The Johnson City Country Club, which opened in 1913, is nearing its centennial celebration, a mark in time that could likely include placement of it and its golf course on the National Register of Historical Places.
The private, aesthetically pleasing spread first opened as a nine-hole private course with 200 charter members. In 1919, members solicited the services of architect A.W. Tillinghast to develop the original design for an 18-hole course and clubhouse. The full course officially opened in 1920. And 60 years after his death, 18 courses designed by the architect still are ranked among the top 100 in the country.
“We first formed a committee three years ago to petition the state to get the course on the national register,” said Tony Ferro, the country club’s historical committee chairman and past club president. “We’ve worked with the Tennessee Historical Commission, which gave their unanimous approval to send a petition to the National Historic Commission. It looks like we’ll have a good chance of getting the golf course placed on the national register.”
Ferro said he expects to hear something in about two months.
“The course is unique,” Ferro said. “We are the only Tillinghast-designed course left in Tennessee,” he said. “The history of the club and the city are very much woven together. And, this is the course where Arnold Palmer got his sixth hole-in-one on the course’s second hole.”
Ferro said the national listing not only would bring prestige, but it also would open the door for tax benefits and the opportunity for possible grants and loans.
“The primary benefit is the recognition that the club will receive on a local, state and national level in maintaining the integrity of its most prize possession, its golf course as well as its many buildings, structures and sites over the past nearly 100 years,” he said.
Ferro also explained that with the national designation the property value would be increase and that there is a marketing and public relations benefit when soliciting new members and/or business. The certification also ensures that future members and management will retain the historic beauty and design of the golf course, buildings, structures and sites.
The original golf pro shop built in the 1920s was rebuilt in 1950. From 1960-1972, an irrigation system was added to the course, the order of several holes were changed, a practice driving range and scoreboard were added, as well as locker rooms and a men’s lounge.
A few years later, the pro shop was expanded. And in the mid- to late-1980s, the course was converted from Bluegrass to Bermuda, the entire course was upgraded, including its greens, traps, tee boxes and irrigation system. Just this year, a 300-year-old oak tree was cut down due to disease and a Stone Terrace was built in its place, while an artificial surface was installed at the driving range.
The course features 6,402 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 72 and is home to some of East Tennessee’s premiere golf tournaments, including The Tillinghast Invitational, Member-Guest Golf Classic and Raggedy Ann & Andy Tournament.
The U.S. Department of the Interior oversees the National Register of Historic Places.