Golf Comes to the Pacific Northwest
Considerable debate exists concerning when golf was first played in the United States. However, decent records exist concerning the first golf courses appearing in the 1880s and 1890s. The Tacoma Golf Course in South Tacoma, built in 1894, became the first civilian course on the Pacific Coast. A few years later this course relocated to American Lake and continues today as the Tacoma Country and Golf Club, the oldest private club west of the Mississippi.
Some military commanders who had engineering equipment and troop labor obtained very early golf courses. The Navy’s Mare Island Golf Course opened in 1892. Three years later the Presidio of San Francisco obtained a course when a business group constructed a nine-hole golf links on the post. At Bremerton’s Navy Yard Puget Sound, a nine-hole course opened in 1902, but closed in 1919.
These courses were an exception, with few military golf courses opening in the 1890s and early 1900s. This would change during golf's Golden Age in the 1920s. At that time a number of links were built as golf replaced polo as a preferred officer’s recreation. Not only officers, but enlisted soldiers took up golfing. At military golf courses, rank segregation caused posts to have separate courses or specific times for officers and enlisted. The first Fort Lewis course, in 1929, had play time set aside for enlisted.
The First Fort Lewis Golf Course
Camp Lewis opened in September 1917 to prepare soldiers for battle in Europe. The camp emphasized competitive sports such as boxing that would enhance soldiers’ hand-to-hand combat skills. Golfing organizations such as the United States Golf Association lobbied for camp golf courses. This was an idea that the War Department considered, but rejected, as other needs had a higher priority.
Following World War I, Camp Lewis became a virtual ghost town with few soldiers posted to the camp. Recreational facilities went into decline along with overall camp deterioration. Then in 1927 the camp became part of a national permanent construction program and was renamed Fort Lewis.
Brigadier General Joseph C. Castner (1871-1946) assumed command of Fort Lewis in April 1929, during the permanent construction program. The general would have a long posting, staying here to his retirement in November 1933. Prior to Fort Lewis, Castner commanded troops in China and had served in France during World War I. With 40 years of military service Castner knew how to get things done and to accomplish his priorities.
Upon his arrival, General Castner embarked on a substantial building program. The general desired to leave Fort Lewis a more attractive and functional post. Also, General Castner, with a high regard for physical fitness, directed his attention to new sports and recreation facilities. One of his first projects, a nine-hole golf course, required innovation. His engineer staff recommended prairie land, three miles west of the main post, which had experienced little use and would require minimal land grading or tree removal. In 1929, with the site selected, General Castner put his combat engineer battalion to work preparing the course. They laid out nine holes and moved some buildings to the area for starting shelter and clubhouse. The course had separate hours for officers and enlisted men.
The first Fort Lewis golf course opened during a period of immense growth in the sport. In 1916 the United States had 743 golf courses, but in 1930 the number had grown to 5,856. Still, military golf did not keep pace with civilian growth, placing Fort Lewis in the small group of army links. This course remained in use until the summer of 1938.
The WPA Constructs a New Fort Lewis Golf Course
The Works Projects Administration (WPA), one of the 1930s Depression-era agencies, improved parks, built impressive lodges such as Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood, Oregon, and military construction. During 1936-1940 Fort Lewis received 22 major WPA projects including constructing the Broadmoor officer housing, brick gun sheds, landscaping, Gray Army Airfield construction, McChord Army Airfield, and recreational improvements.
In 1934 the WPA had initiated public golf-course construction and improvement. In the first 18 months, 10.5 million dollars was spent on 306 golf courses across the nation. By 1940 the WPA had built 150 new golf courses and improved more than 200 courses. Harry Hopkins (1890-1946), the WPA director, intended that WPA projects be quality permanent construction, including golf courses. To build adequate golf courses he sought the advice of America’s most distinguished golfer and course designer, Bobby Jones (1902-1971). Jones signed on as a course consultant, reviewing course designs.
The WPA constructed four Washington courses: the Pomeroy Golf Course, the West Seattle Golf Course; Seminary Hill, Centralia; and an 18-hole Fort Lewis golf course. All three courses survive and are popular today. Seminary Hill, where construction started January 1936 is now Elks Public Golf Course. Workers initiated construction of the Fort Lewis golf course and clubhouse in September 1938. The WPA course was built on the original 1929 course. Over 400 workers built the golf course and clubhouse, finishing the project in June 1940.
A preeminent early Pacific Northwest golf course architect Francis “Frank” L. James (d. 1951) became the Washington WPA architect. James started his career in the 1920s assisting the famous English architect William H. Tucker (d. 1954) before opening his own firm. Among his early designs with Tucker included the Sand Point Country Club (Seattle, 1927) and Jackson Park (Seattle, 1928). In the 1930s James opened his own firm and designed the Mapleview Golf and Country Club (1933) and the University of Idaho Golf Course (1933). In 1936 he became a WPA architect and designed the Seminary Hill layout and probably that of Fort Lewis. These designs reflect what is now called “classic” with small greens, upward angled bunkers at the greens, raised tees, and narrow to mid-width tree-lined fairways.
Following his WPA work James designed Pacific Northwest courses, most of them in Washington. His 1940s designs included adding nine-holes at Walla Walla Country Club (1947). James's last design was the Missoula Country Club in 1949. He also coached golf at the University of Idaho and that university honored him by naming their clubhouse the James Memorial Building in 1952.
The attractive Fort Lewis, 4,500-square-foot clubhouse, had two decorative vaulted stone entranceways, one for enlisted men and the other for officers. The building had locker areas at the enlisted and officer doors, a lunch room with fireplace, and a side entrance that led to a women’s locker room. The finished attic had a two-bedroom apartment for the club professional and his family.
During 1938 much of the front nine-hole layout, an officer’s course, had been completed, but the clubhouse remained unfinished. In the spring of 1939 additional funding enabled workers to install plumbing and paint the clubhouse to open it. Two small bronze plaques, identifying the WPA as builders, were attached, one on each of the stone entranceways. Also, final fairway construction, including irrigation, could be completed. Major General Walter C. Sweeny, commanding officer Fort Lewis, dedicated the clubhouse and course in October 1939. Workers then completed the second nine-holes, a course for enlisted soldiers.
In July 1940, Washington golfer Jock Craig “Scottie” Wood (1889-1949), became the first Fort Lewis club professional. He and his wife, Mildred, and son, Jock Jr., moved into the clubhouse upstairs quarters. Mildred operated the snack bar and Jock ran the pro shop, located in a former guard shack located near the clubhouse. Jock, son of Scotland’s most famous greenskeeper, Walter Wood, had 40 years of golf experience, as a player and assisting in the construction of seven Washington golf courses.
Irrigation water came from the DuPont Springs, requiring an agreement, signed on November 22, 1938, with the City of DuPont Water Department. The agreement allowed current (not future) Water Department employees lifetime play at the course, and they became known as the “DuPont Originals.” They had to renew the privilege every year with the Fort Lewis Commanding General approving. None were left in 1952 when the agreement passed into history.
The original 18-holes, the front nine the officer’s course and back nine, the enlisted course are today the Red and Blue courses respectively. A third nine-hole course constructed in 1979 is the Green Course. The first seven holes are especially challenging.
Golf During the War Years
Gas rationing caused many golf courses to operate at a reduced level and some to close. In Kenmore, Washington, the historic Inglewood Country Club closed. Also, the famous Augusta, Georgia, National course shut down and became grazing land. In Miami Beach, the Bayshore Country Club rented its course to the army for $1 a year. Army trainees drilled and trained on the former links. An antiaircraft battery and military recreation center occupied Jefferson Park, the Seattle municipal course.
Golf course staff positions emptied as professional golfers entered the armed services. Four hundred and ten Professional Golf Association (PGA) members, including many top golfers, joined or entered through the draft. Some who could have avoided service did everything they could to enlist. The golf great and former WPA consultant Robert “Bobby” Jones, at 40 years of age, and father of three, lobbied to serve his country. He joined the Army Air Forces as a commissioned officer. Captain Jones became an intelligence officer, but his unit converted to infantry at Normandy following the D-Day invasion, coming under enemy fire. Jones left the U.S. Army a lieutenant colonel.
The Warriors and Other Golfers
While civilian courses lost customers, professional golfers, and greenskeepers, the military had available outstanding golfers to teach and encourage play. These expert players could teach and generate interest in the sport. Also, while civilian golf narrowed in scope, the military gained more than 100 courses. Fort Lewis benefitted from professional golfers. One of the professionals, Bob Hamilton (1916-1990) who in one of the most dramatic upsets in golf history won the 1944 PGA Championship, served at the Fort Lewis course. He taught golf and played on the Warriors, the Fort Lewis team. But not all the professionals stayed in the country. Many went overseas and 11 died in World War II.
The influx of skilled golfers combined with recognition of golf as morale boasting led to greater military interest. The Fort Lewis course remained open to enlisted soldiers and to women. The Warrior golf team comprised enlisted men, a significant shift from the prewar days of officer teams. The expansion of military golf provided army personnel with learning opportunities they would not have had on the outside. Such excellent instruction and contact with top professionals excited many to improve their games and introduced an estimated 200,000 to golf.
The Fort Lewis Golf Course made an all-out effort to encourage golf play and introduced more than its share to the sport. Soldiers could rent clubs for 25 cents and play all day for 50 cents or for a dollar a month. Officers paid $2.00 a month. The course length was 6,356 yards and par 72. Many post leaders played here including Colonel Ralph Glass, an excellent player and post commander. However, Colonel (later President) Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969), who loved golf, was too busy to golf. Fort Lewis established a golf team, the Warriors, who played against local clubs and against other bases.
With the dramatic increase in Fort Lewis golf play, club professional Jock Wood obtained a full-time soldier assistant. One of the best players became the assistant, teaching, arranging tee-times, and organizing events. For example, in 1943, Private James Kaufman winner of that year’s Fort Lewis golf championship became Wood’s assistant. Prior to the army, Kaufman had won the Gedney Farm Country Club (White Plains, New York) championship. Kaufman also captained the Fort Lewis Warrior golf team. He and other Warrior team mates competed against bases and in civilian competitions such as the June 1944 Elks tournament in Centralia.
To foster morale, entertainment, and foster golfing interest, top golfers would visit the course to show their stuff in exhibitions and give lessons. In the summer of 1942, Lieutenant Marvin Harvey “Bud” Ward (1913-1968), an Elma, Washington, amateur, put on an exhibition. Ward had won the 1938 Washington Amateur, 1939 U.S. Amateur, 1940 Western Amateur, and 1941 U.S. Amateur, and other major tours, before going into the army. Following his service he won more amateur events and then went professional, winning the 1955 Washington Open and other tournaments. Bud Ward was elected to the Pacific Northwest Golf Association Hall of Fame and the State of Washington Sports Hall of Fame.
Some other excellent professional players became members of the Fort Lewis Warrior golf team. In 1943 the team included Staff Sergeant Verne Torfin (1911-1980), who had won the 1936 Allenmore Open (Tacoma). Another team member, Private Byron “By” Adams (1920-1993), before the army, had won the 1938 Nebraska State High School tournament and was recognized as leading player on the University of Nebraska team. Staff Sergeant Donald Fischesser (1919-1994), who had won the Cincinnati Open helped the Warrior team in a number of victories. Fischesser set the course record of 66 in 1945. He went back to Indiana after the service and became a club professional. In 1959 he was named Indiana Professional of the Year.
Great Fort Lewis Golfers
Private Robert T. “Bob” Hamilton would be the most famous Fort Lewis Warrior player. In 1944 he won the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Championship at Manito Golf and Country Club in Spokane, Washington. This victory is considered one of the biggest golf upsets, as be beat the great Byron Nelson (1912-2006), a huge favorite. Hamilton, from Evansville, Indiana, entered the army in May 1945 and after Camp Atterbury, Indiana basic training, came to Fort Lewis.
While at Fort Lewis, Hamilton played in the Pacific Northwest Servicemen’s Championship, Seattle, coming in at third place. He competed in the October 1945 Portland, Oregon, Open and then in the Tacoma Open, placing third in the latter. After his discharge, Hamilton returned to Evansville where he lived the rest of his life. He won no major championships, but had victories in the 1946 Charlotte Open and in 1948 New Orleans Open. Bob Hamilton is most remembered for his 1944 PGA Championship; however, he also holds the record for the youngest player to shoot his age, a 59 in 1975.
Further Fort Lewis golf promotion came through exhibitions such as the October 4, 1945, visit of America’s top golfers: Sam Snead (1912-2002), Ben Hogan (1912-1997), Harold Jug McSpaden (1908-1996), and Byron Nelson. Appearing on Watkins Parade Ground, they had a long drive contest and another 125 yard shot to a flag challenge, with the winner the one nearest the flag. These great players were on their way to the Tacoma Open.
Not only did Fort Lewis men succeed, but Captain Pat Grant, a Women’s Army Corps (WAC) soldier, made national attention. Captain Grant, Chief of Records, Fort Lewis Separation Center, shot a remarkable record 32 on the front nine at the 1946 Trans-Mississippi tournament, but lost in the quarter finals. She continued to play golf while staying in the army. In 1949 she reached the Oklahoma Women’s Amateur finals. Pat Grant won a number of army championships before retiring from the game. Lieutenant Colonel Pat Grant retired in 1965 and went on to study law.
Many veterans who learned to golf in the military returned to their communities, to college, employment, and joined society in the move to the suburbs. A new life style emerged with a leisure boom and it included golf as a popular pastime. Additionally, golf became identified as a connection to business and career success. The 1950s had President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose fever for the sport further spread its appeal. All this caused a huge increase in participation, new course construction, mass-marketed equipment, and more media coverage. Over the next 50 years, golf became hugely popular as a participant and fan sport.
Golf in the Fifties
World War II increased golf interest and introduced the game to many. During the postwar years the Fort Lewis course experienced expanded demand. The cost to golf remained low, clubs rented in 1948 for 25 cents per day and a day of golf 50 cents. These low prices stayed in effect through the 1950s. The course became more involved in local activities when joining the Tacoma Golf Association (TGA) on April 27, 1948. However, at the next month’s meeting Fort Lewis resigned over TGA tourney “whites only” policy. One year later the TGA dropped the "whites only" policy and Fort Lewis rejoined and continues to this day active in the association. In August 1948 Fort Lewis hosted a major military tournament, the All-Army Golf Championship.
In 1953 Private Robert Whisman, of Everett, an outstanding golfer, reported for duty. Joining the Warrior team, he won the 1954 Sixth Army Championship. Following the service Whisman played tournaments and proved his golfing competence. Sergeant First Class John Trueblood functioned as the club professional during the 1950s and played a significant role in initiating the Fort Lewis Amateur Tournament, a major annual event at the club.
In 1959 Lee Elder (b. 1934) was drafted into the army and ended up at Fort Lewis. Before being drafted, Elder had worked at golf courses and as a golf “hustler.” As he played at the Fort Lewis course, Colonel John Gleaster, the post commander, recognized his talent and put him on special service “golf duty.” He played most every day and honed his game. Elder captained the Warrior team and twice won the Fort Lewis Amateur, came in second in the 1960 All-Service tournament, and second to future U.S. Open champion Sergeant Orville Moody (1933-2008) in the Sixth Army Championship.
Following his discharge in 1961, Elder joined the black United Golf Association (UGA) and played well in its tournaments. With integration of the PGA in the 1960s, Lee Elder entered PGA Tour competition in 1967. The next year he placed 40th on the PGA earnings list. Continuing to improve, he won the Monsanto Open in 1974 and qualified for the famous Masters Tournament in 1975, the first black to play in that tournament. In 1979 he became the first black on a Ryder Cup team.
Another quality player, Sergeant Jack Sanchez, as a member of the Fort Lewis Warriors won the 1961 Sixth Army Tournament. That year he also became the Tacoma City Champion. During the 1960s the clubhouse received a substantial renovation, with a patio added.
The Vietnam War and Fort Lewis Golf
The Vietnam War brought many soldiers to Fort Lewis, those training for war and many returning soldiers. Recreation and readjustment became especially important for soldiers coming back. Some found golf an effective readjustment strategy. One example is Edward Matt “Doc” Dougherty (b. 1947) who, following a tour in Vietnam, started serious golf in 1969 at Fort Lewis. Once out of the army, he turned professional and finished well in a number of tournaments. Doc Dougherty had even more success on the Senior PGA Tour with 10 top-10 finishes in 2001.
Fort Lewis golfers in the early 1960s had the good luck to have an outstanding club professional, Ben Doyle (b. 1933), who proved a popular and effective teacher. Doyle gave up club pro work to become a full-time golf instructor. Golf Digest has ranked him one of America’s 50 greatest golf teachers.
After Vietnam: Special Duties and a New Nine Holes
Sergeant First Class Walter Morgan (b. 1942), a veteran of two Vietnam tours, arrived at Fort Lewis in 1979 just before his retirement. He had started playing late, at age 30, but demonstrated considerable skill. SFC Morgan served his final year on special duty at the course, and set a new course record 64 that still stands. Upon retirement Morgan accepted a club professional position in Texas and missed eligibility for the PGA tournament play by only one stroke.
Later Morgan played on the Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour) from 1991 to 2004, but physical ailments ended his golf career. His record included two titles in 1996, and the next year came in 15 on the earnings list. Among his records is the youngest golfer to shoot his age or better on the professional tour, at the 2002 AT&T Canada Senior Open Championship. Morgan received the 2006 African-American Legend of Golf award.
The course received funding in 1978 to add another nine-hole layout creating a 27-hole course. Design of the addition went to William Teufel (1925-2007), a Seattle landscape and golf-course architect. He grew up in Seattle and played on the Garfield High School golf team. During World War II he served in the Navy. After the war he attended Washington State University and the University of Oregon, graduating in 1953 with a landscape architecture degree.
Teufel returned to Washington establishing his landscape-architecture practice in 1956. His company, William G. Teufel and Associates, first accomplished landscape designs and then moved into golf-course architecture. His works include landscaping for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, housing-development landscapes, and home landscape plans. His golf courses included Wing Point Golf and Country Club, Bainbridge Island (1963); Useless Bay Golf and Country (1968); Hat Island Golf and Country Club (1969); and he added the nine holes to Fort Lewis (1979). He remodeled the Inglewood Country Club course in 1985.
In August 1979, the expanded course was nearly completed, but the monies all spent. The recently arrived new club professional, James Barnhouse (b. 1947) organized volunteers to remove stones and finish the course. On September 1, 1979, the Assistant Division Commander, 9th Infantry Division, cut the ribbon by way of dedicating the expanded course.
Eagles Pride Fort Lewis Golf Course
On August 24, 1996, a new 16,000-square-foot, $3.5-million clubhouse opened. Lieutenant General Glenn Marsh (b. 1938), Commanding General I Corps and Fort Lewis led the Grand Opening Ceremony. The day’s events included a golf tournament, social hour, and dinner and awards. This new clubhouse sits on the site of the 1938 building. Also, in the mid-1990s the course opened to the general public, although its primary function remains enhancing soldier morale. Its name was changed to the Eagles Pride Fort Lewis Golf Course.
The Fort Lewis Golf Course ranks as one of the best in the Pacific Northwest as well as an outstanding military course. Travel and Leisure Golf magazine in July/August 2001 ranked it as the sixth best military golf course in the world.
Over the years the PGA and golf stars have supported military golf and the Fort Lewis course. In August 2006, five stars of the PGA Champions Tour, including Doc Dougherty, conducted a clinic here. For Dougherty it was a wonderful moment, coming back to the course that started him on the road to professional golf.
The course has expanded its special events to include tournaments and contests. A Long Drive Championship attracts many golfers. For a cost of $10 competitors can hit six balls to see who can drive the longest ball. In 2007 the top three winners received $300 Pro Shop gift certificate and possible entry in the national contest. The longest drive in the national event earned $10,000.
Fort Lewis has hosted many events, including the USGA Local, Washington State Men’s Amateur Championship, Washington State Ladies Publinx Championship, All-Army team qualifications, and Tacoma City Amateur. In 2008 the Fort Lewis Amateur celebrated its 50th anniversary, the second oldest amateur in the area.