Eastmoreland's public golf course celebrates its centennial
The Fourth of July has always been one of the most important holidays that Americans celebrate each year. In the early years, Oregonians flocked to Oaks Parks with picnic baskets in hand to enjoy the music and thrilling amusement rides, while others visited any nearby public park to witness political speeches, baseball games, or watch a parade.
In 1918, another holiday tradition began, as one hundred golf enthusiasts gathered in an open manicured greenway in Eastmoreland to play a round of golf for the cost of just a quarter. This was the beginning of the Eastmoreland Golf Club, Oregon's first golf links available for public use.
Few of the golfers and organizers who attended this historic event could have dreamed that 100 years later, this greenway in Eastmoreland would continue to be one of the most beautiful and challenging golf courses in the city, and one of the finest public golf courses in the entire country.
At this time there were only three golf clubs in the Portland area, all started or owned by elite members or businessmen. These clubs were available for private membership, with set rules and regulations that were strictly monitored. They were the Portland Golf Club (1914), the Tualatin Country Club (1912), and the Waverley Country Club (1896) just south of Sellwood. The Waverley Country Club first opened along Powell Boulevard, but by 1899 it had moved, and started construction on a new fairway in the fruit orchard once owned by Henderson Luelling, bordering the Garthwick neighborhood, where it still is today.
Representatives from all three clubs went to the city of Portland in hopes of establishing a golf course that middle class society could enjoy for a nominal fee. In addition, golfers wanted to share their love and enthusiasm for the sport with others.
That proposal was approved by the Portland Parks Department Superintendent, James O. Conville – and, with the help of T. Morris Duane of the Multnomah Athletic Club and its supporters, the long process of creating a municipal golf course began. One hundred and fifty acres of land that lay between the newly opened subdivisions of Westmoreland and Eastmoreland at about (24th and S.E. Bybee Blvd.) was the chosen site. Owner William Ladd was approached by some of Portland's most elite golfing members in an attempt to persuade him to donate an area for public use.
Ladd countered by allowing free use of his property for six years; if the golf course was still successful after that lease expired, then arrangements could be made to purchase the land outright. It was an acceptable agreement by all parties, and the next step was to decide who would design and build the course.H. Chandler Egan was pegged as the right man to complete the job. A graduate of Harvard, Chandler had a string of accomplishments and awards: He was the first golfer to win both the U.S. Amateur and also the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship in the same year. Information gathered about Egan's background at today's "Eastmoreland 100" website revealed that after many of his victories on the professional circuit he suddenly retired at the youthful age of 25. He was content to live and raise apples and pears in an orchard he'd purchased in Medford, Oregon.
In his spare time away from his farming chores, Egan decided to help upgrade the outdated greens of the Medford Golf Club, and he designed the Rogue Valley Country Club fairway. He became recognized for his talent and imagination in designing new courses, and it was while he was working with the management on a new look for the Tualatin Country Club that that he was approached helping to construct Portland's first Municipal Golf Course. Egan accepted the opportunity, and plans led the Eastmoreland fairway four years later.
The first clubhouse erected there was a small sheep-shed-sized building near the current golf parking lot on the south side of S.E. Bybee Boulevard. Since automobiles were in short supply back then, most enthusiasts either arrived on foot or via the Sellwood-Westmoreland streetcar, which turned eastbound at the intersection of Bybee and Milwaukie Avenue. A special stop was designated at the golf links for passengers to disembark and enjoy a game of golf.
Nearly all of the amenities, and cost for paved streets and cement sidewalks, were covered by the Columbia Trust Real Estate Company between 1912 and 1915. The company encouraged the city to establish a branch of the streetcar down Bybee to entice new homebuyers to invest in the new upscale subdivision of Eastmoreland that had been established just a few years before. Owning a prestigious house and living near a golf course became so popular that the Bybee Bridge was built across the Southern Pacific Train tracks in 1919 to assist motorists in getting there.
Dedicated groundskeepers, energetic golf caddies, and supportive members helped the Eastmoreland Golf Club become a successful venture. Most of the mowing, tree trimming, and sculpturing of the grounds was done by hand or with manual tools and lawn cutters, as gas or electric mowers weren't yet available.
Caddies were the backbone of any golf course, with duties which included shagging golf balls for patrons, lugging around a bag full of heavy clubs, or assisting the groundskeepers in preparing the greens during tournaments and special events. The young men who were hired for this job learned a sense of responsibility, improved their communication skills, and earned a fair wage.
The jobs of delivering newspapers on a bike, sweeping the floors of the local grocery, or pulling weeds at home, weren't as glamorous as caddying for golfers on a sunny day. Every student at Woodstock, Sellwood, Grout, and Duniway Schools wanted to be a caddy at the Eastmoreland Golf Club.
Chester Kellar, who was raised in the Sellwood neighborhood, was part of the caddy brotherhood at the Waverley Golf Course. In 1927 he had to pay 60 cents for a badge to be able to caddy there for the year. There were between 12 or 13 caddies who were on call at the club, and if they stayed on the job for the entire summer, their 60 cents would be refunded at the end of the year.
The young men would report to a special room reserved for the caddies and wait until they were called upon to carry the clubs of a player in need. During slack time, the caddies entertained themselves playing card games, marbles, or practicing their putting skills down the hallway.
Chet started caddying when he was just sixteen years old, and he remembers many of the golf tournaments at Eastmoreland that would draw large crowds of between 300 and 400. Losing a golf ball was expensive, and players relied on a good caddy to make sure their golf ball wasn't lost in the rough. Billy McGee, a member of the Eastmoreland Directors Board, in researching the golf club's history, found that golf balls could be bought then at major department stores for "three for a dollar". This was a time when most blue collar workers might be making between 5 and 10 dollars a week! So losing a golf ball was indeed expensive.
Dale Bechtold remembers when he was severely scolded by his father for missing dinner after an unusually long tournament ended late at the Eastmoreland Club. But then his father, who was laid off as were many other men during the Depression years, was shocked when Dale presented him with the $50.00 he earned in coins that day caddying. That amount of money easily fed the Bechtold household of seven brothers and sister for a least a month. But that was in the 1930's.
Back in the 1920's, golfing along the beautiful fairway at the East Moreland Club had become such an attraction that another nine holes were to be added along the south side of Bybee. H. Chandler Egan was again called upon to design the additional holes – and once the expansion had been completed, reservations were required on weekends to ensure a time slot for would-be golfers.
Billy McGee, historian and executive board member of the Eastmoreland Golf Club, pointed out during an interview that "Businessmen came to town knowing they could golf at the Eastmoreland Course without an invitation." Unlike the other private clubs in the area that required a visitor to belong to that specific country club, or be escorted by one of its members, Eastmoreland was a public course – open to golfers of all levels and occupations.
When that six-year lease expired for the Eastmoreland Golf Club in 1922, newly-appointed Superintendent of Portland Parks Charles Paul Keyser tried to convince city officials to purchase the property that the golf course was laid out on for $95,000. When he was turned down, Keyser was able to raise the needed money by suggesting the fairways be declared a public utility and the city was able to offer certificates to finance the additional revenue and purchase the property from the Ladd Estate.
Fashion became just as important as a good handicap on the greens in the 1920's, and men came dressed in their best attire. A well-dressed golfer usually wore baggy knickers, some type of golf socks with a pattern, and a shirt and tie – which made driving the ball down the fairway a bit of a challenge. Other attire also might include a sleeveless sweater vest with a diamond pattern, or a knitted cardigan on brisk days, and a newsboy wool hat.
The low heeled Spectator shoe with two contrasting colors and lace panels was the most common golf shoe worn by professional players.
As for the ladies, Bradley sportswear was the most desirable. A hip-length wool sweater with a loose belt and large pockets, together with a pleated skirt, were the most fashionable. A cloche hat that was worn close to the head with very little brim, patterned stockings, and rubber-soled golf shoes complimented the ladies' golf ensemble. At other times, a one-piece frock was widely popular on the greens.
Pro shops and sporting goods stores did not yet exist, so dedicated players had to buy golf clubs, golf bags, and golfing tees and balls, from the major department stores in downtown Portland. Prominent northwest golfer Ray Ainsley was in charge of the Sporting Goods Department on the 6th floor of the Meier and Frank building, offering five lessons for the bargain price of $5.00.
Lipman-Wolfe & Company advertised themselves as the exclusive agent for Fred Robson English Golf clubs, and also specialized in an assortment of equipment and clubs for lady golfers. Each of the major stores had an entire floor dedicated to people interested in golfing, and salesmen were specifically trained to introduce new equipment and golfing attire for the patrons.
Many merchants and shops were hit hard during the Depression decade of 1929 to 1938, and the Eastmoreland Club also went through trying times. Fees on the green were dropped from 30 cents to 25 cents, and the club was almost forced to close.
A proposal by J.E. Bennett of the Commission for Public Affairs to sell lifetime free passes to all golf courses owned by the Park Bureau for $100.00 each was unanimously accepted. Over 100 lifetime certificates were sold, and it helped keep the courses open until better times arrived. The Federal relief programs set up by President Franklin Roosevelt also contributed manpower and equipment needed for improvements to the Eastmoreland Course.
The Eastmoreland Golf Club's crowning event was its hosting the National Public Links Championship Tournament in 1933. This was the first time that this tournament had been held west of the Mississippi, and it helped promote golf as a sport on the West Coast.
The Eastmoreland Club has had quite an illustrious 100 years, and some of the best golfers and celebrities played its fairway. Walter Egan, by many considered the greatest golfer of his era, in the 1920's played there – and in the 1940's, Joe Louis showed up for a round of golf. Fred Couples was one of the many who contributed to the fame of Eastmoreland golf.
During the rest of this year and into 2018, Eastmoreland Club board member Billy McGee and friends will be holding various events for the public to attend. On June 28th, a public picnic was held to kick off to the course's centennial celebration.
Billy is encouraging golfers, youngsters who once caddied, and past workers at the golf links, to join in the celebration at the Eastmoreland Golf Course. McGee is interested in stories, photos, and past memories of the Eastmoreland Golf Club to be included in a commemorative album of one of the Portland area's most prestigious golf courses. Reach him here: www.eastmoreland100.com/contact.html
And when you have a free weekend, dust off those old hickory stick golf clubs, dig out that wool newspaperboy hat, and play a round or two at the proudly public Eastmoreland Golf Course.