EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the 24th in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published Dec. 14.
By Karen Murphy
THOMASVILLE — Some sounds are timeless at a country club — the soft squish of shoes on a dewy green, the loud bellow of “fore!” from the fairway, the splash of cool pool water and the complaints about the heat and humidity on lazy summer afternoons.
But at Glen Arven Country Club, those sounds echo from a far-off past. The first to squish through the dewy grass at Glen Arven were mostly wealthy Northerners — the ladies in full-length Victorian dresses and hats, the men in knickers and ties. They were here to escape the harsh winter climate of the North in one of the Southeast’s most popular resort destinations.
Reconstruction and the War Between The States devastated much of Georgia, but left Thomasville relatively untouched. The railroad brought travelers here for the area’s pine-scented air and moderate climate. But it was the area’s love of outdoor pursuits and beautiful countryside that really drew the “it crowd” to Thomasville.
During this time, Thomasville was the Orlando of its time and Glen Arven was Disneyworld. From the seasonal influx of industrialists and recreationalists, Thomasville’s “Resort Era” emerged as a number of large and luxurious hotels, such as the Piney Woods Hotel and the Mitchell House, were constructed. It also is during this time that the state’s oldest continually chartered golf club, Glen Arven Country Club, was founded.
Many of the Northerners loved the Thomasville area so much they purchased large tracts of property here, in turn preserving more than 300,000 acres of what were struggling Southern plantations.
According to Sidney L. Matthew in his book Centennial History Glen Arven Country Club, Glen Arven traces its roots to entrepreneur Wyman Jones. Jones first visited Thomasville in the late 1800s after marrying Salome Hanna Chapin, whose powerful Ohio family owned property here.
The first tract Jones purchased was 510 acres off the Tallahassee road, which was the Archibald T. MacIntyre place, purchased for $5,000. The second tract was James L. Seward property bordered by Pinetree Boulevard and South Broad Street. The land featured gentle hills and beautiful native plant life, including dogwoods and tall, stately pines.
His dream was to create a “pleasure park,” much like the type seen in Northern cities, consisting of long driveways and walking paths where deer, turkey, pheasants and other animals could be observed at close range. The name for Glen Arven Park was taken from Jones’ mother, Ruth Arven. According to Matthew, “She was the perfect summation of the natural beauty and charm he saw here.”
In 1889, the Thomasville Times -Enterprise wrote about the beautiful property and advocated for the city to cooperate with Jones to make improvements on the land, stating that Glen Arven “can be made one of the most attractive resorts in this section of the country.”
Jones began leasing his park to the town’s hunting and sporting organizations in the early 1890s. The game of golf in the North Florida-South Georgia area originated informally on the plantations. Many of the owners laid out a few golf holes for their guests to play. Many members, hailing from Northern clubs, were familiar with golf, and nine holes were constructed at Glen Arven around 1892.
On the evening of March 16, 1895, Judge Hopkins met with eight other golfing enthusiasts to formalize a new golf and country club. They reportedly passed a hat and raised $2,000. The organizing committee of the new Country Club of Thomasville reported to the newspaper that it intended to build “an elaborate clubhouse with extensive grounds laid out in tennis courts, ball grounds, shooting range, race courses and free outdoor amusements.”
Jones offered to lease his pleasure park to the Country Club for $500 per year for five years with an option to renew for an additional five years. He even offered that if the club found a site that was more suitable, he would release the club from its lease. It was a “no-lose” proposition.
On April 2, 1895, it was formally announced that the Country Club of Thomasville would make Glen Arven home. A rustic wooden clubhouse was built later in 1895.
No one knows definitively who laid down the first nine holes at Glen Arven, but the United States Golf Association’s Official Golf Guide for 1900 reports that Willie Stark from New Jersey and St. Andrews, Scotland, laid out the Old Course as it existed in December 1896. Few trees and little earth were removed to construct the Old Course. All greens were sand greens, which was typical for courses of that era. The course measured 2,143 yards.
From the very beginning, not only were women asked to be members at Glen Arven, but they excelled. Beatrix Hoyt was the first woman to claim three consecutive U.S. Women’s Amateur Championships in 1896, 1897 and 1898. In 1900, Pansy Griscom won the National Women’s Amateur Championship.
By the turn of the century, membership in the Country Club of Thomasville began to wane. At that time, the private club operated only golf activities in winter months, with the links growing wild during the summer.
According to Matthew, “About that time, the legendary founders of the club rose up in indignation and took strides to save the club.” The Glen Arven Land Company was formed on April 20, 1901, and it bought 305 acres of Glen Arven from Jones for $15,000. The club changed its name to Glen Arven Country Club.
Of all the famous, influential people to walk across the course, arguably the person with the biggest contribution to the game would be Thomasville Country Club member Coburn Haskell. According to Matthew, Haskell “brought great renown to Glen Arven by virtue of his membership and his incomparable contribution to golf’s legacy as the inventor of the Haskell ball.”
The Haskell ball was a series of stretched and wound rubber strands that formed the core of the ball. The ball was then covered. The result was a ball that flew a greater distance and was more responsive. This ball replaced the old gutta percha model and revolutionized the game.
But despite this, the club was in jeopardy again in 1914. Charles M. Chapin, Edward Crozier and John F. Archbold made improvements and repairs and resurrected the failing club by March 1916.
In 1929, John Van Kleek was hired to expand the course to 18 holes and convert sand greens to Bermuda for a fee of $75,000. Van Kleek rerouted the new outward nine holes over the existing nine and cut into the untouched western portion of the club’s property for the new inward nine. Only minor changes, including the construction of several new tees, were made to the course during the next 40 years.
Over the years, the club had developed a national competitive reputation.
According to the May/June 2009 Golf Georgia article, “The Piney Woods Invitational, traditionally one of the South’s most prestigious amateur events, has been played at Glen Arven since 1919, with players such as Tommy Barnes, Doug Sanders and Kenny Knox taking honors. The club also played host to the Georgia Amateur in 1933 and 1970. From 1936 to 1941, professional players, including Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood and Ben Hogan competed in the winter tour’s Thomasville Open, which was won by Johnny Revolta, Dick Metz, Byron Nelson, Henry Picard, Lloyd Mangrum and Harold McSpaden, respectively.”
In 1938, a devastating fire destroyed the original club house. It was rebuilt, and the Howard M. Hanna Memorial Pool House was built. Locker rooms for both men and women were built underground, according to Stephane Ughetto, current Glen Arven Club house manager, to protect the privacy of the members as they walked to the pool.
As time marched on so, too, did the talented golfers who played at Glen Arven. On the women’s side, Thomasville native Mary Lena Faulk made her mark in history in 1953, as the U.S. Women’s Amateur champion. Forty years later she became the sixth woman to be inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame.
About 20 years later, according to The New York Times, “the most politically significant round of golf in American history” was played at Glen Arven. After suffering a heart attack near the end of his first term in office, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower vacationed at Milestone Plantation in February 1956. Shortly after arriving, “Ike” showed up at Glen Arven Country Club for his first play of golf since his heart attack. Reportedly, the president was a little nervous about playing, but after a couple of days of several successful nine-hole rounds, he played the entire 18 and walked up the steep hill at the final hole.
According to several reports, it was clear he was back. Soon after returning to Washington, he announced that he would run for re-election if his party nominated him. It did at its convention in San Francisco.
Today, 585 members enjoy the refined Glen Arven Country Club. Pat Fenlon, who joined the club in 1960, and Moe McClung, who joined in 1964, are the members with the longest membership in Glen Arven.
Its latest renovation of the course was designed by architect Bob Cupp. The $3 million cost of the course was raised without a member assessment. According to Ughetto, every effort was made to keep the historical integrity, yet add modern challenges and advancements, such the all-weather golf training facility, complete with video capability, that has been added to the course.
The pool area and club house also have been updated. “The dining room is busier than ever, with 27 parties in 17 days in December,s” said Ughetto.
Though fashion has changed and times have changed, what members love about the course and club have not. Golf is still golf. Hanging out at the pool is still hanging out at the pool. Good service, fresh air and relaxation are as important today as they were 125 years ago.