Here’s a nineteenth-hole toast to the ghosts of some Fort Worth golf courses that have gone the way of knickers and niblicks.
In the beginning golf in America was a game for the well-to-do, played at country clubs. Fort Worth was no exception. But before Fort Worth residents could play golf, they had to get a country club.
In 1902 the Telegram announced that Fort Worth Country Club had been chartered to build a country club with golf links in Arlington Heights on the former site of developer H. B. Chamberlin’s Ye Arlington Inn (burned 1894).
The country club opened in July 1903. The Telegram wrote that the golf links would not be laid out until autumn because “the hot direct sun of the summer makes golfing nearly impossible.”
The Telegram described the sport of golf: “It takes an extraordinary hold of everyone who essays it and never lets go until the player passes to that land where the bunker is known not. . . . Golf is a good old fashioned Scotch game, that looks unutterably silly to one who has never played it.”
The nine-hole golf course indeed opened in late 1903. R. G. MacAndrew, who laid out the course, predicted that “when the roughness wears off, the Country Club will have the finest golf links in the United States.”
This map shows the golf course of Fort Worth Country Club north of Collinwood and Byers streets and west of Merrick Street.
In 1910 some members of Fort Worth Country Club wanted a full eighteen-hole course. So, they mutinied to form a new country club northeast of FWCC: River Crest. Among the founders of River Crest were future Mayor William Bryce and candyman John P. King. Fort Worth Country Club survived into the 1920s before falling to development, but the River Crest course, built in 1911, lives on into its second century. Clip is from the October 24, 1910 Star-Telegram.
In 1913 Fort Worth got another country club as Glen Garden was organized by, among others, produce distributor Ben E. Keith and H. H. Cobb of the nearby Cobb brick plant and O. K. Cattle Company.
The country club was built on O. K. Cattle Company ranchland and reachable by the Cleburne interurban line. Like so many early courses, Glen Garden opened as nine holes with sand greens.
Membership was closed at two hundred in 1914.
Glen Garden honored former members Sandra Palmer and Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, who as young men caddied at Glen Garden, earning sixty-five cents a round.
Glen Garden Country Club closed in 2014. The property is now Firestone & Robertson Distilling Company.
But what about golf for the non-country club set? Not until 1917 did the city begin to think about building a municipal golf course. Clip is from the February 4 Star-Telegram.
The city did not act hastily. When the city finally bought ninety-six acres near TCU in 1922 for the first municipal golf course, it was front page news. The city would charge a green fee of twenty-five cents.
When the course opened in 1923 it was called just the “municipal course.” Later, as Fort Worth added more municipal courses, the first course was renamed “Worth Hills” (and memorialized as “Goat Hills” by Dan Jenkins).
Fast-forward down the fairway to 1961. City voters approved sale of the city’s first municipal golf course to TCU for campus expansion.
Three years after the Worth Hills course opened, on the South Side privately owned Katy Lake golf course opened as the city’s fifth course. Because the course was laid out around a former railroad storage lake, five of the nine holes had water hazards.
Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan played the Katy Lake course as youngsters. The Katy course was said to feature sand greens, but Dan Jenkins told Golf Digest: “The greens weren’t really sand, I found out. They were dark brown cottonseed hull. Oiled so they wouldn’t blow away. There was an iron rake on every green—you raked your line from the ball to the cup before you putted.” According to Jenkins, the Katy course closed in 1943. The Katy Lake site, of course, became Seminary South. Clips are from the August 31, 1928 and December 23, 1929 Dallas Morning News.
In 1930 privately owned Oakhurst Golf and Country Club opened in the Riverside area.
Ted Longworth, Harry Lee Whitaker, and Norman Voss, former employees of Glen Garden Country Club, founded Oakhurst. Longworth, former Glen Garden pro, and Whitaker leased fifty-four acres east of downtown. Whitaker was the Oakhurst manager. The course’s first pros were Longworth and Ben Hogan. Voss built a two-story frame clubhouse building and operated it. Longworth laid out a nine-hole course. To the east the Oakhurst residential area was out of bounds. To the west the Trinity River was a water trap. To the north, Mount Olivet Cemetery was, well, a death trap. (Map detail from Pete Charlton’s “1000+ Lost Antique Maps of Texas & the Southwest on DVD-ROM.”)
The golf course’s green fee was thirty-five cents ($5 today) to play nine holes and fifty cents to play all day on “a beauty spot in Texas.”
At Oakhurst Golf and Country Club you could eat chicken and steak dinners and dance to the Rythm Stompers Orchestra.
The Star-Telegram on August 9, 1930 said course pro Hogan had just broken the course record. Of course, the course had been open only six weeks.
In 1937 Ben Hogan became Oakhurst’s pro-manager. But the country club closed the next year.
Interstate 35W and the campus of Calvary Cathedral International cover much of the Oakhurst course now, but this building, Fort Worth historian Harry Max Hill says, was the pro shop.
Also in 1930 Z. Boaz in far west Fort Worth became the city’s second municipal course, made possible after Benbrook landowner Z. Boaz donated land in 1928. (In the ornithologically themed scoring of golf, a dodo is three under par, a double eagle.)
Z. Boaz golf course many a moon (and many a dodo) ago.
Z. Boaz and Oakhurst both held tournaments in October 1931.
In a move that was vociferously opposed by the golf community in public meetings, in 2012 the city closed Z. Boaz.
In 1932 the East Side got its own golf course.
Privately owned Sycamore Golf Course opened north of Sycamore Park. The course was owned by brothers James Clayton and Clarence Wesley (“Skeet”) Fincher. James was a Fort Worth fireman. Skeet was a prominent local golfer (pro at Worth Hills, Katy Lake, River Crest, Rockwood) and a course designer.
Until 1934 the course’s greens had been green in name only. Then sand was replaced by grass.
Sycamore was only nine holes, par thirty. The fairways were relatively short, lending the course to a lot of holes-in-one. In 1938, for example, John Burke aced the 125-yard third hole with a mashie niblick.
Sycamore Golf Course holds a special divot in my heart. During my brief obsession with golf in the 1960s, it was the only course I ever played.
Sycamore was the Goat Hills of the East Side. The antithesis of a country club course. There was no parking lot. The clubhouse looked like a repurposed barracks: a shotgun building of unpainted clapboard siding resting on piers with no skirting around the perimeter. You could putt a ball underneath the building from side to side. The plunger-type ball washer squeaked in a minor key, as I recall, and its bristles suffered from male pattern baldness.
The course had a few sand traps, but its main hazards were its perimeter: The course was essentially a twenty-two-acre triangle squeezed between Vickery Boulevard, Sycamore Creek, and Sycamore Street. The streets and creek were a factor in all but maybe three interior fairways.
For example, the long second fairway hugged the fence along Sycamore Street. From the time the course opened in 1932 until May 1934, the Cleburne interurban electric trolley track ran down Sycamore Street. An errant shot on that long second fairway could land on the roof of a trolley car and end up in Johnson County!
By the time I played the course in the early 1960s, the interurban track was long gone, and Sycamore Street led to the adjacent East Side Pony League baseball park. As I teed off on the second fairway, I could not get that ballpark out of my mind, knowing that if my drive sliced right to left (as a southpaw) only slightly, my ball might end up in the home team dugout, which would be a true bunker shot.
My golf partner, neighbor Jerry Zeigler, and I were budget golfers. I had a set of pawn-shop clubs stuffed into my Montgomery Ward canvas golfbag strapped to my Montgomery Ward pull-along golf cart. We never bought new balls. We played with balls we found. We used the balls with gashes only as a last resort.
Another of the course’s fairways skirted an unwooded bank of the creek. If no golfers were close behind us, we’d ease down to the creek, take off our shoes, and wade around looking for lost balls.
And we seldom played just nine holes on a single green fee. One summer day, to save money, Jerry and I finished our round but rather than get out of the sun and treat ourselves to an RC Cola in the clubhouse, we kept right on playing: a second round. And a third. And a fourth. We finally stopped after forty-five holes.
I trust that we found enough lost balls in the creek that day to finance a bottle of calamine lotion.
Sadly, East Side golfers in 1976 read this classified ad. Clarence Fincher had died in 1966 and Skeet in 1974.
The city bought the course for $100,000.
And poured a lot of money into gentrifying the course. New pro shop, clubhouse, and snack bar. A parking lot! The course would remain a nine-hole course, but its length would be increased to more than three thousand yards. And double-tee boxes would give holes a long and a short fairway.
The course’s area was tripled to sixty-six acres, stretching from Vickery Boulevard north to the Texas & Pacific tracks.
But the course bled money, and in 2019 the city voted to convert it to a city park.
These were the Fort Worth courses in 1940, as listed in Texas, a Guide to the Lone Star State.
In the early 1950s, as African Americans continued their struggle for equality, they were not allowed access to the city’s municipal courses. In 1954, under pressure by the Fort Worth Negro Golf Association and other groups, the city built a nine-hole golf course for African Americans at Harmon Field.
The course was located northeast of Terrell High School, west of the river, and north of Lancaster Avenue. The course and adjacent recreation center opened in 1954.
But Harmon Field Golf Course was to be short-lived. Soon three major highway construction projects—the turnpike, Interstate 35W, and U.S. 287—would nip at its edges. A reduced Harmon Field and its rec center remained open, but the golf course closed in 1958 and, like the other courses surveyed here, passed “to that land where the bunker is known not.”
(Thanks and a tip of the flagstick to Harry Max Hill.)