Can you imagine golf and putting on black, oiled, sticky, sand greens? How can they be "greens," if they were black? The old Kiwanis Golf Course on 13th Ave. North and 4th Street was such a place, and in addition, it was very hilly. When it was built in the late 1890’s, the Big Tree was across the street but it was soon torn down and a new one was chosen for that honor over on Second Street. 13th Avenue North was the demarcation line between Clinton and Lyons.
Frank Ellis, the lawyer, who was famous for the beautiful mansion on Sixth Avenue South, and for building a big, little playhouse for his invalid daughter, was the proud owner of the first set of golf clubs in Clinton about 1898. Later, he built another mansion on North 4th Street nearer the golf course. Following in his golf footsteps was O.D. Collis who lived in a mansion near Kiwanis, and was one of the leaders who started the Clinton Country Club in 1920. I imagine that Roscoe Wagner wasn't far behind him. I always remember Mr. Wagner sitting on a bench at the Harrison Drive crossing between the upper and lower nines.
However, Kiwanis was the place that beginners started. Note in the picture that the man with the overly stiff knees and knickers, was teeing of toward the east, and you can see the brewery tower on Second Street. His caddie wouldn't say a word, even if he was a better golfer and knew that he should loosen up a bit. Today, all this area is filled with houses and 13th Ave. no longer meanders like a giant snake from out in the country to busy Fourth Street.
My favorite hole at Kiwanis was #2 high along the ridge and adjacent to the long servant's apartments of one of the mansions. If you teed off and hooked the ball, it might hit the building and bounce back into the fairway as a good, long shot. Hole #3 was across the gulley and one day a rascal golfer hit one into the weed-filled rough at the bottom, near where an electric fence kept cows corralled. His partner, Jocko Langfitt, knew that he hit a Titleist, number 2 and would dishonestly acknowledge any found ball as his. So, Jocko had it perfectly marked and went right to it, and said, "what are you shooting?" The well-known response from the well-know prevaricator was, "what is it?" Jocko said, "it's a Maxfli," to which the duffer replied firmly, "THAT'S IT!" "Oh, sorry," Jocko answered, "it's a Titleist," and he put it in his pocket.
Later, Fred Fish did his thing at Valley Oaks. Also, Jocko, Stan Sirvid, Gene Eberle, and Lyle Gearman would golf at Valley Oaks and they impatiently revved their golf cart engines if slow walkers held them up for even a few seconds. They were always let through and for their troubles they were jokingly dubbed “The Tank Commanders.”
Everybody tried Kiwanis, but most gave up the sport quickly because of the rugged terrain and the horrible greens. If you recall, the only good thing about the "greens" was that the ball really stuck there and stayed. The golfer would then lift the ball and pick up a large canvass contraption with a handle and carve out a long, smooth path to the hole before putting. AND YOU CALL THIS GOLF?! So, very few stalwarts took up the crazy game of "cow pasture pool." It wasn't very popular at that time anyway. Earlier golfers had literally played in a cow pasture west of Clinton High School.
Some years later, in 1966, John Kane and his partner from Sterling opened Valley Oaks in a fantastically gorgeous spot, and everybody suddenly wanted to play the sport made famous by Ben Hogan and Slammin Sammy Snead with current heroes like 'The Golden Bear', Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Arnold Palmer. Of course, it didn't hurt that now golf carts were popular in which each "athlete" could carry a few beers! GOLF HAD ARRIVED!
It didn’t even hurt the ardor of golfers that, at the beginning, Valley Oaks was more suited as a Lake than a golf course. After a few inches of rain, it was often filled with water. Al Rittmer, who built the course, fixed that by building “berms” which channeled the water in a better fashion.
The wonderful restaurant at Valley Oaks was a memorable night spot for twenty years until it burned down one fateful night. It was a terrible loss, but the scenic course still remains. The odd thing is that very few Clinton citizens have ever seen the back nine, unless they are golfers. It is a heavenly spot complete with lakes, deer, frogs, Canada Geese, and ancient oaks.
Many people do not appreciate the natural splendor of the game. Even though it is time consuming, it always entices one to return, and allows him to enjoy a peaceful and relaxed state of mind. One wag defines golf thusly: “Golf is a good walk spoiled by hitting a white sphere, swearing, and chasing it.” This allows a fellow to forget his woes and take a mini vacation, which is soothing to the soul.