The Clarinda Country Club is a semi-private club drawing members and play from throughout the area. Its principle concern is a challenging 18 hole, golf course carved into the rolling hills on the north edge of the city. While the course measures only 5,081 this par 68 venue rewards shot placement. The course has a tee to green irrigation system and is praised as one of the best kept courses in Southwest Iowa.
Clarinda Country Club
1400 N. 16th St.
Clarinda, IA 51632
A Brief History of the
Clarinda Country Club
By John Lisle, 2021
Much of our clubs’ very early history comes from a speech by Dr. Eller, a local dentist, at our Annual Meeting about 1968. Dr. Eller was an early member of the club and many of his comments were delivered with a wry smile.
He explained that early in the 20th century, golf was becoming a ‘rage’ across the US. In Clarinda, a group of men interested in building a golf course came together, formed a club, incorporated in May of 1918 and bought 29 rather rough acres just north of the cemetery. This acreage was small since most nine hole courses were on about 40 to 45 acres. Our course was laid out on that small space by a golf pro from Happy Hollow Country Club of Omaha. As Dr. Eller said, “Then the real work began.” Because the fledgling club was short of money for the construction of the layout, individual club members were assigned in groups to rough out and physically build each hole. Building the greens was the biggest task. Some members just shaped greens out of “good black dirt “, and then hoped for the best. Others like the group that included Dr. Eller and Edwin Lisle Sr. located a book in Des Moines that showed the specifications and cross-section of how to build a green. This include digging (by hand) a 2 foot deep cavity where the green was to be located. Then rocks and gravel were first put in this cavity to provide some drainage. Then about 8”of greens mixture (mostly sand) was shaped for the new green. Most of the early greens were built that way. Since this was prior to clay drain tile, small rocks were laid in narrow trenches and then covered with earth to provide drainage for the new greens. Recently one of those little rock channels was found leading east from old #9 green.
Speaking of old #9 hole, Dr. Eller enjoyed telling how “A controversy arose about the number of oak trees to remove for our #9 Fairway. Much discussion was held but consensus was not reached. Suddenly, late one evening, five mighty oaks were dynamited and hole #9 was completed,” he grinned. Then, Dr. Eller held up his hands about 2 feet apart and asked “Do you realize how fast that length of fuse burns?“ “Sure sounds like he was in on the ‘deed ‘.
He also explained that the Tee box for hole #2 was originally built on a wooden tower to raise it up to the fairway height. One member (unnamed) after too many adult beverages fell off the tower and broke a leg. Soon after that, more dirt was brought in to build the safer tee we have today. Dr. Eller also talked about the first fairway mower the club owned. It was a set of reel mowers in a gang arrangement and was pulled by a partially blind horse. He said that mower worked pretty well but the horse later drowned in our creek after being spooked at night during a storm.
On hole #3 he explained that at first several wooden plank bridges were built, but they kept being washed away in the spring floods. Finally the famous “swinging bridge” that was suspended on two steel cables was built across that deep ravine on #3. At that time, all golfers walked and pulled or carried their clubs and that infamous bridge lasted until golf cars came along in the mid 1950s.
Dr. Eller also explained that the Humiston and the Shenandoah Railroad ran along our south boundary between our course and the cemetery. That railroad existed until 1936 when the track from Clarinda to Norwich was abandoned. Somehow our club ended up with the full width of that old railroad right of way not just the north half as was customarily split between landowners. Someone did some good work to accomplish that. As Dr. Eller said, “That really allowed us to improve our course, because we could then lengthen old #6 hole to 580 yards for a par five. Also #7 could be increased in both length and width and a much better golf hole was constructed. That did however, create an interesting quirk to our course. You then played #6 hole east until you were even with #7 tee. Then you stopped and teed off on #7 before finishing hole 6.
An interesting note was that in the late 1920s, Edwin Lisle Sr. shook hands on a deal to buy a Dodge Brothers car dealership from another member on that same #6 green. Of course today that green is in our practice range; but, it was recently rebuilt as a nursery green to provide Bent grass repair sod. Another longtime member, L.W. Pullan, told me that before wooden peg tees were common our members used wet sand to make a small mound and the ball was then placed on top of it for a Tee shot. Below, I have enclosed a sketch of a map showing the original course layout after the railroad land was added:
Our course pretty much stayed the same until about 1976 except for the way the holes were played during the late 1960s and early 70s. In an effort to get more golfers to pass by the clubhouse midway through their round and hopefully stop to buy drinks or snacks, the holes were played as follows: #1 was played as usual, then you walked up the hill south to tee off on hole #6 and then you played holes 7, 8 and 9. After passing the clubhouse, you were routed down to play holes 3, 4 and 5, then finished on hole #2. This plan must’ve worked because the routing stayed that way for a number of years.
Our membership grew a lot in the 1970s and it soon became apparent that an additional nine holes were needed. The Board of Directors checked into locating at least 45 acres that bordered our course. Finally the 45.5 acres directly east of our original course were selected and an option to buy was obtained from Dr. John Martin for about $82,500. This proposed addition was not without controversy! Some members did not want to incur any more debt because the money had to be borrowed to buy the property and to develop the new nine holes. Finally, a meeting of the membership was called and two construction contractors submitted bids. By a narrow margin it was voted to exercise the option and buy the land and the $87,000 construction contract went to Delbert Kuhlbaum of Atlantic to build the course.
The course layout had been earlier been approved by the Board and construction began in the spring of 1976. Kenny Snodgrass, a local earthmover, did all of the dirt work including building a large dam running west of 12 tee. This combined the two streams that ran through the new property into one, giving us much more usable property between holes #10 and #11. Bob Scroggs was the Club Manager then and he spent much time supervising this project and it was helpful. In fact, it was him that showed Kenny how the creek on hole #3 had meandered west, creating a cliff like bank that captured any tee shots that were short of #3 green. Kenny said “I can fix it” and then one afternoon he moved the creek east about 75 feet east to its current location and reshaped that steep bank, making #3 much more playable. Unfortunately Kenny S. passed away from encephalitis within two years of completing this project.
I need to mention that the club also bought about 2 acres from Desi Matthews allowing us to build hole #12. Another decision made at that time was to not remove several of the large oak trees on the south side of hole #17. The thinking was that these big oaks helped protect #18 tee. It was argued that more of these trees could be removed later if we wanted to. None have been and that has made #17 a narrow and challenging par 4. The “new nine” was opened in 1977 and is now the more popular side, especially for newer players.
In 1992 a 24 acre field lying just west of the cemetery came up for sale. A number of members felt that we should buy that ground to construct some longer holes on the front nine and pay for the improvements by selling housing lots. Stan Honken headed the committee to fully investigate this suggestion. Through a friend of Robert Duncan, a golf course architect from Lincoln Nebraska named Grant Wentzel was hired to design a layout for that property. He ultimately proposed a plan that would add three new golf holes and lengthen existing hole #9. His plan also provided a practice range and would include the 14 building lots. The committee presented Grant’s design and detailed a financial proposal that in effect paid for itself. It was passed by the membership by a wide margin. Jac Crain and Larry Carlson got to work doing all of the earth moving needed to build a new street (Country Club Drive), as well as shaping the 14 lots and the four new golf holes. Jeff Wendell was the Club Manager at that time. He did an excellent job of building the four new greens, seeding the fairways and tees, installing the irrigation system, and planting trees in strategic places.
Early on the committee felt it was time to survey and stake the building lots so that they could be sold and the revenue used to pay for the project development. Stan knew that I had done some non-professional property surveying in the past and asked me to guide a crew to survey and stake these lots. I was reluctant because I had not done this kind of job before, but Stan said “It’s only for lot-selling purposes and we can get it professionally confirmed later.” So, a crew of Stan, Gary Beggs, myself, and two others started early one Saturday morning and completed the surveying and staking by the end of the day. But, that same evening I was reviewing my field notes of angles and distances and found that I had made an error. So, I drug Julie out to the site to hold the stadia rod as I rechecked my angles. I suspected that the error was on the southeast corner of what became our lot and sure enough it was. Julie and I were standing there admiring the new development and we decided that we should just buy that lot. We had built our house on Logan Drive in 1970 and liked it very much, but the thought of living on the corner of the new course was very enticing. We built our current home two years later in 1996.
That remodeling of our front nine holes has worked out quite well. All of the building lots were sold and nine new homes have been built at this point. The driving range has been a big asset to both new and older golfers alike.
In 1999 it was realized that we were paying over $15,000 per year for treated city water and yet we were only irrigating tees and greens! During the late summer months the rest of our course dried up and became brown and hard. We needed to find a way to construct a full course irrigation system. Several alternatives were considered, including drilling test wells, damming the creek, and using city water. None of these options looked good. Finally, we thought about utilizing so-called ’grey water’ from the city’s waste water treatment plant as several other courses in Iowa did, so we went to see Bob Bailey, our City Manager. Bob listened to our idea and then he pointed to a big map of Clarinda on his wall and said, “Guys, here’s another idea. Let’s use water from our city’s river water settling basins. It’s a much shorter distance to pump and you don’t have to sanitize the water.” That made immediate sense to us. Bob said that he would run the idea by our City Engineer, Andy Macias. Several days later Andy looked this over and said it was doable; but, he added that it would be expensive if we had his firm do all the engineering work. He said we could save some money by us gathering up the figures about distances, pressures, volumes, and friction loss, then calculate our needs. Once again, Stan prevailed on me to gather this information and do the math. Andy reviewed our calculations and approved them.
We needed to raise $200,000 to pay for this improvement and we wondered how to do that. Stan figured out a method where 20 members would pay $10,000 each and in exchange, they would get 20 years of free dues. The plan was presented to the board and it was approved, pending our getting 20 members to do the pre-pay dues program. Through a lot of good work the project was funded and the construction soon completed.
First we had to build a big underground concrete reservoir with a pump house sitting on top of it near the center of our course. We did this task ourselves using some ‘close out’ decorative concrete blocks. Then the contractor installed the irrigation pipes, sprinkler heads, and buried the wiring to complete our system. We also designed and built a much needed restroom between #14 and #15 using the same decorative blocks as was used on the pump house. Several years later we used the same design to build a restroom next to #6 tee. If you look on the backside of that restroom you’ll see that we ran out of the decorative blocks in the top rows, but that side is not seen.
Golf carts first appeared in the mid-1950s. Stub Miller sold the EZ Go brand at his implement dealership and joked that our #5 hill sells more golf carts every year. Larry Carpenter, a member, now sells both Yamaha and EZ Go brands. Over the years, about 60 golf cart sheds have been built and rented to members. Now the club also has 12 golf carts for daily rental.
The last course remodel was initiated by Ken Whitmore and paid for by his family on hole #3. A series of new tees were built and a lot of shaping was done around the green. One of the most interesting parts of this was the new arched concrete bridge that Ron Eighmy built. It is really good-looking and works very well. Ron has built two other bridges for the club on the east nine similar to this one and they were quite an improvement. He is very unselfish about doing work with his equipment for the club.
Finally, our new entrance sign was an enjoyable project. It was patterned after our Clarinda entrance signs and when completed, it looks like it belongs. Laying up the brick columns and pouring the caps myself was fun to do. It should look nice for some time.
Now let’s look at the history of our club houses. Several years ago, a set of blueprints was located in our older documents that showed the original clubhouse design. It was built in 1921 and the contractor was Richardson Lumber Company. William “Stuffy” Richardson was an early club member. To understand the reasons for the design, you have to remember that this was prior to liquor by the drink. Members had small lockers where they could store their own liquor bottles because there was no open bar. There was an apartment built above the north end of the building where the manager often lived. In fact, I remember a classmate named Judy Graham who lived there with her mother, sister, and stepfather, Arlo Babcock, who was an ex prisoner of war and the club manager in the mid-1950’s. Other managers lived in the apartment and probably the last one was Gene Grimsley. There was a large wooden floored room south of the fireplace that was used for dances, dinners, and other functions. Also, the original drawing had screened porches on the east and west sides of that room. These were later enclosed to provide a bigger room.
Ed Butler told me that a steel beam was later installed under that dance floor because that wooden structure begin to bounce around during some dances. That beam was visible and went from the fireplace in the center of the building into the south wall. There was a men’s locker room in the north end of the lower level. Later a women’s locker room was added in the south end.
I also remember my father showing me a freestanding slot machine that stood in the entrance to the men’s locker room. He said some of the “takings” were used to pay off the original clubhouse. Also, there were a set of buzzers installed during prohibition to warn the members if the law was approaching. Through the years there were many remodels of that old clubhouse, but it was the scene of many happy social events. One New Year’s Eve some debris and cigarette ashes had been gathered into a paper barrel and they later burned through the floor into the lower level. Fortunately the building was not burned.
In the late 1990s the old building was showing its age with lots of water leaks, heating, and wiring problems. It was felt that a new clubhouse was needed that reflected the way the members now used it. At that point, Bank Iowa gave a present of $50,000 to their retiring President, Hugh Louden. Hugh then turned that gift into a $50,000 challenge grant if the club could match that amount. It took a lot of effort, but it was accomplished and we were well on our way to financing a new clubhouse. A committee including Stan Honken, Mike Manual, Jon Bielfeldt, Jac Crain, and myself was appointed to design a new one story building with a brick veneer. We got some helpful corrections to our design by Bernadette Hookham, an architect, and the daughter-in-law of Gary Hookham. One of the features of this new building was an offset lighting design suggested by Jac Crain. In fact, it’s still referred to as “Jac’s Ceiling Lights”.
Bernadette mentioned that we might have reverberation problems when the building was completed, but she assured us we could address them at that time. Sure enough, when the building was filled with members you could not hear each other very well at all. Bernadette first suggested that we put open cell foam on the bottom of all the chairs. She said it would help, but doubted if it would completely solve the problem. She was correct because we still had quite a bit of reverberation. Then she helped us build some acoustic panels that were attached to the ceiling and ran the length east and west of both rooms. These used a compressed fiberglass material covered with a burlap fabric. These acoustic panels solved the problem! Bernadette also suggested that we stick a thermometer into the panel before the room has people in it and note the temperature and then repeat that after the building is empty. She said that we would find a 4 or 5° increase in that material because sound energy was being turned into heat.
Part of the idea of the design was so that the manager or employee working behind the bar could see the first tee, the practice range, and the #10 tee at the same time. This design has worked quite well and the only change was to convert the former golf equipment room into a room that the members could use when a party was being held in the rest of the clubhouse. Dick Auffert of Akin Building Centers donated a large quartz display tabletop and I built the round steel tubing that supports it out of oil field pipe (it is heavy). The last significant thing that has happened at our club was a campaign to “get out of debt”. We had about $196,000 worth of outstanding debt, mainly because of the new clubhouse. Since the extended dues program that paid off the irrigation system had just completed, a new one was put together where 20 members could pre-pay their dues for nine years at $10,000 and would have no dues increases. That money could then be used to get us “debt-free”. That program has worked well and does put us on a good financial position.
One final comment is that our club has prospered and improved, while some others in the area have struggled. My personal feeling is much of that relates to the willingness of our membership to volunteer their time, efforts, equipment, and financial backing to maintain and improve our course. Other clubs have had a different attitude and it has not worked as well. So, hopefully you enjoyed this little history. It has been a pleasure to work on it.