Golf has been a civilizing force in our community

First Posted: 2/27/2009

It was the summer of 1949 when my dad took me to the golf course one Saturday afternoon. I knew very little about golf, but if my dad liked it, I knew I would too. With instructions to be quiet and still when someone was hitting the ball, I walked 18 holes watching my dad and his friends play.
Sixty years later, Im still in love with this extremely difficult and frustrating game. Playing at Pine Crest Country Club through the 1950s influenced my life in a very positive way which I will elaborate on at the end of this story.
In 1999, Mr. John McKee, a Pine Crest board member, requested Mr. I. Murchison Biggs, a local lawyer and golfer, to prepare a history of the golf course and country club. Murk was gracious in accepting this challenge and devoting considerable time and effort to provide an accurate history of events. This research included conversations with Scott Shepherd, Jack Sharpe, Pete Sunday and Cecil Thompson, who were the oldest living persons who had memories of the club. The following is a summary of Mr. Biggs letter to Mr. McKee, dated Sept. 30, 1999.
1930 land purchase
In 1930, Mr. Henry Lee purchased 89.8 acres of land in Lumberton Township from Mrs. Mollie Norment. To finance the purchase, Mr. Lee gave a purchase mortgage on the land on the unpaid balance of $3,792. He and a crew of workers cleared the land and dynamited over 7,000 stumps for an early stage nine-hole golf course with sand greens.
Mr. J. W. Spruill, a civil engineer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, in his free time on the weekends assisted Mr. Lee in laying out the nine holes for the course. A log tobacco barn was moved to the location of the present practice green to be used as the pro shop.
Acreage completed
In the 1932 Great Depression depths, Mr. Lee was unable to pay his purchase money mortgage, and through foreclosure Mrs. Norment purchased the property. In 1935, Mrs. Norment leased the land to the town of Lumberton, and later that year she deeded the land to her son, O. Clinton Norment, a real estate developer and car dealer. That same year, Mr. Norment sold the property to the town of Lumberton. Later, in 1951, he conveyed 23.98 acres additional land to the city, and 4.9 acres and 4.38 acres in 1958 and another small tract in 1967. This makes up the 123+ acres incorporated in the present 18-hole golf course.
Thus, the town of Lumberton became the owner of a municipal golf course. There were a number of prominent citizens, led by Mr. Johnny Johnson, who persuaded the town to move in this direction. Mr. Jake Ramsaur managed the golf course in 1934-35.
Johnson and Williams
Mr. Johnny Johnson was a pharmacist who operated a drug store in Lumberton. His passion was golf, and he became an accomplished player. He was a finalist in the North-South Amateur during the 1930s, and often made trips to Pinehurst to play golf. He became acquainted with Mr. Donald Ross, one of the top ten golf course designers worldwide, and course architect of Pinehurst No. 2. In Pinehurst and other resorts, Mr. Johnson got a taste for expertly designed golf courses, and in 1934-35 began to promote improvement and redesign of the Lumberton course.
During this same period a young man named Cyrus M. Williams, who was employed by the N.C. Department of Transportation, began helping at the golf course with machinery and maintenance. At about the time the town began to operate the golf course he became a permanent employee. He learned to play the game after becoming an employee. With his natural talent and help from members he became an accomplished player.
In 1939, Williams became a PGA member, class A Professional, and served the course as superintendent and golf professional. He remained at Pine Crest until his death in 1981. Many older members today enjoy memories of C.M. or Cy, alternately called by both nicknames. Cy took an interest in youngsters who began the game, encouraged and sometimes disciplined them, requiring certain chores of them, like collecting lost balls in the water.
Sundy, Meehan, Wilson, Ross
Along with the above fortunate golf happenings of the 30s, Lumberton was fortunate in that two of its citizens, Daisy Sundy Meehan and her brother, Pete Sundy, had migrated to Lumberton from Delray Beach, Florida. They were acquaintances of Richard Dick Wilson, who became interested in golf at Delray Beach and became a club professional there. Mr. Wilson visited extensively with the Meehans in 1934-35 and became interested in the golf course.
Wilson aspired to become a golf course designer and participated in the design and construction of the original nine holes that have remained basically as is today. The original nine are presently hole numbers 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, 17 and 18. Mr. Wilson spent many weeks here working with Mr. Johnson and Mr. Williams in redesigning the 1930s 9-hole golf course. It is believed this was Mr. Wilsons first design effort. After his work on the Lumberton golf course, Mr. Wilson resigned as a golf pro and went into the business of golf course architecture. He was very successful and went on to design many golf courses all over the world.
It was while Mr. Wilson was in Lumberton working (for free) on the golf course that Mr. Johnson consulted with Mr. Donald Ross on the design of the golf course. Mr. Spruill also contributed many hours surveying drainage and making drawings of the work to be done in cooperation with Mr. Wilson.
Along with friends contributing their expertise in the 1930s, the Town of Lumberton applied for and obtained a grant from the Works Project Administration (WPA) of the United States government for the reconstruction of the 9-hole golf course. Most of this work was done by Mr. C.M. Williams, who saved many thousands of dollars by doing most of the work himself, including repair of equipment.
During 1935-1940, under the supervision of Johnny Johnson and Cy Williams in consultation with Donald Ross, the sand greens were replaced with grass greens and the bunkers were reshaped. The greens were elevated and contoured as suggested by Mr. Ross.
Course expansion
About 1945-46 the club members desired to enlarge the course from 9 holes to 18 holes. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Williams began looking over the undeveloped property owned by the club and planning for the use of that land for an additional 9 holes. Some municipal funds were made available and with contributions from local citizens construction was begun.
This second 9-hole construction was laid out mainly by Mr. Johnny Johnson, and it is the common understanding of all the older citizens who were questioned that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Spruill laid out the holes after being counseled by Mr. Donald Ross. Mr. Johnson and Mr. Williams stated that Mr. Ross came to Lumberton on at least two occasions to consult on the work in progress. The first time was during the redesign of the original course by Mr. Wilson and the second was during the expansion begun in 1946 but not finished until about 1954.
The details of the design and construction of each of the 18 holes constitute a story in itself and have been documented. The holes were integrated with the original nine. The advice of Donald Ross was heavily relied upon, but Johnny Johnson made certain adjustments for some of the holes to cut costs. Hole numbers 4, 5, 6, and 7 were built in 1955, as were 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. The design of the holes continued to be tweaked for the next several decades. In 2005, the bunkers were reshaped to the original design.
In 2007, a project was initiated to thin the pine trees between the holes to improve the appearance and to allow more sunlight for the health of the grass. More than 1,300 trees were removed, supervised by John McKee and Chris Jackson.
The country club
In 1948, O. Clinton Norment conveyed 1.72 acres to Pine Crest Country Club, Inc. This land adjoined the golf course and was used for the construction of the country club building. Funds were raised from the sale of stock to local citizens. The operation of the Pine Crest Country Club was supported by dues from members separate from the golf course, which still was owned and maintained by the Town of Lumberton.
In 1958, the golf course was sold to a non-profit corporation named Robeson Recreational and Charitable Foundation, Inc. In 1961 and 1962 an agreement was reached whereby Robeson Recreational and Charitable Foundation, Inc. would lease the clubhouse building from Pine Crest Country Club, Inc. for 20 years, and the foundation began doing business under the assumed name of Pine Crest Country Club. This lease was revised in 1979 for 25 years, terminating Oct. 31, 2004.
About this time, the foundation acquired 77 percent of the outstanding stock of Pine Crest Country Club. In 2002, the Pine Crest Country Club had lived through a crisis that threatened to close the dining facilities. This storm was weathered but the threat remains for all country clubs in rural areas of North Carolina.
Women golfers
Our lady golfers are active in their support of many events and projects related to improving the golf course. They established their own organization known as Lumberton Womens Golf Association in 1953. The name was changed to the Lady Sandblasters in the early 1970s. They have competitions on a weekly basis.
It would be impossible to recognize all the ladies who have contributed to the golf course over the years, but it is fitting to mention some of the earlier members: Daisy Meehan, Elsie Whiting, Polly Burney, Margaret Newberry, Helen Roundtree, Daisy Barnes, Willie Hawley, Carlie Gibson, Mildred Scoggin, Miriam Pittman, Ann Phelps, Caroline Livermore, Virginia Minges, Bunky Ranke, Mary Lane McCallam, Janis Biggs, Betty Robinson and Margaret Allen (my mother).
Junior golfers
Our junior golfers are important also, as they will be the members of the future. As a member of this group back in the 1950s I had the opportunity to be on the first golf team for Lumberton High School in 1954. This team included Gilbert Johnson (Johnnys son), Buie Seawell, Malcolm McLean, Bowen Ross, Frank McGrath Jr., David Goode, Alan Sugar and Joe Weinstein.
Supported by our coach, Clyde Goat Hatcher, and our mothers for transportation, we were very successful in competition with area high schools in North and South Carolina. We competed in the State High School Golf Tournament held at Finley Golf Club at UNC Chapel Hill.
The encouragement of junior golf has continued to the present. Every summer Dwight Gane, head golf professional, conducts lessons one day a week free to all junior golfers (girls and boys, member or non-member). These young people learn valuable lessons on the rules as well as receive assistance with their playing skills.
Golf is good
As a native of Robeson County, I feel the survival of Pine Crest Country Club is important, not just as a golf course, but as a symbol of progress for what is right in my lifetime.
When the golf course started in the 1930s it was built by prosperous men to enjoy a game reserved for a few. As time has passed we find a beautiful facility that embraces men and women, all races, member and non-member to experience a game like no other.
Golf has many rules, all designed to ensure fairness in competition. These rules are life value rules. You are expected to call a penalty on yourself even if no one sees you break a rule. You are expected to call a penalty on your playing partners if they break a rule to ensure everyone playing has a fair chance to win. You are courteous to your playing partners to ensure they have an opportunity to perform at their best. You are humble in victory and gracious in defeat.
This 123 acres of ground which was transformed into Pine Crest Country Club gave me an opportunity to learn and play a game that is like no other sport. The friendships Ive made over the years playing this game are a true blessing. May our community enjoy this golf course for years to come and maybe your next shot will be perfect.