Golf In Forest Park
At the turn of the twentieth century, a number of local business men and sportsmen began a campaign for the construction of a municipal golf course. Several sites were suggested, but since the municipality was busy with plans for the coming World's Fair, nothing was done about a golf course for several years.
In 1912, Dwight Davis, Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, recommended in his annual report that an 18 hole golf course be developed over the area in Forest Park that was used for part of the World's Fair grounds.
After much discussion by City officials, approval was given for the construction of a golf course and in the fall of 1912 work was begun. At first only a nine-hole course was built but when the course became crowded with golfers, plans were prepared in 1913 to enlarge the nine-hole course to an 18-hole course that would be a " test for a good golfer."
When the course was completed in the fall of the year, plans were made to hold a tournament. There was some skepticism at first as to how many would enter, since the majority of public links golfers were accustomed to nine holes and, moreover, were unprepared to play the difficult shots demanded by the new course. But to the surprise of all, about 150 golfers entered the tournament and the play was exceptionally good. Formerly known as a rich man's game, the tournament attracted players from the most exclusive country clubs as well as from businessmen, and those who worked in stock rooms and machine shops. Golf belonged to the public and the poorest individual found the same enjoyment from a good round as the man with the best equipment and finest instructions.
In 1914, the play on the course had become so heavy that it was decided to plan a nine-hole course for beginners. A temporary course was first laid out. Though it was not maintained in any particularly good condition, the play was so heavy that in the annual report of the Park Commissioner of that year a recommendation was made that the nine-hole course be made a permanent part of the Park Department.
To provide for the comfort of the golfers and tennis players, remodeling was started in 1914 on the Lindell Pavilion to provide locker space and a refreshment stand. When completed, it provided space storing clubs, showering, and space was provided for golfers to gather and talk.
In 1914, the first official Municipal Athletic Club tournament was held. E. A. Limburg won the championship. He was the first of a long line of Muny players who dominated golfing circles in St. Louis for the next 30 years. John and Jimmy Manion, Benny Richter, Bob Cochran, Jonas Weiss, Jim Spencer, Dr. I. R. Davis, Frank Maloney, Eddie Held, Clarence Wolf, Dick Bockenkemp and Chris Kenny all received their training and first recognition on the Forest Park Golf Course before going onto win club, district, state and national tournaments.
By 1916 and 1917, more than 60,000 rounds of golf were played on the 18-hole course. Fees to play were still not being charged. But the cost was mounting and several of the Park Commissioners were beginning to suggest that some of the burden of the upkeep of the course be shared by the players.
The Forest Park Golf Club, an organization of public links golfers, proposed to the Park Department that it would help defray some of the expenses of maintaining the course. This proposal was accepted and for the next few years the club paid an annual amount to the city.
In laying out the course, No. 17 hole had been planned as a short par three hole with the first shot to be made across the dirt-filled Grand Basin. In 1917, the basin was filled with water and the hole became one of the most sporting "graveyard" holes in the district. Where formerly a topped tee shot could be played from the dirt-filled basin, now the golfer was faced with either getting across the water or suffering the loss of the hole or shooting until he got across.
The first golf pro was John Malley. A pro shop was set up for him in the pavilion. Malley was followed by E. H. Duwe, who served there for 25 years. In 1921, Walter D. Thompson promoted a tournament with Chicago. Great enthusiasm was aroused by the contest and when the St. Louis team of Jim Manion, Frank and Lawson Watts and Clarence Wolf defeated Chicago.
The popularity of golf became so great that in 1923 Park Commissioner, Fred Pape, recommended in his annual report that several new golf courses be constructed through the city to relieve the congestion. A site in Carondelet and another near O'Fallon Park were suggested.
"It is not uncommon," said Pape wrote, "for players to wait two or three hours before being called to tee off."
In 1923, 177,749 rounds of golf were played at an operating cost to the city of $20,986.
On Oct. 26, 1925, the Lindell Pavilion was destroyed by fire and thousands of dollars worth of stored golf equipment was burned. To provide some shelter and locker space, the city erected a temporary building. At the same time, plans were drawn to construct a modern field house that would have all the facilities of a comfortable club house.
Work was begun on the building in 1926 and it was dedicated Sept. 10, 1927. It cost $150,000 and had a pro shop, locker failities, restaurant and refreshment stand.
Shortly after the first tournament, a number of golf enthusiasts organized the Forest Park Golf Club. It sponsored the tournament with Chicago and for a number of years helped in maintaining the golf courses. It sponsored the annual Muny Golf Tournament and beginning in 1927 it sent a team of four golfers to the yearly Public Links Golf Tournament. The club maintained an office in the Lindell Pavillion and through the 1920s and early 1930s promoted projects that were a source of recreation and pleasure for many people.
During the Depression the membership dwindled and from 1938 to 1942 the club ceased to function. In 1943, Leo Sallers, Ray Davenport, Jim Spencer, Clarence O'Hare and Jack Langleben gathered together to plan the revival of the old Forest Park Golf Club. After several meetings a membership drive was undertaken. During the first year 75 members were enrolled. A tournament was held with the majority of the membership participating. The following year the membership grew to 200.
Golf attracted women as well as men. In the fall of 1946, Minette Straub, Evelyn Diefenbach, Anita Cissell, Nonie Carroll, Jane Hamilton, Lil Barlor and Pat Patterson sought the help of the men's club in organizing a Women's Golf Club. A tournament was planned and a trophy for the winner was given by the men's club. During the spring of 1947, the Women's Association of the Forest Park Golf Club was organized with about 90 members.
The building exploded and burned Nov. 7, 1949 and Laclede Gas Co. paid $80,000 for renovation and repairs.
The City of St. Louis turned over the management of the golf courses to American Golf Corp. in the late 1980s .
History of Forest Park