Historians estimate that at the turn of the century about 250,000 people were playing golf in America on around 1,000 golf courses. In 1900 the Richmond area had a population of 51,867. At least a few hundred of them began playing golf at a newly founded club-Hermitage Country Club-a club that would enjoy wonderful years, persevere through difficult times, live on to give much back to the game and, in the year 2000, celebrate 100 years of sport and fellowship.

During its first 100 years, Hermitage has enjoyed play on five different golf courses. The initial course was a simple, 9-hole course at Broad Street designed by Willie Tucker, William Braid and W.V. Hoave, which members used from 1900 through 1916. Next the club hired A.W. Tillinghast to design a course at Hilliard Road, which members would enjoy from 1918 through 1976. In 1960 Hermitage added a remote course-Ethelwood, designed and built by Jim Reynolds (with consultation with William and David Gordon). Hermitage would play Ethelwood from 1960 until 1973, at which time the Club's three nines (Lake, Pine and Oak) at Broad Run, designed by Ed Ault opened for play. The thirty-six holes at Broad Run were "completed" in 1990 when Arthur Hills designed the "New" nine, permitting the Club to designate two distinct 18-hole courses-the Manakin (consisting of the former Pine and Oak nines) and the Sabot (consisting for the former Lane and New nines).

In 1904, the Hermitage was a founding member of the Virginia State Golf League, which would later evolve into the Virginia State Golf Association (VSGA). Hermitage would go on to provide invaluable support to the VSGA. Its members would serve regularly in leadership positions in the association and the club would offer its courses and facilities for VSGA and USGA events for the next 95 years. In 1949, the Hermitage hosted the only major professional golf championship held in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the PGA Championship. Fittingly, a native Virginian from Hot Springs, Sam Snead, defeated Johnny Palmer 3 and 2 to win Wanamaker Trophy.

"OLD HERMITAGE, " THE TILLIE COURSE ON HILLIARD ROAD
By Bruce Matson, Esquire
Excerpted from
Hermitage Country Club, A History of the First 100 Years,1900-2000

W.C. Locker collected workers in this car

Junius Watson and W.C. Locker's daughter, Em

Galloway with daughter, Sheila

The first green looking back towards the tee

The par 4 eleventh and twelfth

The par 3 thirteenth

Sam Snead plays from

the ravine fronting the tenth green in the 1949 PGA

While sometimes referred to as the first golf club or the first golf course in Richmond (the Club's "official" history refers to the course at Broad Street as "Richmond's first golf course" and an announcement about the Club's 80th anniversary states that Hermitage was "the first home in Richmond of the sport of golfing"), Hermitage was neither. Golf was played in Richmond for a few years prior to the organization of the Hermitage Golf Club. Around 1890 Lewis Ginter developed Lakeside Park, which included a zoo, a man-made lake with swimming in summer and ice-skating in winter as well as various other outdoor activities. Ginter introduced golf to Lakeside Park around 1895, which most likely was Richmond's first golf course. Although the presence of this public course at Lakeside Park led to the development of Lakeside Country ("Wheel") Club, the original Lakeside club later dissolved. Thus, although neither the first golf club nor the first golf course in Richmond, Hermitage not only endured, but due to its leadership role in, and subsequent contributions to early golf, Hermitage may rightfully be viewed as the most important golf club in the history and development of golf in Richmond, if not in all of Virginia.


In 1913, the RF&P Railroad announced that it would build a new terminal on the site of the then present Hermitage Golf Club. This had been anticipated ever since the railroad acquired the property nine years earlier. Now if the Club were to continue, it would have to make definite plans for the future. Suitable land was located and optioned north of the City near Lakeside Park and close to the Richmond-Ashland Trolley Line in Henrico County. If the details could be worked out, Hermitage would have a new home on 110 acres just off the Washington Highway (U.S. Route 1) on a cross street called Hilliard Road.


The Club would revisit in the 1970s, the task of a building new facilities and moving the Club to a new site would prove to be a daunting task. The Club's first site at Broad Street was not only encouraged but also financed by an independent source-The Richmond Traction Company. This new endeavor would not have such a benefactor, the members would have to plan, fund and execute Hermitage's move to Hilliard Road.


Of paramount need, of course, was sufficient funding to pay for the construction of a new golf course, new clubhouse and other club facilities. To raise the needed capital, the decision was made to form a stock corporation so that shares could be sold to the Club's members. On July 3, 1916, the articles of incorporation for Hermitage Country Club, Inc. were signed by the original incorporators.


A TILLINGHAST DESIGN


Among the very first items of business for the new club was addressing the construction of the new golf course. Arrangements were in the works prior to the formal incorporation. Hermitage member Willis Clyde Locker had helped to locate a site for the new course and option the land. Locker had also begun to develop possible routings and hole designs. Thus, among the assets acquired by the Country Club were options to purchase real estate at Hilliard Road. At its first meeting the new Board discussed a July 14, 1916 letter from A.W Tillinghast concerning the terms of his engagement and plans for a site visit on August 14, 1916. Hermitag' Õs course at Hilliard would be one of his earliest design efforts.


The land for the new golf course and club was assembled from four parcels on both sides of Hilliard Road. A sixty-acre dairy farm (which would become the "back nine") was acquired from E.J. Timberlake on the south side for $15,700. On the north side of Hilliard the club acquired a 15-acre cornfield from C.W Childrey for $8,000 (which would be developed generally into holes 1 through 4), a 23.35-acre tract from Jenette B. Laughlin for $19,000 (which included- an existing house) and a 16.7-acre tract from Amy Gruner for $6,919.96. To help finance the land acquisition, the Club borrowed $30,000 from American Trust Corporation at 6 percent interest with a 5-year term and Timberlake accepted a second trust to secure the balance of the purchase price for his property. Hermitage also acquired a 22-acre parcel from Amy Gruner on the north side of Hilliard Road (west of Sewell Road) near Lakeside Park for $12,000, which land would be called "Hermitage Park" and was acquired for the purpose of subdividing and developing-presumably for profit to help reduce the Club's long-term debt.


Although Tillinghast thought the amount of available acreage was somewhat too small, he routed a fine course along the property's meandering streams and outside borders, often adding "length" and enhancing the course's challenge by placing many of the greens just beyond one of the streams. Among the best examples are the eighth and tenth holes, which remain today as among the finest holes on the course (now Belmont Park). Locker helped with the layout, having walked the property and staked out potential sites for greens and tees. Tillinghast was so impressed with Locker's ideas that he even inquired as to whether he had any professional training in golf course design. As chairman of Hermitage's Green Committee, Locker supervised the construction of the new course at Hilliard, which efforts were hampered by bad weather and labor problems. Peter Lees, who was associated with Tillinghast, was responsible for the actual earthmoving and green construction, however, Locker's involvement was "hands on" and intensive. In an effort to finish the course in 1917, Locker, who was one of the few early members with an automobile, would collect workers downtown and take them to the Hilliard Road course. Also assisting in the construction process was Junius Watson, who would stay on as a green keeper's assistant. Watson would become a long time and beloved employee who was most often seen leading a mule and cart as he worked on course conditioning.

With Tillinghast's routing and hole designs, Peter Lees' construction expertise, and Locke's considerable effort and necessary frugality, Hermitage finished its new golf course at a cost of $4,000, including $1,000 for Tillinghast, $1,200 for grass seed and $800 for labor, an amazingly low sum even for 1917. The commitment and effort by Locker cannot be underestimated as Hermitage worked to survive the transition from Broad Street to Hilliard Road. Like Berkeley Williams, Locker also added to the informal history of the Club in a letter he wrote in 1938 in which he recounts an amusing story from this stage of the Club's early history. "Geddes Winston would ask me frequently, 'Clyde, when do you expect to play some golf with us?' I would explain to him how important it was to get the construction work done before Fall. He would remonstrate with me and remark, 'Go ahead-every man must be his own damn fool,' and would add ,'in a few years nobody in the club will know that you gave all this thought and time to the club' Wins Wilson would counter saying, 'Geddes, you don't know what you are talking about. We are going to name a room in the club to honor Clyde Locker-it will be known as the locker room.'"


By the fall of 1917 a few holes (south of Hilliard) with sand greens were ready for play. The original "first" hole was at the far, southern end of the property and a house behind that tee (the 15th tee throughout most of the Club's history) served for a short while as the clubhouse. Within a year or two, 18 holes were open and the first tee was moved to a location in front of the old farmhouse, which was being renovated to serve as the clubhouse. George Bouse was hired as the club's golf professional, club maker, and green keeper at a salary of $75 per month. Within a few years of opening the course the Club would turn its attention to improving the original, Tillinghast design.


In 1921, noted golf course architect Donald Ross was in the Richmond area helping both Country Club of Virginia and Lakeside Country Club design new golf courses. Hermitage used this opportunity to also employ Ross to consult on improvements and modifications to its golf course, primarily involving the conversion of the Club's sand greens to Bermuda grass. The green for the first hole was moved behind the creek-thereby assuring that hole's place in Hermitage and Richmond golf history as one of the area's (if not the state's) most challenging opening holes. Charles P. Crowe was hired to do the actual renovation work and would stay on as the Club's green keeper.


In 1922, William "Mack" Meadows was brought to Hermitage by Donald Ross to assure completion of his work because of Meadows' ability to work with the equipment needed for green irrigation. Meadows would stay on at the Club for 34 years, initially as assistant superintendent and in 1925 as head green keeper. In his report to shareholders in 1926, then-President William E. Barrett wrote: "We have a good man in Mr. Meadows, the greens keeper. He is not a grass expert (thank the Lord), but is a practical farmer, carpenter, plumber and machinist." Meadows would receive much acclaim in 1949 for the marvelous condition of the course for the PGA Championship held at Hermitage that year. The Club started the 1920s in dire financial trouble. To make matters worse George Bouse (the Club's golf professional and green keeper) died unexpectedly in February 1920. In addition, president James Anderson resigned unexpectedly due to health concerns. Nonetheless, the members and the Club leaders persevered. By 1923, however, Hermitage's leadership had substantially completed the golf course.

Perhaps the single most significant event at Hermitage in the "roaring 20's" was the hiring of a new golf professional, Tommy Galloway. In early 1928, by chance or fate, Hermitage member Fred MacKay met Galloway in the Manhattan sporting good store known as Lowe & Hughes. Galloway worked part-time in the store and also was an assistant golf professional in New Jersey at Suburban Golf Club and later Echo Lake Golf Club.( Coincidently, Suburban was also a Tillinghast designed course, and George Lowe, one of the principals at Lowe & Hughes, was the former head golf professional at Tillinghast designed BaltusrolGolf Club.) Galloway was critical to the development and success of the Hermitage and would become the longest serving golf professional until his untimely death in 1954.


In 1935, Galloway asked the PGA of America to send A.W Tillinghast to look over the Clu's golf course. (During the Depression, when Tillinghast himself was down on his luck, the PGA put him on retainer to visit and consult with clubs throughout the country about their golf courses.) In correspondence to Galloway after his visit, Tillinghast commented that the course was "a bit on the short side-6,239 yards" and that the par 4 third hole was a "weak one." Nonetheless, he was complimentary of the work done by William Meadows, stating, "His greens are excellent." A significant conclusion for a course during the Depression.


THE MOVE WEST TO GOOCHLAND


While the Club had reduced some of the pressure on the Hilliard Road course and had successfully added the Ethelwood course, the Club's leadership almost immediately began wondering further about Hermitage's future. Long term having two, if not three, courses miles apart were not seen as a healthy alternative for the Club. The objective was to build 54 holes and a new clubhouse at a single site. A search began for a new, future home for Hermitage Country Club.


Initially consideration was given to acquiring sufficient land around Ethelwood to make that location the new, permanent home of the Club. The initial investigation located adjoining property, however, the requested price was prohibitive and the Board abandoned consideration of that option.

Not everyone at the Club favored moving from Hilliard Road. In fact, the issue created controversy. When Harwood Cochrane offered Hermitage a 527acre site in Oilville (Goochland County) the extent of the opposition materialized. Noted golf architect Robert Trent Jones advised the Club that a fine complex could be developed at the Cochrane site. Thus, Hermitage's leadership began serious consideration of moving the Club to the Cochrane/Oilville site.


The Club's charter, as adopted in 1916, provided that Hermitage could own up to 500 acres of land. Of course, this was an arbitrary number in 1916, because the Club had already selected its site and optioned the 120 acres it would need for its new course and club site. Undoubtedly, the limitation of "500 acres" was considered by the Club's incorporators to be more than adequate for any future needs. To acquire the Cochrane property, therefore, would require a modification to the original articles. Thus, the opposition to any move took the form of refusing to permit any charter amendment.


After much struggle and debate, the charter amendment, requiring a two-thirds vote, was rejected in 1966 by just 13 votes and the Cochrane property plan was abandoned. The search continued for a proper site and when not attached to a specific proposal, the charter amendment was adopted in 1967. Hermitag's financial situation was strong in the 1960s and the Club's debt was paid off in 1968, thus setting the stage for making new financial commitments. While the Club was attempting to build support among the membership for relocating the Club to Goochland County, it was approached by C.B. Robertson on behalf of the Luck family. The Lucks offered a parcel of approximately 450 acres. Hermitage agreed to transfer the Ethelwood property to the Lucks and to pay them $50,000 in exchange for the 450 acres at Broad Run in Goochland County. Work commenced on a new golf course at Broad Run and the first thee nines were opened for play in 1973.


After several years of intense negotiation, Hermitage agreed to sell the Tillinghast course at Hilliard Road to Henrico County for $904,600 in 1977. The County changed the course's name to Belmont Park. Today the public can essentially play the same course over which Sam Snead won the 1949 PGA. The course still features a fierce opening hole (where players on the first hole can re-tee without penalty if they strike the overhead power lines), a driveable par 4 at the third hole, and impossibly difficult par 4 fifth hole, a "buried elephant" green at the par 3 thirteenth, and many other, unaltered holes. For most of its history, "Old Hermitage" played a par 73 for Hermitage members, but plays today as a par 71, the same as the course played for the 1949 PGA (with the 5th and 17th holes being converted from a par 5 to par 4 holes).


Tillinghast routed the golf course at Hilliard Road along the property's meandering streams and its eighteen holes on a fairly tight piece of property. Donald Ross left his own imprint on the course, helping the club redesign its greens and convert the greens from sand to Bermuda grass in 1921. But for more than sixty years the members of Hermitage Country Club walked and played a modest, but challenging course, which in 1949 tested the world's best golfers. Today, a very recognizable course remains at Hilliard Road, referred to now by many Hermitage members as "Old Hermitage" and by most as a municipal facility called "Belmont Park."


Some of the improvements or changes to the course were recommended by Tillie himself on his examination of Old Hermitage in 1935. In his report to PGA President George Jacobus, he wrote:

I candidly criticized a number of hazards, which I had placed myself, just a I have done on many other courses. But it must be remembered that general play has lengthened in twenty years and that long ago we were just that much closer to another period of course conception. The pits which I condemned today come under my classification of "Duffers Headaches" and without hesitation I took my own medicine, which I have been prescribing. I will say that the pits which I closed today were comparatively few in number and in no instance did they represent carries but rather side pits, closer in than we place them now.


No one who has played the course ever forgets the opening hole. At one time the rails of the Richmond Ashland Trolley line crossed the fairway. Even today the power lines over the same easement "challenge" golfers driving from the first tee. And even if the player can gain a long straight drive, usually a long iron is still required to clear the stream fronting the first green, which itself is three-tiered sloping back to front. A stern opener to say the least.

The second is a short but tricky par 4, with the stream and now trees along the right and a small green for a target sitting just below the old trolley trestle. The entrance to the green is narrowed by a small stand of pine trees just left of the putting surface. The green has been enlarged and its severity softened, but it still presents a difficult target. The short par 4 third hole still offers players a chance to drive the green-probably the easiest par on the course and the site where a caddie was killed by an errant tee shot off the second hole in 1923. Prior to the PGA the tee was moved back and up on the old trolley lines to lengthen the hole. In 1935 on his examination of the Hermitage, A.W. Tillinghast recommended this lengthening:

Altogether the course has proved a good test of golf but the third hole is a weak one, measuring only 266 yards, a rather dubious par 4. Owing to the lack of room at this particular spot it was impossible to make the hole longer. Now it seems possible that a small piece of adjoining land may be secured and if this is accomplished I recommended the placement of a new second teeing ground there. This will make an even better hole of the second and open up room to extend the third to a better length of Drive and running-approach character.

 

The fourth hole is a solid, medium length par 3 with a well-bunkered green. Like the third hole, this hole is substantially unchanged. The entrance to the green is narrowed by a small stand of pine trees just left of the putting surface.

Played as a par 5 in the past, the fifth still plays as a sharp dogleg right to an elevated green, but at Belmont Park today it plays, as in the 1949 PGA, as a most difficult par 4. The fifth hole is often referred to as "Murde's Hollow" because of the penalty extracted for trying to cut the corner or clear the trees. The green although completely rebuilt, enlarged and modified, retains a severity of slope making putting as challenging as arriving in two strokes. The par 4 sixth and seventh play up and back along parallel fairways. Seven is a good birdie opportunity unless your drive is right where a row of trees will block the approach. The elevated severely sloped green on six still makes par a find accomplishment despite its short length. The eighth hole remains one of the course's best. A dogleg right with a fairway bunker on the inside corner and O.B. on the right demands a well-placed drive. The serenely sloping two-tiered green sits just beyond a stream crossing in front requiring utmost precision. Placing an approach on the wrong tie almost assures three putts. The course's best birdie opportunity is the par 5 ninth, which, although it has seen significant alterations, still plays as a fairly short dogleg right through the hole's original corridor.

The back nine starts just south across Hilliard Road where the par 5 tenth presents the wonderful challenge of trying to clear the deep ravine that fronts the green area. This is the same area that trapped Sam Snead in the 1949 PGA. The hole presents multiple options. The par 4 eleventh and twelfth holes play up and back along wide parallel fairways but each features very small green sites, demanding precise approaches with mid-irons. The thirteenth is a downhill par 3 of mid-length. The green features an enormous hump, or "buried elephant," in its center, making putting from the wrong side an almost certain three putt. The par 4 fourteenth takes the player to the far end of the property and a home behind the green that served as the Club's first temporary clubhouse. In fact for the Club's first year or two at Hilliard Road, the fifteenth tee served as the first tee. The course begins its return the clubhouse with two short par 4s, the latter of which, the sixteenth, featured alternative greens for many, many years, the lower of which sat dangerously close to and partially hidden by a bend in the stream. When played from the back, elevated tee, the seventeenth, an uphill par 4, is all the hole you want to play. For many years this hole was played a par 5 from the back tee, making the course a par 73 (when the fifth also played as a par 5). Formerly played to a simple, small and flat green, with Tommy Galloway's house justto the right, the County has completely redone the green complex for the seventeenth hole. Fortunately, the finish of the Tillinghast design, one of his very first, remains with little change-an unusual par 3 finish that requires a mid to long iron to a well bunkered green. After hosting innumerable club, city, state and even national events, the golf course at "Old Hermitage" will always be a special place to the members of Hermitage County Club.

The par 4 eighth and par 5 ninth