Golf has rich past, and sport’s history has county ties

The year was 1922 — and times were roaring.

In New York City a stadium was built for the N.Y. Yankees baseball team and its star slugger, Babe Ruth.

Down the road in Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial was dedicated.

On the other side of the country grizzly bears became extinct in California.

Golf was a relatively new sport in the United States in 1922.

It had come over from Scotland in the late 1880s as a game mostly for the rich and famous.

The first courses were located on private estates of the wealthy in the East.

However, after Francis Ouimet became the first American to win the U. S. Open golf championship in 1913, the popularity of the game increased rapidly.

The prosperity of the nation during the 1920s further fueled golf’s popularity and many more golf courses were built.

Most were private-membership venues, although some were intended for public use.

For example, the first municipal course in my hometown of Terre Haute was established in 1920.

Named Rea Park, it resembled other public parks of that era and was meant to aesthetically appeal to the city’s population of 65,000 people, golfers and non-golfers alike.

The land on which Rea Park Golf Course was constructed had been purchased with funds from the estate of a wealthy local businessman, William Rea.

His widow constructed an impressive clubhouse at the course in 1925 — and it’s still there.

It was symbolic of the fact that private club-quality golf was finally coming to the masses.

In smaller towns like Seymour it was another matter.

There weren’t many wealthy people, and few of those seemed inclined to underwrite public golf courses.

So most courses established during the early 1920s in such towns continued to be private and followed a “golf is for the wealthy” mindset.

Although Seymour Country Club is regarded as having been established in 1922, an earlier club and course existed on the same site at least fifteen years earlier.

A 1910 article in the Seymour newspaper notes that this club had just experienced its most successful year since being organized in 1907.

The article reads: “The golf links have been improved from time to time until they are regarded as one of the best in the state.”

World War I may have taken the steam out of this earlier country club effort and it apparently diminished.

However, in 1922 there was interest in reestablishing a club and articles of incorporation were filed with the State of Indiana.

Its purpose was to foster, “physical exercise and benefits derived from the golf links and tennis courts.”

The surnames of those behind the establishment of this new country club reads like a “who’s who” of Seymour in the early 1920s — Blish, Elsner, Bollinger, Montgomery, Richart, and Freeman.

Perhaps the most significant person in this group was Tipton Shields Blish (1865-1927).

He had been involved with the earlier country club and golf course effort, and was also the owner of Blish Milling Company in Seymour.

Furthermore, his maternal grandfather was Meedy Shields, the founder of Seymour.

By 1922 Blish had come to own his grandfather’s farmland in an area north of town known as Woodstock Gardens.

Tipton Blish offered this land to the country club organizers for establishing their clubhouse and golf course.

The land, however, continued to remain under the ownership of the Blish family until it was purchased by the Country Club in 1946.

The Country Club golf course established in 1922 probably included some features of the earlier course that had existed on the site.

There’s no record whether a golf course architect was employed to lay out the new course, but I think it’s doubtful.

There are some quirky features on the course, such as crossing fairways, that would not have been approved by an established architect even in 1922.

Perhaps several of the more accomplished golfers in the club just got together and drew up the layout.

However it happened, seven of the nine greens on the course were initially planted to grass while two remained as sand greens because water was not yet accessible to irrigate them. Those two were later also planted to grass.

The most distinctive feature of this 1922 course was its “elevated tee” on the first hole.

It was situated as part of the roof of the clubhouse!

In my almost 60 years with golf, I’ve never encountered anything like it on any other course.

This roof-top tee remained a part of the course for many years until that initial clubhouse was later replaced.

Although the Seymour Country Club golf course was not initially intended for public use (for several decades it was a members-only club), the fact remains that as with the Rea Park public course in Terre Haute, it took a benefactor to make the course a reality.

In more recent years the Seymour Country Club course has become public.

This is an excerpt of a personal essay written and published by Steve Robert Simmons. Simmons is professor emertus of the University of Minnesota. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Purdue University and has deep family roots in Jackson County. Simmons now lives in Seattle but returns often to his southern Indiana homeland. He plays golf with vintage hickory clubs — and always enjoys a round at Seymour Country Club when he is in town. The complete essay can be accessed at