Historical Places

The Cleveland Golf Club and The Country Club

11409 Lake Shore Boulevard

The Country Club's origin dates from 1889, when the Bit & Bridle Club, a small, informal group of horseback riders, frequently rode from their Cleveland mansions out to open country along Lake Erie. Members envisioned a log cabin-shelter clubhouse suitable for weekly horseback excursions into the countryside. As word spread about a planned clubhouse near Dugway Brook, Cleveland's leading citizens developed a strong interest in membership. But, unfortunately, too many acquaintances wanted to join, so the log cabin idea was abandoned.

Bit and Bridle members initially conceived of building a club "out of town." They purchased a site in Glenville Township and planned to build a log cabin meeting place for their weekly outings.

Members envisioned a clubhouse suitable for picnics, parties, and weekly horseback excursions into the countryside. But, as word spread about the building of a log cabin near Dugway Brook, many of Cleveland's leading citizens besieged the club with membership requests.

First Country Club Clubhouse 1889
First Country Club Clubhouse 1889

The log cabin was never built. However, the idea attracted others, and plans for a more elaborate social club on the lakefront were made. As a result, the Country Club of Cleveland was formed as “a club in the country for picnics and parties,” with a membership limited to 100. Following were officers of the club: Samuel Mather, president; Jeptha Wade II, vice-president; Charles C. Bolton, treasurer; and James Parmalee, secretary. Fifteen acres of land on Eddy Road next to the lake was acquired from Charles Coit.

In 1889, the chartered club dedicated the newly built clubhouse to “fun in the open air.” Membership was limited to 100 members. The first president was Samuel Mather.

First Cleveland Golf Club Clubhouse 1898
First Cleveland Golf Club Clubhouse 1898

While on a business trip in the east, Samuel Mather was invited to play golf at the Saint Andrew’s Golf Club, located in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.  He returned from his trip with a passion for the new game.

On March 23, 1895, Mather held an organizational meeting to form a golf club. Under his leadership, the Cleveland Golf Club was organized as a subsidiary of The Country Club to build the first golf course west of the Appalachians. The following officers were elected: Samuel Mather, president; Horace Andrews, vice-president; and Robert H. Clark, secretary-treasurer. Only members of The Country Club were privileged to join.

Grounds were leased from Charles Coit for links east of Eddy Road. A short nine-hole course was laid out, and a shack was built just north of the boulevard to be used as a pro shop and caddy shack. Coit stipulated in the lease that the club provide a fence to keep out the cows.

The first formal opening for members only took place on July 13, 1895, with demonstrations on the simple site causing many to refer to the game as "pasture pool." Despite that, golf soon became an integral part of club activities. From the first, golf was considered a sport that both men and women could play with dignity.

The Cleveland Leader reported, "The course of the club begins near the lake, and the first hazard is a six-foot hedge, a wire fence, and a bunker, on top of which is a huge, varicolored Japanese parasol shading a rustic bench. The course runs south to the railroad track, west to Eddy Road, and then north again on the west side of the green to the finishing hole near the lake." Only four artificial bunkers were constructed. There were enough fences, hedges, roads, and ditches to make the links difficult enough.

Mather persuaded Joe Mitchell to leave the Royal Berlin Golf Course and come to Bratenahl as the club's first professional. Mitchell had been the instructor to Kaiser Wilhelm. But, because of Prussian cavalrymen jumping their horses over the bunkers and goose-stepping troops cutting up the greens, he accepted a bid to come to Cleveland. He carried his bags of clubs up a dusty road from the Coit station and found only a three-room shack with no running water when he reached the golf club.

Second Country Club Clubhouse 1900
Second Country Club Clubhouse 1900

The clubhouse for the Country Club caught fire on October 1, 1899. The only means of warming the building was a fireplace in the entrance hall with a high cobblestone chimney and a wide hearth. Unfortunately, the hearth was built on the heavy joists of the floor and became charred. They eventually burst into flame, and the clubhouse burned to the ground.

The Country Club  opened a new clubhouse on August 4, 1900, chiefly as a social gathering place for "fun in the open air." The clubhouse stood farther from the lake than the old one but was built on the same general plan, only larger. It was a social club with still emphasis on riding, but activities included croquet, swimming, and picnics. The clubhouse was never open during the winter. The club officers were: E. W. Oglebay, president; George Russell, chairman of the house committee; D. B. Chambers, secretary-treasurer; and F. F. Hickox, chairman of the house committee.

Second Cleveland Golf Club Clubhouse on Coit Road 1900.
Second Cleveland Golf Club Clubhouse on Coit Road 1900.

The new home of the Golf Club was written up in The Plain Dealer on May 27, 1900. "The house was a quaint rambling structure standing in a grove of trees only a step away from the Shoreline cars. There were about twelve acres around the house with plenty of trees, pretty walks, a rustic summer home, and a most romantic bridge spanning a little gully which at one time accommodated a little stream but has only grasses, ferns, and wildflowers."

Since the Country Club had been primarily a social club since its founding, there was apparently some objection to golf's predominance by the non-golfing members. Indications of this rift among the members were marked in the mantel by two figures threatening each other with clubs. Above the battling figures was the second pair of figures, dated 1902, who have decided to have a drink together and let bygones be bygones.

The Cleveland Golf Club members decided to have a clubhouse of their own. They acquired the country home known as Six Acres, owned by the Oliver Clay family at 12415 Coit Road, convenient both in plan and location. A new clubhouse was officially opened on May 5, 1900. The building committee advocated purchasing a flock of sheep as less expensive than hiring men to mow and also more picturesque.

The house was remodeled, rearranged, and enlarged to be adapted for club purposes. Unlike the old one, the clubhouse was used as a full-fledged country club in addition to its golfing use. A restaurant was one of the much-appreciated features.

The new home of the Cleveland Golf Club was written up in The Plain Dealer on May 27, 1900. "The house was a quaint rambling structure standing in a grove of trees only a step away from the Shoreline cars. There were about twelve acres around the house with plenty of trees, pretty walks, a rustic summer home, and a most romantic bridge spanning a little gully which at one time accommodated a little stream but has only grasses, ferns, and wildflowers."

Around three sides of the house ran a broad veranda furnished with easy chairs, rugs, and tables. One could see the links from the porch. On entering, there was a little square hall. To the left was the lounging room, and beyond it, the lady's room. A door at the end led to the lady's locker room with fifty lockers for women members.

To the right of the entrance hall were the dining rooms. One, a long bright room with a bay window, was the main dining room. Opening from it was a smaller room used for private parties.

Leading back from the lounging room, one passed through a porch to the men's lockers. The room was large, with rows of 150 oak lockers against the walls. Included was a bath and a telephone.

Upstairs bedrooms were fitted so that fourteen people could be accommodated overnight. All of the member rooms contained two to four single beds. Most of the rooms were regularly rented by the members. However, two rooms were reserved for guests. There was a bath on the floor.

Near the clubhouse was a small cottage that belonged to the club so that families could come out and stay during the summer.

The club steward supervised two cooks, four waiters, a chambermaid, and outside help for the grounds. Servants occupied a section of the second floor.

Third Country Club Clubhouse 1908
Third Country Club Clubhouse 1908

In 1902 the Cleveland Golf Club consolidated with The Country Club. The golf club gave up their Coit Road home and returned to the recently built Country Club clubhouse. Thus, the golf club became an integral part of The Country Club.

In 1906, the second clubhouse sustained a damaging fire. Thanks to the resourcefulness of the members, tents were set up, and the social activities continued uninterrupted.

A third clubhouse, designed by architect and club member Abram Garfield, was completed in 1908. The building contained a magnificent ballroom, a formal dining room, a glass-enclosed lake dining room, a bar and grill overlooking Dugway Brook, and a paneled library with a fireplace on the first floor.

Above the bar and grill was a large veranda where summer tea dances were held, and breathtaking sunsets were enjoyed. The second and third floors consisted of forty-five rooms for the convenience and occupancy of club members.

In 1909, thirty-five acres south of the railroad tracks were leased from the Coit family, and the golf course eventually grew to a full eighteen holes. A bridge and stairway allowed golfers to cross the railroad tracks.

By 1926, the once quiet parcel became surrounded by industrial property that began to encroach on the tranquility of the Club. The noise and aroma of halted livestock trains negatively impacted the adjacent golfers. Factory workers eating their lunches along the perimeter of the course were audibly appreciative of the female players. However, gentleman golfers were treated with disruptive taunts from industrial onlookers, "Hit it, Percy, hit it!"

The solution to the problem came in an offer in 1928 from the Van Sweringen brothers, creators of Shaker Heights. The Van Sweringens proposed that the Club relocate to a new Pepper Pike development with the promise of a large parcel of land and a loan to build a new clubhouse. The plan was approved, and the ground was broken for a new clubhouse on Lander Road.

The old course became known as Lake Shore Country Club. Encroachment of industrial buildings had taken up part of the course, and the anticipated new highway would bite off another chunk. In the fall of 1942, the golf course was rearranged to nine holes and opened to the public. Carmen Bill, the operator, announced, "The club will be kept going no matter what."

The problem facing the club memberships was whether to let their club deteriorate and lose their entire investment or to continue on some basis with the hope of saving courses until the end of the war. A statement of "patriotism and golf" and an appeal to the private clubs of America to keep going was issued by the president of the United States Golf Association. He stated, "The government had a wartime program of encouraging citizens to be in shape. The importance of physical fitness in this great emergency cannot be overemphasized. . . It is patriotic to play golf as long as we help and not hinder the war effort. . . Our interest is in the best interest of the nation and golf's continued contribution to it."

The departure of the Country Club created constant pressure for the development of its acreage. The clubhouse was gradually becoming a rooming house for single businessmen. The structure itself, along with its grounds, began to deteriorate.

In 1946, George Young and Edward Flannigan, who owned the Roxy burlesque theater in downtown Cleveland, purchased the club and invested $150,000 in its renovation. They constructed a bathing beach, added a glass-enclosed lakeside dining room, and rented the clubhouse for parties.  Flannigan died in 1964, and Young wanted out. Bratenahl Development Corporation purchased the property. By 1964, the clubhouse was razed to make room for Bratenahl Place