Monday, December 16, 2013

Elks'-Wyandot's "Long Goodbye"- The Saga of a Lost Donald Ross Classic - Introduction and Chapter 1

 Central  Ohio  golfers  never tire  debating the  relative  merits  of  the  many  great  courses in the area.  Jack  Nicklaus's  Muirfield,  University  Scarlet,  Double  Eagle,  The Golf  Club,  Brookside,  Columbus, The  Lakes,  Champions,   and  naturally   the  iconic  Scioto,   have  their  devotees.  But  players   who  had  the good  fortune to  strike  their brassies  over   the  long -vanished  Elks-  Wyandot  Country Club  course  could  argue  with  some  justification   that  this  beloved  Donald   Ross   beauty  was the  finest  of  all.

From  its  ballyhooed opening  in  1923  until  its sad  and  final closing  after  the 1952  golf season,   the  course   (and  the  country  clubs  associated  with  it-  Elks  and  Wyandot)     faced  daunting  challenges.   While the  course  overcame  the  hardships  of  the Great Depression,  a  disastrous  fire   that  burned   the clubhouse  to  the  ground,  and  World  War  II,   it ultimately  could  not  survive   a  political  struggle  with  the State  of   Ohio   despite  the  best  efforts of   Mayor of  Columbus  Jim  Rhodes  (later  four-time  Governor  of  Ohio)  to  save  it.

My  interest  in  the  history  of  Elks'-Wyandot came  about  when  I  noticed  errors  in  the  Donald Ross  Society's  (I  am  a  member)   list  of   his  designs.  First,  it  indicated that  "Elks  Country  Club,"   built  in  1923 in  Worthington,  Ohio  (a  Columbus  suburb)  was  still   in existence.  I  knew  that  there  was  no  course  by  that  name  currently  in  existence.   Second,  the   list  identified "Wyandot  Golf  Course"  in  Centerburg  (a  much  further  away  suburb)  as  a  Ross  course  constructed  in  1922  and  closed  in  1952.  To   the  contrary,    Ross could  not  have served  as  architect  for  this  little  country  course   since it  opened  after  I  moved  to  Columbus in  the 70's-  decades  after  Ross's  death.  Furthermore,  that  course is  still in  operation.

 So  this  misinformation  piqued  my  curiosity,  and   I  embarked  on  what   can  best  be  described as a "research  adventure."  In  short  order,  I    confirmed   some  basic  facts.  The  "Benevolent  and   Protective  Order  of  Elks, Columbus  Lodge No,  37" ("BPOE  or  "the  Elks")  acquired  265  acres  of  property  bordering  on  Morse Road  and  Indianola  Avenue   in   the  Clintonville  area  of  Columbus   in  1921,   The  Elks  retained  famed  architect  Donald  Ross  to  design  a  golf  course  on  the  property.  It  was  opened  for  play  in  1923.    "The  Elks'  Country  Club"  owned  and  operated  the facilities  until  1931  when  the  course  name  changed  to    "Wyandot  Country  Club."  The  course  closed for  good   in  1952.  The  facilities  of  the  State  of  Ohio  School  for the  Deaf  now  occupy the   area  where the  Elks'- Wyandot clubhouses  once  stood.   The  School  for  the  Deaf  is  accessible  from  Morse  Road  over  roughly  the same  driveway  that  was  used  to  access the  clubhouses  many  years  ago.  The  State  of  Ohio's  School  for  the  Blind  occupies  the  northwest  portion  of  the  property  across  a  deep and  forested  ravine  that  effectively  separates  its  campus from  that  of  its  sister  school .  The  School  for  the  Blind  is  accessible  from  High  Street,  which  is  Columbus's  principal  north-south  artery.

But  I  wanted   to  know  more!  Like,  what  led  The  Elks  decision to   acquire this  large  property and  build  a  golf  course?   Was  Donald  Ross  on-site  during  construction  (often  he did not  see  courses  he  designed) ?  Could  I  obtain  any  information about  the  course  lay-out  or  details  about   Ross's  bunkering?   Why  did  the club  name  change  to  Wyandot ?   Did  The  Elks  give  it  up,  and  if  so- why?  How  good  was  the  golf  course?   Did   players  of  distinction  in  local  circles   play  their golf  there?   Is  anyone  alive  who  can  remember   the  course,  let  alone  have  played  it?   What  were  the  circumstances  that  led  to  its  ultimate  closing   and  acquisition  by   the  state?

I  was  able  to  answer  these  questions.   I  pieced  together  the  history  of  the  course  by   spending   many  hours   buried  in  the microfilm  archives  of  Columbus  newspapers.  I  walked  the  property   and  found  remnants  of  the  old  course.  Internet  searches  unearthed  many  informative   tidbits  concerning   the  club's  founders,  members,  and  staff  that  helped  flesh  out  the story.  I  acquired  a   program  for a  big  PGA  tour  event   played  at  Wyandot  in  1948-  The  Columbus  Invitational.   A  visit  to  the  county  courthouse   uncovered  a  1938   aerial  photo  of  the  course  which   revealed  much  about  Ross's  routing as  well as  many  of  Ross's  architectural  details.   Most  gratifying  of  all  was  my  opportunity to  reminisce with  folks  who  were  of  a  certain  age  that  they  could  recall  the old  course,  and  relate  anecdotes  about the  people   associated  with  it.   One  visit  in  particular  resulted  in  discovery  of  a  treasure  trove  of  photographs  and  other  artifacts.  Now,   let  me  tell you  the story  of   Elks'- Wyandot.

                         Chapter  1:       THE  FOUNDING  FATHER

To  merely   label   John  W.  Kaufman   an  entrepreneur  would  do  him an  injustice.  He  was  much  more.   From  approximately  1900  until  his  death  in  1933,   he  was  a   colossus  of  Columbus's   burgeoning   business  community.  Mr.  Kaufman  was  responsible for   founding  or  acquiring  an  array   of   quarrying  and  manufacturing  operations   that  under his  leadership  mushroomed  into  major  league enterprises.  He  embodied  the  rags  to  riches  "Horatio  Alger"    success  story   that  inspired   youths  of  the  era.

His  career  began  juggling  two  low-level   jobs.  During  the  day,  he  clerked for  the  Reinhard  Bank  in  downtown  Columbus.  He  moonlighted  as  an  assistant  bookkeeper  for  the  Godman  Shoe  Company.  He  impressed  the  latter  employer  well enough  that  he  was  steadily  promoted   through  the  ranks  until  he  became  the  firm's  part-owner  and secretary.  After  reaching  age   40  in  1906,  Mr.  Kaufman  upped  his  entrepreneurial   activities.  Anticipating  that  the  city  was  about  to   embark  on  a  growth  spurt  that  would  necessitate   an  increased  need  for  building materials,  he  along  with  several  of  his  siblings,  purchased   the  Woodruff  and  Pausch  Company,  an  operation   mining  limestone  adjacent to  the  Scioto River  on  Columbus's  northwest  side.  The  investment  went  well,  and  in  short  order,  the Kaufman  interests  also  swallowed up  the  Casparis  Stone  Company.  The resulting  merged  company  became  known as  the  "Marble  Cliff  Quarry Co." -  a vast  operation  covering  over  2,000  acres.  And  Mr.  Kaufman  proved  to  be  spot-on  in  his  assessment  that  Columbus  would  need  his  product.  Limestone  mined  from  the  quarry  was  used  in  the  construction  of  Ohio  Stadium,  the  47  story  American  Insurance  Union  Citadel  (now the  LeVeque  Tower), the  city  airport,  and  area  freeways.  In  time,  the   Kaufmans,  with  John  leading  the family's  efforts,  acquired many  other mines  and  quarrying  operations   in  the  United  States  and  Canada.

Most  would  have  been content  with  such  success.  But  not  John  Kaufman!   On  behalf  of  the   family,  he  launched  investments  in   the  Claycraft  Mining  and  Brick  Company in Columbus  and  the  Ohio  Steel  Foundry  in  Lima.    He  started   Columbus  Coated  Fabrics,  which  became  the  industry  leader in  manufacture  of vinyl-coated  cloth  products.  Given  Mr.  Kaufman's  far-flung  business  interests,  it would have  understandable if  he  had   failed  to  pay much  attention  to  civic  endeavors.  But,  as  the saying  goes,  "If  you  want a  job  done,  give  it  to  a  busy  person!"  and  John  Kaufman was  always  there to  lend  a  hand.  He  raised  enormous   funds  for  the  World  War  I  "war  chest  drive."    He  supported   "Charity  Newsies,"  a  local  charity   still  providing  clothing to  underprivileged   children.  With  his  wife  Elizabeth  and  three  children,  he  found  time  to be  a  social  joiner  too.  His  memberships at   Scioto  and   Columbus Country   Clubs  as  well  as  The  Columbus  Club  and  Athletic  Club of  Columbus  demonstrated  he  met  the  definition  of   a  "hale  fellow well  met."

But  aside  from  work and  family,  John  Kaufman's  chief  passion   was   the  BPOE-  the Elks. While  membership has  dwindled  in  recent  decades,  the  Elks'  lodges   in  John  Kaufman's time    served  as  many   communities'   social   organization  of  choice.  It  should   be  remembered that  this  was  the  nascent stage  of  private  country  clubs  in  America,  and  they  were  not yet  a  competitive  threat to  fraternal  organizations  such  as  the  Elks.  So the  BPOE  thrived.  It  counted  among  its members  Presidents Harding,  FDR,  Truman,  and later  JFK, and  Ford.  Military  heroes  were  drawn  to  the  BPOE.  Generals  Pershing, Patton,  MacArthur,  and   Columbus's  own  WW I  flying  ace Captain  Eddie  Rickenbacker  joined.  So  did  Bobby  Jones,  Gene  Autry,  Buffalo  Bill  Cody,  Will Rogers, and  Bill "Bojangles"  Robinson.

The  Elks  could  not  have had  a  more devoted member  and  booster  than  John  Kaufman.  His  talent  for  recruitment  of  new members  received  mention  in  the  1913  edition  of  the  trade  publication  "American  Clay  Magazine,"  where  it  was  noted,  "If  John  Kaufman  is  as  good  a clay  booster  as  he  is  an  Elks  booster,  the  sales  ledger of  the  Claycraft  Mining and  Brick  Company  of  Columbus,  Ohio  will  show  an  increase  each  season.   Recently  Mr.  Kaufman interested his  relatives  in  the  Elks  lodge,  and eight  of them  joined  at  one  time.  Mr.  Kaufman  is  president  of  the  brick  company."

When  BPOE  decided  to  move  its  lodge  from  Main  Street,   Mr. Kaufman  headed  up  the  building  committee  charged  with  finding new  quarters.  The  new  imposing  Frank  Packard-  designed  lodge  at  256  E.   Broad   St.  was  dedicated  in  1915.   John  Kaufman  was  rewarded  for  his  unstinting efforts  on  behalf   of  Columbus  Elks  Lodge  No.  37  by  elevation  to its  leader (in  Elks'  parlance the  "Grand   Exulted  Ruler")  in  1918.    


                           Elks  Lodge  No.  37,  60  E.  Mound  St.

                               Elks  Lodge  No.  37,  256  E.  Broad
                                        Built  and  Dedicated 1915

Aside  from  the fact  that  America  was  involved  in  a  war,  it  is  hard  to  imagine  that  52  year old  John   Kaufman's  life  could  have  been  much  better  in  1918.  He  resided  in  a  beautiful  mansion with  his  family  at  the  then  posh  address  of  1151  Bryden  Road.   Offices  for  his  far flung businesses  were  minutes  away  from  home.  Wartime  needs  necessitated   high  demand for  the  products  of  several  of  his  enterprises.  He  had  achieved the  leadership  of  his  beloved   Elks,  and  Lodge  number  37  was  less  than  a  5  minute drive.  He had successfully  engineered   a  business   empire  that  helped   support  his  many  siblings  and  their  families  (John  was  one  of  ten  children),  and  28  year old  son  Harold  was  really  coming  along  in assisting  with  the  management  of   Marble  Cliff's  operations. .

Kaufman's  Bryden  Rd. home

But  John  Kaufman   was  not  satisfied  with  the  status  quo.  With  the   arrival  of  Columbus  and  Scioto  and  Aladdin   Country Clubs  on  the  local  scene ,  he  realized   that   golf  was  the   rising  sport,  and  country  clubs  were going  to  be  needed  to  meet  the  demand.  No  doubt  he  thought,  "why  shouldn't  my  Elks  have   their  own  country   club?"    Undoubtedly,  Mr.  Kaufman was  also  influenced   by   rumors  that  Columbus's   York  Masonic  Lodge  was  giving  thought  to  building  a  course  for  its  members,  and  the  Shriners   had  plans  to  expand  their  9  hole  Aladdin  Country  Club  course  to  18  holes in  nearby  Upper  Arlington.

Whatever  the converging  motivating  factors  that  led  to this  new dream  of  Kaufman's,   he   must  have  known    immediately  he   had  found  the  perfect  land  for  a  country  club  the  first  time  he  laid  eyes  on  the  100  acre  estate  built  by  wholesale  grocer  Charles  Higgins  in  the  present-day   Clintonville  area  of  Columbus.  This  now  highly  developed  area   still  qualified  as  rural  when  Kaufman  first  got  wind  of it - probably  in  1920.  As  was  described  in  the  Ohio  State  Journal,   75 acres  of  the  Higgins'  property,  "are  level  and  beautified  by  every  device  of  the  modern  landscape  gardener.  The  other  25  acres  are  hilly  and  heavily  wooded.  The  principal  building  on  the  property  is  an  18   room  house  [then  only  11  years  old]  with  six  bathrooms.   There are  also  a  seven-room  house  for  the  caretaker,  barns  for  horses,  cattle,  and  farm  machinery,  power  house  and  a  large  greenhouse."   Moreover,  Mr.  Kaufman  discovered  that  the  Higgins'  estate  rested  in  the hands  of  bankers  who  had   formed  a  creditors'  committee  for  Mr.  Higgins,  so  it  seemed  that  the  property  could  probably  be  acquired  for  a  reasonable  price.. 

This  scenario  is  akin to  what confronted  Bobby  Jones when  he  first  eyed   the  Fruitlands  Nursery  some  13  years later.   The owner  of  that  property  was  likewise   in  financial  straits,
 and  the  grounds   similarly  boasted  impeccable   landscaping   as  well  as   a  beautiful   home  that  could  seamlessly  transition  into  use  as  a  clubhouse.  Jones  knew  immediately   that  the  Fruitlands  Nursery  would  make  a  perfect  golf  course.   That  abandoned  nursery    became   Augusta  National  Golf  Club.  



The  only   problem with  the  Higgins  property was  that it  was  not  large  enough  for  an  18  hole  golf  course.  Nine- maybe,  no  more!   But  Kaufman  learned   there  were  three  adjoining   undeveloped  properties  across  the  wide  wooded  ravine  totaling  another  165  acres  which,  if  added  to  the  Higgins  land,  would  be  more than  enough  property  to  build  a  course  that  the  Elks  would  be  proud  of.  

The  ravine

Next:  Chapter: " Pomp  and  Circumstance"-  The  Elks  Commemorate  the  Opening  of   Their  Donald  Ross  Golf   Course

Acknowledgements:  Photos  of  Betty  Huber (daughter-in-law  of  original  greenkeeper  Lawrence  Huber) ,  Shirley  Hyatt,  archives  of  Columbus  Citizen, Ohio  State  Journal, and  Columbus  Dispatch  and  "Columbus  Memory"  all   of  which are  housed  at  the  Columbus  Metropolitan  Library.  Scripps-Howard Newspaper/Grandview  Heights  Public   Library/ collection


  1. Just stumbled upon this blog last night. I grew up On East Kanawha, the street directly to the north of the Blind school. My parents bought the house in 1946/47 and we lived there until 1965. When the state took the land for the school my father went and "harvested" some of the good grass for our front lawn! He had bought the house because of the course and hated seeing it go.

  2. I saw this yesterday. About 10 years ago I went to the Deaf/Blind Schools to get information on the old course. They had the original plans for the course's watering system. I used that to overlay the holes on a 1972 aerial photo of the area. I then walked the area to see where the original holes where. I used to hit balls there in the 1960's as a kid. I gave all of those maps etc. to the Deaf School at that time. Yesterday, Jim Huber (the original course's grounds keeper) called me from New Mexico to tell me he now has all of those maps on his wall. His mother still lives near the Deaf School, so somehow the maps were given to her. Mike Henry 503 970-0926

  3. Don: that is a great anecdote. Give me your e-mail address and I will send you future installments.

  4. Hi Lisa, I came across your blog on "The Long Goodbye", and I really like it... well written and researched. I'm a Professor here at OSU and was wondering if I could use your Chapter 7 in my class. Obviously you get full credit and it is linked to your blog. The second thing if you enjoy talking about the long good bye, I would enjoy having you lecture in my class sometime. Unfortunately, I don't know your email, but if you read this comment you can email me at Great Job! I look forward to the next chapter.

  5. Thank~you. Curious if you found anything on the WAIU radio towers on the property? I have a 1938 aerial picture but can't see if the towers or remnants are there.

    1. Chapter 5 shows the tower in a cartoon drawing made in 1927.

  6. what a fabulous blog entry. I live on E. Kanawha and have been walking my dogs on this property for decades, and hiked here as a kid in the 60s and 70s. Is there any way to get the overlay to see where the holes were located? My dad was a caddy here for Columbus' Catholic bishop back in the 30s. The photos here are amazing! Where were the clubhouse and residence located? Thanks again! Please feel free to contact me at

  7. The Elk's course at the current location of the Deaf School was also home to WAIU Radio. One of the original 16 CBS radio affiliates. WAIU's call letters were for American Insurance Union. Very much related post depression to Nationwide Communication Inc. NCI at one time was the 7th largest broadcaster. It was a division of Nationwide Insurance. Do you have anything on this? I do have a 1936 aerial photograph of the golf course. Shoot me an email and I can send the pic back.