a municipal course. From the beginning, the course drew players — and they arrived on foot, bicycle or via beach trolley. Keeping up the course was a labor of love and thrift. In May 1926, twenty tons of fish scrap were used to fertilize the land. In the early days, the greens were not really green at all, for they were made of sand. This cost-saving measure allowed a course to open and function until funding for grass was available. The sand greens were oiled and smoothed with a three-by-five-foot felt rug nailed to a pull rod. Even buying the oil was an additional expense. The maintenance crew could not afford to buy oil, so they looked for less expensive alternatives and collected crankcase oil from automobile service stations. The crew kept the course up and running. By 1930, a clubhouse provided as a place for golfers to mingle and for course manager and professional to live. The 1950s saw sand greens converted to Bermuda grass. The decade was a challenge for the muni social issues and problems played out there. The course was built with men and mules. By 1926, five holes were completAt this point, the Wilmington Muni was the only public course between ed and the first golf pro, David Patrick, was in residence, inhabiting a one-room Greensboro, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina. In November log cabin built with trees felled while clearing the links. On May 5, 1926, he 1954, Dr. Hubert Eaton, Dr. D. C. Roane, attorney Robert Band and predicted that “within two years after its completion, Wilmington’s Municipal Wilmington Journal editor Tom Jervay integrated the course “by simply going Golf course will be one of the prettiest in North Carolina.” out there one day.” While many white golfers abandoned the muni in favor of The course was playable by 1929. The Ross signature was clear: alternating the new and segregated Pine Valley Country Club, most eventually returned. long and short holes, a challenging last hole, bunkers short of the green creating Wilmington did the right thing in 1954, and the integration made history optical illusions. Ross is reported to have remarked it was a difficult course for later on as well. In 1961, three municipal courses that successfully integrated were studied and provided support for the eventual desegregation of the municipal course in Charleston, South Carolina. Time passed, but the challenges of running a public course never faltered. In 1957, Lawrence Cook, an outstanding amateur golfer and a local, took on the leadership for the muni. By most accounts, Cook saved it. He described the course as a “Sahara” when he took the job, but he always saw its potential, remarking, “Sweetheart, you’re ugly now, but I’m going to make you pretty some day.” Cook was up early mowing the greens. In dry spells, well before dawn, he watered the course using an old pickup truck to get around and drag the heavy hoses. He brought irrigation to the course in 1962, first asking the city for funding — $300 in 1962; $500 in 1963; and $700 in 1964. Although each request was denied, he was determined to make the course the beauty he envisioned. He begged and borrowed motors and pumps from the city’s Public Works Department. Cook would often wake at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning to crank up the truck, drag out thick rubber hoses, and hand-water the fairways. It would take another twenty years for each Donald Ross original plans and notes: green to have its own sprinkler head. Left: Hole #1 - Playing SE, the tee is slightly elevated (the series of straight lines indicates slope) and Money challenges were a constant. commenced between the clubhouse and tennis courts in 1925. When Cook approached the city manager about adding golf carts, the response was Right: Hole #3 - A sloped ridge passes across and back the dogleg hole (indicated by the series of that the “city wasn’t interested in getting straight lines), that plays slightly SW, then NW. Ross did not use sod on bunker faces. The faced in the cart business.” Cook found support greens probably had sand up the high sides, so they were visible on approach. in a former golf partner and bought four carts. They didn’t catch on immediately,
Donald Ross arrived on May 2, 1925. After walking the property, he declared, “The MacRae tract will make an ideal golf course. It is conveniently located to the city, and the variety of topography will provide excellent opportunity to lay out most attractive links.” The Wilmington Municipal Course, then just an idea in Ross’ mind, was born. In the early lore, Ross is reputed to have walked the ground, selecting areas for the greens and working backward to tee boxes, hitting balls from high point to high point, building the course to make best use of the beauty and opportunity in the land. Links courses capture nature at its most random, and Ross embraced that notion, working to ensure randomness of size, shape, sand angle, sand depth and bunker face. The result: memorable and beloved golf holes.
The Art & Soul of Wilmington
March 2015 •