit of incredibly bad timing, Washtenaw members had sold mortgage bonds to finance a new $90,000 clubhouse in 1929. Work started in March, and the clubhouse was completed in July 1929.

Of note is that $1,000 in workman’s tools were stolen from a construction shed on June 24. “Tools valued at nearly $1000 were reported stolen this morning from Washtenaw Country Club, which is now under construction. The robbery occurred after the evening rain and tracks showed a small truck had been used and that a woman with small heeled shoes participated.” (Detroit Free Press, June 26, 1929)

I could find no follow-up to determine if the culprits were caught.

The Washtenaw Country Club Clubhouse in 1929

The current Washtenaw Golf Club clubhouse sits in the same location, although the original was damaged and rebuilt after fires in 1951, 1952 and 1987.

Free Press Nov. 21, 1931

In spite of the Great Depression, there was some optimism at Washtenaw in 1931, as the club had managed to cut costs and even show a small profit in its cafeteria. The “society notices” of the era show dozens of events held that the club, from Fraternity and Sorority Formals to weddings to political events. The club also continued to host high school and college tournaments.

It was not enough, however, as by 1933, the Club was unable to pay its bills and landed in Federal Bankruptcy Court.

To rescue the course, the club was restructured as the Washtenaw Golf Company. Stock in the company was given to bondholders and other creditors in lieu of payment. Members gave up their rights.

From 1933 to 1945, golfers could pay a daily fee or purchase season passes.

Play during this period was 60% fee play and 40% membership. Most of the regulars were from Ann Arbor (50%) and Ypsilanti (40%), with others from Milan, Saline and Belleville (source: Ypsilanti Daily Press, Oct. 3, 1945).

I have been unable to find any article indicating what the daily fees at Washtenaw were during this period. Chandler Park was charging thirty-five cents for nine holes in 1943. Verona Hills charged fifty cents in 1937. Lakeview Hills Country Club in Lexington charged seventy-five cents.

Free Press, April 8, 1933

Washtenaw wasn’t the only private course forced to open to public play to survive during the depression. Among the others were Tam O’Shanter and Oakland Hills.

Oakland Hills operated its North Course as a daily fee in 1933. It remained so until 1967.

In 1933, Barton Hills cut its annual dues from $100 to $60. Birmingham cut theirs from $150 to $75. Bloomfield Hills cut their annual charges from $275 to $205.

Detroit district clubs also were weighing the sale of beer in 1933 with the end of Prohibition. In April, however, the clubs apparently were waiting on a determination of whether private clubs could sell beer under the new state law. A beer license cost $200.

At Washtenaw, shrewd management under Joseph Thompson, the Golf Company’s president, allowed the club to buy back much of its stock during the late 1930s.

Ypsilanti Daily Press, Jan. 9, 1946

Danger for Washtenaw still lurked, however, as there were rumors that controlling stock was being sought by gambling and development interests.

In the 1940s, member Clark Greenstreet — although not a wealthy man — set out to buy as much stock from non-club members as he could. Surprising even himself, by 1944, Greenstreet had become the single largest stockholder in the club.

Teaming up with the second largest stockholder, Greenstreet devised a plan to take the course private again.

Under the plan, three hundred memberships would be sold at a cost of $75 a year. Unlike in the past, members would not be required to hold stock in the club, but only stockholders could vote.

Greenstreet’s plan succeeded, and Washtenaw operated as a private club until 2018.

Ypsilanti Daily Press Oct 3, 1945

On an interesting note, a 1945 Ypsilanti Daily Press article thought it necessary to comment that although the course was open to the public, Washtenaw had not lost its status among Michigan golf’s founding clubs.

The article noted: “Washtenaw Country Club is known as the third oldest course in the state, and largely for this reason it has been allowed to continue its relationship with the Detroit District Golf Assocation even though it has been operated on a semi-public basis.”

The Detroit District — later the Golf Association of Michigan — did not include public golf facilities as members until 1985. At the time, Washtenaw Golf Club, the third oldest course in the state, was in danger of being “delisted” by its private club peers.

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