Historical Places

The Cleveland Golf Club and The Country Club

11409 Lake Shore Boulevard

The Coit House, on the northwest corner of Lake Shore Boulevard and Eddy Road, became the setting for what was to become The Country Club. A small, informal group of horseback riders, known as the Bit & Bridle Club, frequently rode from their Euclid Avenue mansions to the open country along Lake Erie.

Samuel Mather envisioned a clubhouse suitable for picnics, parties, and weekly horseback excursions into the countryside. 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.

The Country Club of Cleveland formed as an outgrowth of the Bit & Bridle Club. Following were officers of the club: Samuel Mather, president; Jeptha Wade II, vice-president; Charles C. Bolton, treasurer; and James Parmalee, secretary. The officers acquired fifteen acres of land on Eddy Road next to the lake from Charles Coit.

While on a business trip in the east, Samuel Mather received an invitation 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.

Charles Coit leased grounds to the club for links east of Eddy Road (Now Haskell Homes) and laid out a short nine-hole course. Coit stipulated in the lease that the club erect a fence to keep out the cows. A shack was built just north of the boulevard for use as a pro shop and caddy shack.

The first formal opening for members only took place on July 13, 1895, with demonstrations on the crude site causing many to refer to the game as “pasture pool.” Despite the initial raw state, 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, as 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. Being frustrated with Prussian cavalrymen jumping their horses over the bunkers and goose-stepping troops cutting up the greens, Mitchell accepted the 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.

First Country Club Clubhouse 1898
First Country Club Clubhouse 1898

In 1898, the Cleveland Golf Club was incorporated as a separate organization from the Country Club of Cleveland. The golf club began to admit members who did not belong to the Country Club. The membership built a small clubhouse on Eddy Road near Eddy Road and Lake Shore Boulevard. The Cleveland Golf Club clubhouse, in reality, wasn’t a clubhouse at all. It was merely a waiting room and a locker with no arrangements for eating or sleeping. The clubhouse for the Country Club was located closer to the lake.

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

The clubhouse for the Country Club of Cleveland caught fire on October 1, 1899. A fireplace in the entrance hall with a high cobblestone chimney and a wide hearth provided the only means of warming the building. The massive floor joists supporting the hearth became charred and eventually burst into flame, resulting in the clubhouse burning to the ground.

The Country Club of Cleveland opened a new clubhouse on August 4, 1900, chiefly as a social gathering place for “fun in the open air.” The clubhouse stood further back from the lake than the old one but built on the same general plan, only larger. It was a social club with the emphasis still on riding, but other activities included croquet, swimming, and picnics. The clubhouse was never open during the winter. Officers of the club 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 Country Club Clubhouse 1900
Second Country Club Clubhouse 1900

When the Country Club opened its new clubhouse, the Cleveland Golf Club members decided to have a clubhouse of their own. They obtained the recently built Oliver Clay country home, known as "Six Acres," located at 12415 Coit Road. The house happened to be convenient both in plan and location.

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

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

The renovated clubhouse officially opened on May 5, 1900. The building committee advocated the purchase of a flock of sheep as less expensive than hiring men to mow and also more picturesque.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer published an article on the new home of the Cleveland Golf Club on May 27, 1900. “The house was a quaint rambling structure standing in a grove of trees only a step away for the Shoreline cars. There were about twelve acres around the house with plenty of trees, pretty walks, 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.”

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 a lounging room, one passed through a porch to a large men’s locker room, with rows of 150 oak lockers against the walls. Included was a bathroom with a shower facility.

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 one bathroom 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 with the golf club giving up their Coit Road home returning to the recently built Country Club clubhouse. 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 dining room facing the lake, 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 for summer tea dances and enjoyment of breathtaking sunsets. The second and third floors consisted of forty-five rooms for the convenience and occupancy of club members.

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

By 1926, the once quiet parcel became surrounded on the south 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. Disruptive taunts from the factory onlookers greeted gentleman golfers with shouts such as, “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 relocating the club 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 and golf course 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 course was rearranged to nine-holes and open to the public. Carmen Bill, the operator, announced, “The club will be kept going no matter what.” 

The problem for many 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 America's private clubs 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, and 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.

Some people thought them to be the scum of the earth, but John Dempsey thought there were very fine and cooperative owners of the club. They did not want to spend any money on the Bratenahl Development project.

Flannigan died in 1964, and Young sold the property to the Bratenahl Development Corporation. The Demolition Ball was organized for the benefit of the Heart Society. Music was provided by Lester Lanin Band. Some of the old staff came out and dressed in the uniforms of 1928; members attended as they would have dressed in 1928.

Shortly after, the clubhouse was demolished in 1964 to make room for the Bratenahl Place development.