| Club History || |
Lancaster Country Club’s founders, well born and well bred, were linked to each other through family, marriage, business, or neighborhood. In their late 30s, they were socially prominent and successful in their careers. Included in this group were an attorney; a third-generation stockman and farmer of Irish heritage who hobnobbed with New York City’s gentry; a banker raised in a family of bankers; a printer, a lumberman, and a paint manufacturer; the heir to the head of Hamilton Watch Company; and the great grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The charter that hangs in the foyer of the club today is dated April 16,1900, and contains the following names: J. Harold Wickersham, Jay N. Schroeder, H.P. Smith, D.R. Locher, C. Eugene Montgomery, George S. Franklin, Richard P. McGrann, Samuel H. Reynolds, George Ross Eshelman, and W. Hubley Potter. Each of them was assigned 100 pages in the City Directory, from which they were to cull their recommendations for prospective members. It was agreed that Lancaster Country Club would be a "family club," with tennis and swimming to be provided as well as golf.
The club’s first officers were C. (Caleb) Eugene Montgomery, president; J. Harold Wickersham, vice president; George S. Franklin, secretary; and David R. Locher, treasurer.
Temporary headquarters were established at the Rossmere Hotel. In mid-May, the founders accepted an offer from John H. Heimenz, proprietor of the hotel, to rent a little land nearby for $60 per year. The site selected was just across the street from where Catholic High School stands today. Here, set back from Juliette Avenue, a modest clubhouse was erected in early fall of 1900 by Herman Wohlsen at a cost of $2,640.
To provide land for golf holes, some 22 acres were rented from the Pennsylvania Railroad and from Thomas Fordney. It is said that though Mr. Fordney wanted to give this curious new game being played on his property a try, he was most reluctant to spend money for equipment. So he fashioned a club from a tree limb and managed to find a ball someone had lost. And since he detested the very notion of losing golf balls himself, he trained his dog to spot them.
John Reid—very probably the same Scot who had established his reputation first at Huntingdon Valley, then at Atlantic City—was brought in to lay out a short (2,400 yards) nine-hole course. He was paid $28. The land, perfectly flat, was partly maintained by permitting cows to graze on it. The greens, of coarse pasture grass, were approximately 15 feet in diameter and were mowed twice a week. There were no sand bunkers—only a few mounds called "chocolate drops" to function as hazards near some of the greens. The first tee, next to a clay tennis court, required a drive over Fordney’s four-rail wooden fence. The longest hole was 363 yards; the shortest, 162 yards. Edward T. O’Donnell, son of the Rossmere Hotel’s manager, served as the club’s greenkeeper and golf instructor, at $25 a month, with another $25 in lesson fees guaranteed by the club.
The original clubhouse of Lancaster Country Club
A reception on a mild early-November evening in 1900 marked the grand opening of the clubhouse. It was attended by 75 couples. Roth’s Orchestra played until 11 p.m.; Barr’s provided the floral arrangements. The following afternoon—it was a sunny and pleasant Election Day that would find McKinley defeating William Jennings Bryan—ten men teed off in Lancaster Country Club’s first 18-hole tournament. Only four finished the two turns around the course. Twenty-five-year-old George K. Reynolds won with a gross score of 107 and took home a handsome cup donated by J.M. McGee.
The game caught on quickly and the club flourished. Within 10 years, the cow pasture at Rossmere was no longer adequate. New land was needed, land that had feature and character and room enough for 18 holes of good quality. The old Wirth Farm, 150 acres lying between the New Holland Pike and the Conestoga Creek, was available. An option to buy at a price of $26,000 was negotiated. Five members—John Hertzler, J.W.B. Bausman, James L. Brown, Joseph E. Cant, and George S. Franklin— signed this agreement. They then agreed to sell to the club whatever land would be required, and at no profit to themselves.
The club originally acquired just 60 acres, on which a nine-hole course, 3,034 yards long, was laid out. Three tennis courts were built. So was a clubhouse, which cost $23,614 to erect and $4,198 to furnish. It was formally opened on Dec. 20, 1913, with a tea in the afternoon and a dance that evening. Designed by a golf professional whose name is not a matter of record today but whose fee—$100—is, the new course opened for play at about this time.
By 1915, the club had become so popular that the membership was closed at 280. Immediately following World War I some 65 additional acres were acquired. In December 1919, William Flynn was hired to lay out nine new holes and remodel the existing nine. Flynn, then the 29-year-old head greenkeeper at Merion, had worked alongside Hugh Wilson in the construction of Merion’s East and West courses and would, over the next 25 years, establish himself as one of America’s outstanding golf course architects.
Work began under Flynn’s direction in the spring of 1920. The new course was playable early in the summer of 1921, after rock-picking-up parties of members and caddies helped clear the new fairways. Flynn was paid $44.92 per month for the ten months required of his time and genius.
Particularly worth noting is that, three months after Flynn accepted this assignment, H. Roy Eshelman was elected to the board of governors and not long afterwards appointed to the post of grounds committee chairman. Though consistently declining to accept the presidency, Eshelman nevertheless ran the club for the next 25 years, a benevolent dictator in the tradition of Charles Blair Macdonald, William Fownes and John Arthur Brown.
Obviously with great regard and respect for one another, Eshelman and Flynn worked hand in glove to create the superb golf facility that Lancaster Country Club members would come to enjoy in the years that lay ahead. Flynn actually served as a consultant to the club from 1919 until he died in 1945, always on a retainer and providing continuous service. He even established a turf farm on Roy Eshelman’s property, adjacent to the course, where he cultivated bent grass sod. It is safe to say that Eshelman took full advantage of Flynn’s frequent trips to Lancaster and made no alterations to the golf holes without the architect’s thinking and support.