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JCCC, Pine Oaks offer citizens chance to hit the links

Jeff Birchfield • Aug 18, 2019 at 12:30 PM

Johnson City Country Club has served as the home to business meetings, social functions, dinners, dances and most notably, the game of golf, for over a century.

Opened in 1913, JCCC is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and much of its history coincides with the history of Johnson City with members like Beeson, Wexler and Gump, who donated land for the original nine-hole course.

Before then, there was no place in Johnson City to play golf, as residents had to travel to Bristol for the nearest course. Former club president Tony Ferro, the club’s historian, pointed out it wasn’t a 25-mile ride to Bristol as today.

A committee of five — George Wofford, H.L. “Bud” White, Allen Crouch, Allen Harris and Lee F. Miller — formed the club.

Business magnate Andrew Carnegie wanted to buy the property and build a plant on the site. Ferro recounted this was part of his overall plan, which included having Johnson City renamed Carnegie.

With Carnegie proposal turned down, the club enlisted noted course designer A.W. Tillinghast, who was working on a club in Kingsport. Tillinghast trained in Scotland with the legendary Old Tom Morris. Tillinghast’s courses like Winged Foot, Bethpage Black and Baltursol are still of the most revered in the game.

Ferro added there were many Scottish members when the club started. Johnson City Country Club had 600-plus members and an original plot of 121 acres before its current configuration of 131 acres.

In addition to golf, Johnson City Country Club featured the first diving pool and indoor tennis facility in Johnson City.

The most famous celebrity visit was Arnold Palmer for a 1965 exhibition. Nicknamed “The King,” Palmer thrilled the crowds and made a hole-in-one on the course’s second hole.

He’s only one of the famous professional players to come to JCCC.

Sam Snead, the all-time leader with 82 professional wins, played at JCCC in 1980 along with other pros, his nephew J.C. Snead, Bobby Wadkins and Larry Hinson. Former majors champions Fuzzy Zoeller and Davis Love III played the course as did Calvin Peete, the most successful African-American golfer before Tiger Woods.

Babe Zaharias, considered one of the greatest athletes of all-time and the winner of 10 LPGA major championships, visited JCCC in 1948. Patty Berg, who owns the all-time record with 15 LPGA major victories, also played the course.

Johnson City Country Club has served the community through fundraisers for the war and other needs, although the course has survived its own tough times. It operated as a public course for 12 years and in 1993, there was even an ad in the Wall Street Journal with the course for sale.

The club regained its financial standing in the late 1990s and continues to be an important part of the city’s history.

Over 100 memorials for past members are located around the course with a variety of challenges.

Hole No. 16 is a par 4 which there have been four hole-in-ones recorded. For three of those, players used drivers. Recently retired ETSU golf coach Fred Warren used a 3-wood to ace the 299-yard hole.

At the age of 73, Ferro made his first hole-in-one on No. 17.

The course plays 6,402 yards from the gold tees. There are the other blue, white and red tees for other players, including ladies and seniors. Recently, the course has introduced the super senior tees for players 75-over as well as young players starting out.

Construction is currently ongoing to improve the driving range, putting greens and a chipping green as Johnson City Country Club continues to evolve to enhance the experience of its members.

PINE OAKS GOLF COURSE

Pine Oaks Golf Course is a par-72 course located off Buffalo Road with Buffalo Mountain serving as a backdrop for many of the holes.

The idea of a municipal golf course came about by citizens through the Johnson City Parks and Recreation Board.

At the time in 1961, three commissioners were in favor of the idea, but two opposed it. The city’s Regional Planning Commission estimated the annual revenue needed from operation of the course at $37,700, a number to increase as the population increased.

Planners estimated the number of active golfers in Johnson City at 641 and that dedicated sports fans spent 2.5 days per month on the golf course.

A vote was held whether the city would issue $400,000 in general obligation bonds with $250,000 for a combined golf course. It passed by a 1,946 yes to a 1,470 no vote. It carried in eight of the city’s 11 wards.

Pine Oaks was dedicated on March 23, 1963, with Sidney Smallwood, the chairman of the Johnson City Parks and Recreation board, presiding over the services.

Over a half-century later, it remains a place for Johnson City citizens and others to enjoy a day on the links. It provides needed green space inside the city limits and is occasionally used in the late summer and fall for high school tournaments.

Pine Oaks plays 6,543 yards from the championship tees to 4,464 yards from the ladies tees.

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