Club History

Lexington holds a special place in Kentucky history and geography. Founded in 1775, and named after the famed Massachusetts battle where the "shot heard ´round the world"; opened the American Revolution, the Kentucky frontier town rapidly evolved into a remarkably sophisticated and cultured community. Lexington became home for a substantial elite of prominent citizens, accomplished in a wide range of endeavors. For their leisure moments, Lexington society enjoyed horse racing, fox hunting, church functions, theatre and theatricals, opera, parks, various service clubs and fraternal orders, restaurants, taverns, and cafés. The town still lacked a special locus for social recreation. Local society leaders recognized this shortcoming, and moved toward a solution. "Thanks to the "enterprise, energy, and public spirit"; of such community leaders as Richardson Gibson, James L. DeLong, Charles S. Lesher, Henry Duncan Jr., and William Ambrose Dudley Short,"; wrote the Leader, "there is the prospect of a country club for Lexington."; All of these men were identified as "familiar with club life"; in the East. The club would serve "the most prominent and wealthy citizens of Lexington and the county,"; and, if successful, the Leader recorded that "Blue Grass society will be under a debt of gratitude to these gentlemen.";
 
A social and recreational club for Lexington and vicinity seemed a good idea; finances and purpose were the immediate questions to address to bring such a club into reality. To further that interest, other important local businessmen and community leaders were recruited to bring forth the financial support needed for such an ambitious undertaking. Several of the local horse farm owners were approached and brought into the enterprise, such as James B. Haggin of Elmendorf Farm, L. V. Harkness of Walnut Hall, Foxhall Keene (owner of the famed race horse Domino), August Belmont (co-founder of the American Jockey Club and owner of race horse Man ´O War), and William Whitney.
 
Defining the Club’s purpose was considerably easier than determining where funding would come from, and was delineated in the Lexington Leader’s society column: History "Think of having a charming place near town in easy driving distance, with an opportunity to enjoy country life in its most finished sense! Where men after business hours can go and take their families and guests for luncheon or dinner, outdoor and indoor games, where there are beautiful lawns and tennis and golf grounds and society in general go for dances and all sorts of diversions. In this way the most wholesome kind of social enjoyment can be developed and people have that for which they so often long and sigh, a perfect resort for entertainment outside of their own homes. In nearly every other city in America there is something on this order--a country club or a hunting club."; Within a month, these men, along with others who were interested and able to provide support for the founding of a club, met to plan a course of action. According to the Lexington Leader’s report from the following day: "There was quite a large and interested meeting of the subscribers to the proposed Country Club at the court house last night and judging from the celerity with which the movement to establish a country club has grown, it is evident--now that Lexington people have waked up--that we shall have a country club building and grounds in which the community can feel a pardonable pride."; Many of Lexington’s most prominent gathered together for the organizational meeting, and all seemed to be willing to undertake various positions to help move towards the founding of a Country Club. George C. Webb presided over the assemblage, with Dr. G. D. Kelley as secretary. Those in attendance decided to pass a resolution proposing the formation of a committee of fifteen men to draw up plans and incorporate the Club. These men were referred to as the Lexington Country Club’s first Board of Governors: Dr. H. M. Skillman, J. R. Morton, John T. Shelby, John R. Allen, R. P. Stoll, W. J. Loughridge, Sam J. Roberts, H. P. Headley, George C. Webb, Elliott Shanklin, R. T. Gibson, H. T. Duncan Jr., W. S. Bronston, H. M. Waite, and James A. Todd, all making up a veritable Who’s Who of early twentieth century Lexington society. These men were selected from 169 subscribers in attendance. The new Board of Governors, plus many other Club subscribers, returned to meetings throughout the autumn season to finalize the details of the Club.
 
Before the end of 1901, the Club had created its Articles of Incorporation with those who would become many of the early members listed on the document. Finally a location on Paris Pike was selected. In those days, Paris Pike was a narrow dirt road marginally suitable for horse traffic. Early transportation to the Club site consisted of horse and buggy rides along dirt roads several miles from the center of the city of Lexington. Thankfully during the early years of the Club, an electric street railway system interurban line ran service from Lexington along Paris Pike to the Club and a nearby amusement park. Club members could, for a nominal fee, ride the railway from downtown Lexington to an interurban stop less than a mile away from the Club. Although this may sound like a tremendous improvement, getting to the Club on foot that last mile could be treacherous. There were no sidewalks or paved roads, so Club members would walk on dirt or gravel roads, at best, or trudge through muddy ruts during the rainy season. Additionally, golf bags were not invented until a few decades later, so members would either rent locker space at the Club or have to carry their golf clubs held together by a leather strap or belt. By January 1907, Lexington Country Club hired the firm of Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, and C. E. Richards of Richards, McCarty & Bulford of Columbus, Ohio, to conduct various improvements on the Club property. According to a newspaper report of the time, "Mr. Olmsted, together with Mr. Richards, will have charge of the placing of the house, stables, driveways, golf links, tennis courts, traps and various other things. It is the idea of the board of directors of the club to have everything in the best manner possible.";
 
 
As the Club facilities took shape, the membership base continued to grow. In addition, Club members were welcome to have an unlimited number of guests to enjoy the facilities of the Club. Some of these guests later became members of the Club in their own right. Finally, on October 17, 1907, the Clubhouse at the Lexington Country Club was opened in a gala event. Following the opening of the Clubhouse, the Lexington Country Club became a popular location for outings for the entire Lexington, Fayette, and surrounding counties’ community. Social activities on the weekend drew large numbers of attendees. This was the era of the big bands, and Saturday evening dances in spring or fall were a popular pastime for the people of Lexington. For some members, Saturday evenings involved a social dance at the Club with a trip to ride the roller coaster or carousel at the nearby amusement park when the band was on intermission. The Club also hosted events for major holidays throughout the year, a tradition that continued on into the twenty-first century. These events earlier featured live entertainment and food in the old picturesque bungalow Clubhouse.
 
Now that the Clubhouse was constructed, the Board of Governors turned to the next matter at hand? The construction of a golf course. Famous golf course designer Tom Bendelow was selected to complete the course layout. Bendelow had created a substantial reputation for golf course design well before coming to Lexington. Tom Bendelow was born on September 2, 1868, in Aberdeen, Scotland. Growing up, he was one of nine children from a deeply religious family. In the late 1800s, Bendelow, his wife, and their infant daughter came to New York City where Tom began to work a variety of jobs. One of his jobs was as a typesetter for a newspaper in the classifieds department. It was there that he set the type for an advertisement for a golf instructor for the prominent Pratt family of Long Island. Since he was the first applicant and had such a substantial knowledge of golf, he was hired. While working for the Pratts, Bendelow designed a 6-hole golf course. This was the beginning of his golf course design career which would last more than 35 years and have him design 600 golf courses. In most cases, Bendelow would charge $25 for his services to inspect the lay of the land, design a golf course, and leave detailed instructions for its construction and maintenance. While not considered by some to be the best golf course designer of his time, he was the most prolific, and did design some very challenging courses. His best work was considered to be done in 1920 when he supervised the Medinah courses 1, 2, and 3 in Chicago. Bendelow came to Lexington to meet with the Board of Governors in the fall of 1912. Since Bendelow had already earned quite a reputation, details of his visit were recorded in the local newspapers. "After spending several days in going over the grounds Mr. Bendelow laid out a course that in his judgment was the best course that could be made. It was, however, as is natural, a course more for the expert golf player than for those who are not adept at changing the white ball. After going over the grounds the committees of the Board of Governors, consisting of Mr. Roger Smith, Chairman, Louis des Cognets, and Dr. Halley feared that the course as laid out by Mr. Bendelow might be so difficult and so full of hazards as to destroy the pleasure of those who are not experts, and had Mr. W. T. Withers and Harry Waters go over the grounds as laid out by Mr. Bendelow, and make such changes as in their judgment seemed wise."; Members of the Club were encouraged to walk or play through the course both as Bendelow had designed it and as Withers and Waters had amended it to see which course was more suitable for the membership. Once they had a chance to review the course, the members’ votes were recorded in a book in the clubhouse. The majority vote would decide the shape of the Lexington Country Club golf course. In the end, the Club made some minor modifications to the original Bendelow design and began construction on the Lexington Country Club course.
 
One change which was not made until considerably later was to a hole along the front of the Lexington property, near Paris Pike. When played, the hole involved a shot across the driveway, which had to be completed with caution, to avoid spooking an oncoming horse and buggy. Construction began in the winter of 1912 and continued through the spring of 1913. As the course took shape, local coverage lauded the course construction. "It will be an eighteen hole course, and there will be no better course in the State, in fact no better course in the country. Mr. Bendelow estimates that the cost of preparing the course property, building up and piping the greens, constructing the hazards, erecting bunkers, and doing all the work necessary to get a permanent sod free from weeds and stubble, will cost between $2,500 and $3,000."; Lexington Country Club members who played golf were encouraged to donate as much as they felt they could afford to cover the construction of the course without necessitating a general assessment of the membership-at-large. Once completed, the Lexington Country Club course was both challenging to play and stunning in design. Following the instructions left behind by Bendelow, Lexington’s greens keepers worked to keep the course in fine playing condition. Without the modern technology available today, maintaining the golf course was a daunting task. Still Lexington greens keepers kept a high-quality course in the face of adverse conditions. By the dawning of the roaring ´20s, Lexington Country Club was a spectacular facility with a challenging golf course and a striking Clubhouse. The membership hoped for the best for this new Lexington Country Club, but over the next decades they would see both joys and tragedies.