I received a note from Mike Jennings, golf professional for Pine Oaks Golf Course on Buffalo Road in Johnson City, saying, “Bob, we are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year. In preparation for that event, I put together some items relating to our history that I acquired mainly through word of mouth and some old newspaper clippings.
“I discovered that there was support and opposition concerning the building of the course. The proposal split both the citizens and the commissioners. I thought I would throw the facts your way to see if you have any interest in pursing this.”
Mike sent me several photographs and provided numerous interesting specifics about the origin of the golf course. The referendum was held on Dec. 12, 1961, with the dedication occurring March 23, 1963.
The idea for a municipal golf course originated with citizens of Johnson City through the Parks and Recreation Board. A report submitted by the Johnson City Planning Commission indicated that the course would be self-liquidating, self-supporting and profitable.
The proposal was endorsed by several civic clubs and organizations: Business and Professional Women’s Club; Chamber of Commerce, Board of Directors; Civitan Club; Civinettes; Jaycees; Kiwanis Club; Junior Service League; Junior Monday Club; Nativic Civitan Club; Opti-Mrs Club; Pilot Club; and the Rotary Club. Although the new facility received solid support from three city commissioners, two opposed the effort.
The new golf course offered numerous attractive advantages to the city — providing a wholesome recreation program for area residents as well as visitors, attracting new industry, offering a needed park and playground, providing beautification and open spaces, providing a tourist and convention attraction, increasing property values in the city and providing aid to retirees.
It was accordingly noted that regardless of the outcome of the election, the city’s urban renewal program was to proceed. The vote was aimed only at the golf course issue.
The city’s Regional Planning Commission did ample homework. After considering prospective golfers and similar municipal courses across the country, they estimated that annual revenue from operation of the course would be $37,700, a figure, they said, that would increase as the city’s population grew.
The proceeds’ figure was obtained by estimating the number of active golfers who played on other courses in the surrounding area, such as Elizabethton, the Johnson City Country Club, Kingsport and others. Planners projected the number of active golfers to be a minimum of 641, which they believed could easily increase by as much as 50 percent. Dedicated sports fans, they reasoned, spent an average of 2.5 days per month on a golf course. They further increased the number of golfers by 258 to included prospective and inactive ones.
The question put before voters was whether the city would issue $400,000 in general obligation bonds, $250,000 for a combined golf course and recreation area and another $150,000 for three proposed urban renewal projects. The number of voters arriving at the polls that day was considerably higher than expected, especially with a steady downpour of rain.
When the polls closed, residents had given approval for the golf course and construction of the new municipal facility. The win immediately launched two efforts by the city — the buying of property in the south end of the city and the selection of a golf architect to design the new course.
The official vote count was 1946 voting yes and 1470 saying no. It passed because only a simple majority was needed for passage. The question carried in eight of 11 wards, with only Columbus Powell, West Side and Keystone failing to side with the majority.
It was noted that the combined vote of 3,416 was 205 more than those who voted in the previous month’s industrial bond referendum to build a plant in the city for American Hospital Supply Corporation.
An eager City Manager David Burkhalter expressed his desire for construction to begin as early as weather would permit. Mitchell Thorp, chairman of the Industrial Committee of the Chamber, commented: “We are pleased with the results of the referendum. This should greatly help the industrial program of the city.” Mayor May Ross McDowell noted: “We believe the golf course and recreation will fill a big need in the recreation program of the city.”
Howard Johnson, director of the Parks and Recreation Board, related: “I am proud of the people who thought enough of our efforts to give the city a good recreation program to give us their support and confidence.” Finally, Sidney Smallwood, chairman of the Park and Recreation Board, offered these words: “This is a big step forward for progress, especially in our recreation program.”
The commission was so eager to get the facility in operation, they initially considered the possibility of getting the first nine holes in operation before starting the back nine.
Mike said the club is planning to celebrate the anniversary, including inviting past friends and former employees back for some activities. They will offer several specials. They designed a brochure on the course’s history that includes about 25 old photos with interesting tidbits on the time period.
Happy 50th anniversary, Pine Oaks Golf Course. May your future continue to be filled with swings, putts and an occasional hole-in-one. Enjoy your well-deserved celebration.