The Birth and Rebirth of America's First Golf Course
Publication Date: April 2002
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Golf formally came to America in 1884. Russell Montague—a thirty-two-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer—had moved to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, to improve his health. His Scottish neighbors, George Grant and Alexander and Roderick MacLeod, were also men of leisure. When Grant’s golf-obsessed nephew Lionel Torin arrived from Ceylon, these five built, purely for their own pleasure, a nine-hole course on Montague’s land—unaware that it was the first course in the United States, and tenuously launching what has arguably become America’s most popular sport.
Oakhurst tells the memorable story of this historic course, from its birth and brief first life of fifteen years to its miraculous restoration 110 years later. Weaving the lives of the founders through a fascinating history of golf, the evolution of its equipment, and the genesis of course design, Paula DiPerna and Vikki Keller recount colorful stories of early matches that astonished local residents, who thought the founders mad: “It may be a fine game for a canny Scotchman, but no American will ever play it except Montague,” one opined. Some sixty years after Oakhurst had fallen into neglect, legendary local golfer Sam Snead gave it new life, convincing his friend Lewis Keller to buy the land. Their dream of restoring the course was realized in 1994, when Keller and noted golf architect Bob Cupp—relying on scant clues, and intuition—unearthed the dormant holes one by one.
As Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, and many others who have played the course discovered, only period equipment (hickory-shafted clubs, gutta-percha balls) is allowed, and nineteenth-century rules prevail—making Oakhurst the only place in America where anyone can experience the game as it was first played. It is an important chapter in sports history, a nostalgic piece of Americana, and Oakhurst brings its magic alive.
Paula DiPerna took her first golf swing at the age of four, and has played golf on every continent except Antarctica. She has written about golf for every major golf magazine and for the New York Times travel section, where her article on Oakhurst appeared. One of the few women members of the Golf Writers Association, she lives in New York City. Vikki Keller, daughter of Lewis Keller, helps manage Oakhurst today.