In Another Time > Fore! 1922 saw the opening of the Wildwood Golf Club

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The nation was changing in lifestyle and culture during the 1920s. Prominent on the scene and often behind it were flappers, speakeasies, bootleggers, movies and what some people considered a general decline in the nation’s morals.

The decade was to be known as the Roaring ’20s and Wildwood was roaring, too. The exception, though, was a group of men who decided they would try something legitimate and expand what had been a nine-hole golf course into an 18-hole one under the aegis of the Wildwood Golf and Country Club. So enthusiastic were they about their venture that they offered to pay people to play on their course in 1922.

There was a catch, however. First one had to buy a $500 bond and wait a few years before it matured. But along the way the purchaser got a free membership to play on the course

“In other words you are paid $30 to play golf,” said a newspaper advertisement wooing possible purchasers.

The golf course was not to be located in Wildwood, although it bore the resort’s name. It was and still is situated a few miles away in Middle Township on Golf Club Road running parallel to the Garden State Parkway on its eastern side. In a 1921 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer it was said that the 182 acres of farmland were acquired from Freeholder Joseph P. MacKissick of Lower Township who was a major real estate developer of that time. The same article listed its location “on the main seashore road, one-fourth of a mile above the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing at Burleigh, just five and one half miles from here (Wildwood) by automobile, eight minutes walk from Wildwood Junction on the Pennsylvania Railroad and a short distance from the Reading Railroad crossing on the main shore road.”

Some big names in golf course development were involved in the emergence of the Wildwood course. One of them was Boston-born Wayne E. Stiles who started as an amateur golfer and turned to designing and building courses when they began to proliferate. In 1916, when the United States entered World War I, there were fewer than 1,000 courses in the nation. By the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s there were more than 5,500 and Wildwood was one of those caught up in the early wave of increases in 1922. The period between 1890 and 1940 has been designated as “the golden age of golf course architecture.”

Stiles was to be joined by fellow architect John Van Kleek and they were both to work on major golf course projects from Maine to Florida and as far west as Missouri.

But as famous as the architects were their names were upstaged by a more famous one in the person of Alex H. Findlay who is considered in golfing circles to be “the father of golf in the United States.” Findlay came from Scotland in 1887 and was said to have introduced golf to the nation in Nebraska, and he is credited with having “created” the Wildwood golf course as well as one in Ocean City. But it is unclear how he “created” it, given that the architectural credit is attributed to Stiles and Van Kleek.

Nevertheless, Findlay’s name appears everywhere in accounts of the new Wildwood golf course. At the opening ceremony he was honored to tee off the first ball, which later was placed on display in the trophy room of the club. Later that day he was to play in a threesome with Robert Latimer, president of the club, and Assemblyman Robert J. Kay.

While Findlay, Stiles and Van Kleek are the big national names attached to the club’s birth, there are several famous local people who made it happen, too. Among them were Wildwood Mayor W. Courtright Smith who served from 1921 to 1924; State Senator William Bright; members of the Goslin family, Omar and H. Foster Goslin, Assemblyman Kay and Latimer.

To promote the opening of the golf course, they and others staged what one newspaper called “the biggest advertising stunt ever pulled off for Wildwood.”

They hired a four-car train, loaded it with some 200 Wildwood enthusiasts and then on the Friday of May 19,1922 they rode to Philadelphia to spread the word on its streets and at a “ boosters banquet” at the Bellevue –Stratford Hotel about this new attraction that was to open at their resort on the first day of the upcoming July.

It was to be an extravaganza public relations event approximating something moviemaker Cecil B .DeMille might attempt in those times. Awaiting the entourage at the Broad Street station was a phalanx of taxi cabs which, led by four policemen on horses, transported the arrivals to the hotel in parade-like fashion. Not so coincidentally, the sides of the taxis bore signs telling what it was all about for the pedestrians on the busy streets of Philadelphia

“…The parade from the station to the hotel was impressive of the way they do things down in Wildwood,” one newspaper reported.

The pièce de résistance of the day was a dinner at the hotel where each of the guests, many from the so-called City of Brotherly Love, was presented with a leather case containing two rubber golf balls. Copies of the Wildwoods newspapers were also given them.

Of course there was the speechmaking -- there always is at banquets -- and it followed that those at this event spoke glowingly about the new attraction posing as Wildwood although in Middle Township. Some even predicted that a similar journey would be made to New York City for the same purpose. The banquet ended when a tenor sang an old folk song with a title that was appropriate.

It was called “A Hole in the Bottom of the Sea” and it turned out to be a community sing as the audience joined him in the final chorus.

Then somebody yelled “Fore!” and off the visitors went for their return trip to Wildwood.

Six weeks later on the Saturday of July 1 they were all together again for the grand opening that included music by Oscar Huebner’s city band, a prayer, the raising of the American flag, the usual speeches and a few course-opening matches.

Alex Findlay, the man who is said to be the father of golf in America, said the course would be an advantage to Wildwood in the years to come and predicted that its then antiquated club house would be replaced by a new one the following year.

Indeed it was on July 21, 1923, when a new club house was celebrated with much fanfare in an exhibition match between world class golfers Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood on the new course. Local golf history was also made that summer when Raymond H. Topham became the first Men’s Club champion and Mabel Hunt the first women’s champion.

And so it was that in another era when people danced the Charleston and smuggled liquor into their houses, golf came to Wildwood by way of Middle Township. It’s still there and while other sports have change, golf has basically stayed on course, even the Wildwood-Middle Township course.

(Some of the information in this article was researched at the George F. Boyer. Museum of the Wildwood Historical Society and at the Cape May County Library in Court House.)

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