The Oldest Course in Every State

Identifying the oldest and still operating course in each of the 50 states has all the makings of a good detective story 

WHAT: I thought it would be easy to identify the oldest golf course in each state. Silly me. The first step was defining what we were looking for, which is a course that still inhabits any part of its original land, no matter how many renovations or restorations followed. In some cases, today’s courses are very much as they were when they opened; in others, perhaps a hole or two still exists, if that. What followed was sifting through competing claims and unsubstantiated, sometimes contradictory, information. The chase was on. 

HOW: Hours on the internet, followed by sending emails, making phone calls, and trying to reach a club pro, general manager, or local “historian” who could vouch for a course’s provenance. To all of them and many others, thank you. 

WHERE: Armed with the names of likely candidates, the task became comparing where a course was originally located and where it is now. Because golf took hold in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century, as the country was industrializing and fortunes were being made, most of the first courses were close to cities, the centers of commerce and fortune. As those cities grew, many early courses were forced to move further and further away from downtown, into what are now suburbs or even exurbs. 

Courtesy of Dorset Field Club

WHEN: This is where things get murky. Many courses don’t have records. Or what passes for a club history is really just one early member’s memories. Also, many of today’s golf clubs hosted other sports first and added golf later, so the founding date proudly touted on their logos and websites actually refers to a time well before there was a course.  

WHO: Digging into a course’s history usually uncovered the names of the man or men (and it was almost always men) who got things started. Often someone saw golf played in another state or country, brought a few clubs and balls back home, cleared some land, stuck tomato cans (and it was almost always tomatoes) in the ground, and invited a few friends to play the new game. There are also tales of financial success and ruin, angry members breaking off to start their own clubs, and club presidents both benevolent and malicious. It’s great stuff. 

WHY: Because golfers should want to know the history not only of their own course but those that paved the way. Because clubs should be encouraged to dig into their pasts and celebrate them. And because I’m sure this list has some mistakes, so if you know something is incorrect, let me know. 

State  Course  City  Course Opening Date  Status (today) 
Alabama  Highland Park Golf Course  Birmingham  1903  Public 
Alaska  Fairbanks Golf Course  Fairbanks  1946  Public 
Arizona  San Marcos Golf Course  Chandler  1913  Resort 
Arkansas  Hot Springs Country Club (Park Course) Hot Springs  1898  Semi-Private 
California  Catalina Island Golf Course  Avalon  1892  Public 
Colorado  Overland Park Golf Course  Denver  1895  Public 
Connecticut  Greenwich Country Club  Greenwich  1892  Private 
Delaware  Ed Oliver Golf Club  Wilmington  1901  Public 
Florida or  Belleair Country Club   Belleair  1897  Private
Florida  The Breakers Resort (Ocean Course) Palm Beach  1897  Resort 
Georgia  Glen Arven Country Club  Thomasville  1892  Private 
Hawaii  Moanalua Golf Club  Honolulu  1898  Public 
Idaho  Hayden Lake Country Club  Hayden Lake  1912  Private 
Illinois  Downers Grove Golf Club  Downers Grove  1892  Public 
Indiana  Woodstock Club  Indianapolis  1897  Private 
Iowa  Fairfield Golf & Country Club  Fairfield  1892  Private 
Kansas  Topeka Country Club  Topeka  1906  Private 
Kentucky  Middlesboro Country Club  Middlesboro  1889  Public 
Louisiana  The Golf Club at Audubon Park  New Orleans  1898  Public 
Maine  Kebo Valley Golf Club  Bar Harbor  1891  Public 
Maryland  The Elkridge Club  Baltimore  1894  Private 
Massachusetts  The Country Club  Brookline  1893  Private 
Michigan  Harbor Point Golf Club  Harbor Springs  1896  Public 
Minnesota  Town & Country Club   St. Paul  1893  Private 
Mississippi  Laurel Country Club  Laurel  1919  Private 
Missouri  Log Cabin Club  St. Louis  1899  Private 
Montana  Livingston Golf Course  Livingston  1905  Public 
Nebraska  Field Club of Omaha  Omaha  1898  Private 
Nevada  Washoe Golf Course  Reno  1917  Public 
New Hampshire  Exeter Country Club  Exeter  1889  Public 
New Jersey  Lawrenceville School Golf Course  Lawrence Township  1896  Private 
New Mexico  The Lodge at Cloudcroft  Cloudcroft  1899  Public 
New York  Shinnecock Hills Golf Club  Southampton  1891  Private 
North Carolina  Pinehurst No. 1  Pinehurst  1897  Public 
North Dakota  Fargo Country Club  Fargo  1898  Public 
Ohio  Cincinnati Country Club  Cincinnati  1895  Private 
Oklahoma  Guthrie Golf & Country Club  Guthrie  1900  Public 
Oregon  Gearhart Golf Links  Gearhart  1892  Public 
Pennsylvania  Foxburg Country Club  Foxburg  1887  Public 
Rhode Island  Newport Country Club  Newport  1893  Private 
South Carolina  Palmetto Golf Club  Aiken  1892  Private 
South Dakota  Two Rivers Golf Club  Dakota Dunes  1909  Public 
Tennessee  Chattanooga Golf & Country Club   Chattanooga  1896  Private 
Texas  Hancock Golf Course  Austin  1899  Public 
Utah  Forest Dale Golf Course  Salt Lake City  1906  Public 
Vermont  Dorset Field Club  Dorset  1886  Private 
Virginia  Omni Homestead Resort (Old Course) Hot Springs  1892  Public 
Washington  Wing Point Golf & Country Club  Bainbridge Island  1903  Private 
West Virginia  Wheeling Country Club  Wheeling  1902  Private 
Wisconsin  Eagle Springs Resort  Eagle  1893  Public 
Wyoming  Cheyenne Country Club  Cheyenne  1917  Private 

Selected Course Stories 

Alabama – Highland Park Golf Course 

Originally the Country Club of Birmingham, it was the site of two early Bobby Jones victories in 1915 and ’16—when he was 13 and 14 years old. 

Florida – Belleair Country Club and the Ocean Course at The Breakers Resort 

We know both courses began in 1897, but which came first? At Belleair, none of the original six holes are still in use, but Donald Ross came in 1915 and redid the course in part over the same land. The Ocean Course claims to be Florida’s oldest. Alex Findlay (see Oklahoma) laid out the course, which was redone by Rees Jones in 2018. 

Illinois – Downers Grove Golf Club 

When people say Chicago Golf Club was the first 18-hole course in the U.S., they mean this course. C.B. Macdonald built the first nine holes in 1892 and convinced the members to add nine more the next year. CGC moved to its current site in Wheaton, and built a new course, in 1895. In 1899 and with new owners, this was renamed Belmont Golf Club and at some point trimmed to nine holes, with several of the originals still intact. In 1968, it was purchased by the Downers Grove Park District, and in 2023, it will again become Belmont Golf Club. Holes 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, and 9 are said to be original. 

oldest course
Courtesy of Downers Grove Golf Club

Iowa – Fairfield Golf & Country Club 

According to the club, a Dr. J.F. Clarke was returning from a medical meeting in Philadelphia in early 1892 when he stopped in Chicago and, having just read an article in Harper’s Weekly about golf, bought a wooden driver and three balls. Back in Fairfield, the good doctor and his nephew “melted the tops from a few empty tomato cans, to be used as holes.” They set the cans in a nearby pasture, and by May of that year the club was organized. The course soon had seven holes, named Alpha, Diagonal, Long, Range, Stumpie, Grassie, and Omega. They played out and back for a total of 14 holes. 

Massachusetts – The Country Club 

Like many other clubs, it was not formed for golf. Founded in 1882, most of the members came to ride horses and enjoy other sports. In early 1893, the original six-hole course was designed and built by members and overlapped an existing racetrack. Scotsman Willie Campbell was hired that same year as the club’s first golf professional and oversaw the expansion of the course to nine and then 18 holes by 1899. 

Minnesota – Town & Country Club 

Began in 1887 as a social club. When golf was added in 1893, it was slow to catch on. In fact, when $50 was requested to purchase a set of “real” golf holes and flags—to replace tomato cans and fishing poles—it was voted down because “golf was a silly game which could not possibly last.” A 9-hole course was built by 1898. 

Courtesy of Town & Country Club

Missouri – Log Cabin Club 

Probably the most private club in the city, its members are local movers and shakers. There are many old clubs in St. Louis, but almost all of them moved as the city grew. Log Cabin has an arrangement with the adjacent—and almost as private—Bogey Club to share their 9-hole courses. 

Nevada – Washoe Golf Course 

This course was founded by a woman, Gourtley Dunn-Webb, the niece of architect Willie Dunn and believed to be the only female golf instructor in the U.S. at the time. Supposedly she designed the course and was its first golf pro, too. 

New Jersey – Lawrenceville School Golf Course 

There is evidence, not conclusive, that John Reid Jr., son of the man behind the formation of New York’s St. Andrew’s Golf Club and the original “Apple Tree Gang,” planted the seeds of golf at Lawrenceville School while a student there in the 1890s. Junior probably laid out a few rudimentary holes in 1895, which were replaced the following year near, but not on, the same site. 

New Mexico – The Lodge at Cloudcroft 

According to the resort, for its first 50 years this was the highest altitude course in North America at 9,000 feet. Today it’s number five. 

North Carolina – Pinehurst No 1 

Donald Ross was not the original designer, but he redid the course—and began a lifelong association with Pinehurst—four years later, in 1901. 

North Dakota – Fargo Country Club 

Three holes from the original 9-hole course opened in 1898 were used to create a par-3 “pitch and putt” at the club in 1965. One hole, no. 4, remains intact. In the 1930s, a new irrigation system for the then 18-hole course was paid for with the proceeds from three slot machines at the club. 

Oklahoma – Guthrie Golf & Country Club 

Designed by Alex Findlay, a Scot who came to the U.S. in the early 1880s to manage a ranch in Nebraska, where, it’s said, he laid out a course in 1885. He later played exhibitions in America with Harry Vardon and would design more than 100 courses. This is his only one in Oklahoma. 

Pennsylvania – Foxburg Country Club 

Joseph Mickle Fox of Philadelphia went to the UK in 1874 to play cricket. After a match in Edinburgh, he visited St. Andrews to see golf being played and met Old Tom Morris, who taught Fox the basics and sold him some clubs and gutta-percha balls. Back home, Fox dug some holes on his summer estate and invited others to play. In 1887, he provided the land that became—and remains—Foxburg. 

Texas – Hancock Golf Course 

A young Harvey Penick caddied here when it was the original site of Austin Country Club. 

Vermont – Dorset Field Club 

Widely regarded as the oldest continually operating golf club in the U.S. 

Courtesy of Dorset Field Club

Virginia – Old Course at Omni Homestead Resort 

Began as a 6-hole course, and claims to have the oldest continually used first tee in the U.S. 

Wisconsin – Eagle Springs Resort 

It is believed that A.G. Spalding—former baseball pitcher and manager of the Chicago White Stockings—built the first two holes here and “let nature dictate the rest of the 18.” Spalding also started a sporting-goods store in Chicago that became the manufacturer of the same name. 

Thank you for supporting our journalism. If you prefer to read in print, you can also find this article in the Winter 2023 issue of LINKS Magazine. Click here for more information.



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