GOLF, played on a large open tract of land, originated in Scotland in the 15th century. The object of the game is to hit a small, hard ball in a specified direction with clubs, and ultimately to sink the ball into a hole, utilizing the fewest possible number of strokes. SAMUEL MATHER is credited with introducing the game to Cleveland. Mather was invited to play the prestigious St. Andrew's course at Mount Hope, NY, in 1895 and brought his enthusiasm about the game home to Cleveland. His efforts resulted in the formation of the Cleveland Golf Club whose membership comprised the social and business elite of Cleveland. Mather served as the club's first president with R. H. S. Clarke as secretary. Located in GLENVILLE, the grounds opened 13 July 1895 with a demonstration of the game by T. Sterling Beckwith, Jr. and J. D. Maclennin, and the game rapidly took hold in social and business circles. In 1897 Wiliam H. Boardman led the first Cleveland golf team to Buffalo, where they defeated the local team. That same year, the original COUNTRY CLUB established a golf course at its grounds on Lake Erie in BRATENAHL. From the first, golf was perceived as a sport in which both men and women could participate. The game was played with a ball made from gutta percha, a substance that resembled rubber. However, these balls were hard and lacked resilience. In 1899 it occurred to Clevelander COBURN HASKELL, a member of the Country Club, that a true rubber ball might improve distance, and working with Joseph Mitchell, the club's professional golfer, and Bertram Work of the B.F. Goodrich Corp., Haskell developed the wound-rubber-core golf ball. With its use, scores dipped markedly, and the ball became the official standard until the 1960s and the development of the solid-core ball.
At the turn of the century, the sport of golf entered a period of rapid growth, and exhibitions were staged to popularize the game. On 28 July 1900, Harry Vardon, then the greatest contemporary American golfer, played 36 holes at the Cleveland Golf Club. The EUCLID CLUB, the second to be devoted primarily to the game, was opened 4 July 1900 with William B. Chisholm, president of Cleveland Rolling Mills, as club president. Chisholm induced his friend JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER (an avid golfer who had built a course on the grounds of his Forest Hills estate) to provide part of the land for the club. The Western Open, a national amateur tournament, was played there in 1902. By 1915 7 golf clubs were located in Cuyahoga County, and the 2 original clubs, the Cleveland Golf Club and the Euclid Club, had merged with the Country Club and the MAYFIELD COUNTRY CLUB respectively. While golf clearly had become established in Cleveland, it remained a sport of the wealthy; however, the prosperity created by Cleveland's rapid growth as an industrial center was fueling a revolution of rising expectations as the middle class became more numerous and influential. Although private clubs continued to open, most notably the CANTERBURY GOLF CLUB (est. 1921, opened 1922) and ACACIA COUNTRY CLUB (opened 1921; clubhouse opened 1922), demand for public courses began to mount. WILLIAM A. STINCHCOMB, director of the Metropolitan Park system, recognized the need and opened Metropolitan No. 1 in the Rocky River Reservation in 1925; by 1930 8 courses admitted the general public. In 1941 the county had 16 private, 15 semiprivate, and 2 public courses. World War II retarded the growth of the sport, so that in 1951 the same number of courses were available. However, the postwar boom reinvigorated the factors that had driven the first round of growth.
The utility of the golf course as a business venue continued to draw the commercially minded middle class. The introduction of televised matches, and of large cash prizes on the professional circuit, drew national attention to the game. Perhaps most important, professional players emerged whose golf skills took the game to a new level, which in turn created widespread interest in the sport. An extensive golf industry developed as new courses were designed and built and more efficient equipment and accessories were successfully marketed to improve the scores. Arnold Palmer was the most notable example of the postwar professional golfers. He first achieved recognition for his play as an amateur at the Pine Ridge Country Club while stationed by the Coast Guard in Cleveland in 1952-53. He turned professional in 1955 and went on to become the most popular and one of the most successful golfers of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Further, he parlayed his winnings and endorsement fees into a small business empire under the auspices of Mark H. McCormack and the INTERNATIONAL MANAGEMENT GROUP. The professional tournaments grew more lucrative and visible. Prior to 1946, Cleveland had hosted 4 Western Opens, 2 U.S. Opens, 1 Women's Western Open, 1 Women's National Championship, 1 Cleveland Open, and several Ohio State Championships. The professional purses had been small, never exceeding $10,000, but after World War II corporate sponsorship and television fees became available. The Carling's Open, first held in Willowick in 1952, was subsequently held at Manakiki Country Club in 1953-1954 and offered over $15,000 in combined prizes. The Cleveland Open, established in 1963, boasted a purse of $100,000. The prizes grew steadily, but the event was discontinued in 1975. The Ladies Professional Golf Assn. has staged several tournaments here since 1976, including the Babe Zaharias Invitational Classic that year, and the World Championship of Women's Golf, 1981-84. The Senior Tournament Players Championship was held at Canterbury 1983-1985. In 1986 44 golf courses existed in metropolitan Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, including 26 that were listed as open to the public. Nine organizations, representing and organizing all levels of play, served the golfing public. By 1995, the number of courses in Greater Cleveland had risen to 92, of which 88 were open to the public.
Edward E. Worthington (dec.)