A Brief History of Oak Ridge Country Club By Ward Foster, Historian, and Dub Shults
It was April, 1947, Oak Ridge had contributed directly to the end of World War II and was now heavily involved in national atomic energy programs. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), in the midst of allocating property that would enhance recreational opportunities in the city, made six hundred acres available for golf… if a suitable proposal was received. Only one proposal was submitted for that land at first and it was unacceptable. So, the story begins.
Two guys, Walter Rogers and Clark Saskie, decided to go after that land. They called a meeting, for interested parties, at the old Recreation Hall in the center of Oak Ridge, had a great turnout, and began to develop a “plan.” This generated interest among many others, one of whom was a K-25 engineer named Bob Dustin. He was not an avid golfer but he was excited by the opportunity to design a golf course… and he did. Within a few weeks, he had studied the topography of the land and laid out a plan for an eighteen-hole course. (His Hole #1 lay where today’s Hole #6 is located.) His layout and the group’s work plan was accepted by the AEC.
The plan called for teams of 15-20 volunteers assigned to work on each hole. These workers had the option of working fifty hours on their assigned hole or paying $50. Altogether there were some 200 workers, including scientists, engineers, craftsmen, professionals, and others. They brought their own tools – rakes, mattocks, shovels, saws and hands – and went to work clearing land and throwing seed. By July the work was well underway and by October, nine holes were completed with temporary greens and tees and “cow pasture” fairways. An opening exhibition was held that very month.
A second nine was built over the next two years, this time using motorized equipment “borrowed” from one of the AEC installations. By October 1949 all eighteen holes were in use. A golf professional was hired and a volunteer greens keeper was recruited. An organization was developed with A. J. Kessing as the first president. Gentry Underwood and Doug Lavers, the Y-12 Plant Manager, were the first Board members. Dues were $6 per month!
Meanwhile, another group of volunteers acquired a building — formerly a dispensary — from K-25, moved it down the Turnpike to the club property, and converted it into a large clubhouse. It was pretty nice: ballroom, dining room, bars up and downstairs, card room, etc. (One of the original bars is in our 19th Hole today.) Oak Ridge was a dry county at the time and slot machines were illegal, but that didn’t stop us… we had an arrangement with a local bootlegger who provided the club with both booze and slot machines. Of course, the club was “raided” every three months or so, but somehow we knew the raiders were coming and hence had time to move the good stuff and machines to some distant place, like the wood around Number 13 green. The club flourished during those early years, largely because it was one of the very few placed in town to get a drink in a club-like atmosphere.
The club bought the land in the mid-1950s, when the AEC began to sell government property to the citizens. Prudential Insurance Company lent us the money. The transaction wasn’t exactly straightforward, however. Before we could purchase the land, we had to pay AEC a rental fee of $9,000 for the use of that motorized equipment that we “borrowed” during construction of the second nine. (Prudential supplied that money also.) The swimming pool was added shortly after we purchased the land and a few years later, the tennis courts and squash court were built. The course matured into a nice, but not plush venue, pretty and fun to play.
Over the years, ORCC has hosted thousands of recreational and social events and family activities. Many celebrities have been here, including touring pros Arnold Palmer, Patty Berg, Mason Rudolph, J.C. Goosie and Joe Campbell. We were rather proud of newly rebuilt greens when Arnold Palmer played an exhibition round here, but were brought back to earth when he remarked that we “have a nice course but it needs new greens.”
Our More Recent Past
By the 1990s the course needed more than new greens… it needed renovation. Robert Cupp, a premier golf course architect, was hired to redesign and renovate the course in a way that retained the flavor of the old course and would remain enjoyable to golfers of all skill levels. The course was closed for eighteen months during construction, during which time members continued to pay monthly dues. ORCC’s golf course has matured into one of the most beautiful and pristine golf facilities in the state.
In 2011 ORCC took another step in our storied history. Scott Stallings, an Oak Ridge native and current ORCC member, obtained his PGA Tour card and put our club “on the map.” Scott made quick work in becoming a household name in the golf world by capturing the 2011 Greenbriar Open…Oak Ridge CC is home to a PGA Tour Winner!!! Scott, and his wife Jennifer, are totally representative of the great people of East Tennessee and Scott still plays ORCC during his breaks from the busy schedule of tour travel.
Our past is rich but it’s our future that excites us! If you’re thinking of a golf membership, think Oak Ridge Country Club. Give us a call at (865) 482-2436, or go to our Membership page and discover all that awaits you with an Oak Ridge membership!