The Golf Course “Out the Crick”
by George S. Jones II and Seán Duffy
“A golf course is the epitome of all that is purely transitory in the universe; a space not to dwell in, but to get over as quickly as possible.” -Jean Giraudoux
One of the best things about doing local history research and exploring local archival collections is learning about the wonders of old Wheeling that are now lost to time. And some of the most interesting stories about “Lost Wheeling” are often the unlikely ones—the ones that stretch the imagination, like the amusement park on the Lower Sisters Island, the beer garden at Wheeling Park, the town’s old German singing societies, and the Mozart Incline.
Another one of those wonders was a short-lived, championship caliber golf course located “out the crick” on Big Wheeling Creek Road—a place called Cedar Rocks Country Club—where one of the greatest golfers of all time won a tournament 78 years ago today, on September 17, 1938.
And if you’re like me, you’ve probably driven right through this long gone golf course hundreds of times without even realizing it.
Have You Ever Heard of Cedar Rocks?
Since we started Archiving Wheeling we have periodically received inquiries like this one:
“Hello there, Do you have any pictures of the old Cedar Rocks Country Club in Elm Grove?”
Cedar Rocks? The truth is, I had never heard of such a place, and search as we might, we could find no information about, let alone pictures of, this Cedar Rocks Country Club. Then, one day, about two weeks after the latest such inquiry, I arrived at work and in my mailbox was a report with a plastic cover titled, “Cedar Rocks Country Club by George S. Jones II, July 2016.”
George is a retired Wheeling Electric (AEP) engineer who was born and raised in Elm Grove. He attended the first class ever offered at Wheeling College, served four years in the U.S. Air Force, and graduated from West Virginia University in 1963. He has been interested in Wheeling history since Chip West started the Point Museum. George is also an avid golfer who can be found, most days, on the links at the Moundsville Country Club.
His report contained intriguing information. George had done some impressive research, meeting with three of the club’s caddies (now in their 90s), exploring the former course with the property owners, digging up a few remaining relics, and, most impressively, using still extant structures and artifacts (a bridge abutment, a house, hole yardage on an old scorecard) to painstakingly recreate a map of the entire, original 18-hole course, to scale.
Here’s George’s account in his own words:
“Somewhere in the news media, Cedar Rocks Country Club was mentioned, and a friend called to see if I had any photographs of the club or course. With my curiosity piqued, I went online and found an article called ‘Remembering Cedar Rocks Country Club,’ on WTRF TV’s website. The article really had no description of the course, only where it was located. Searching further, I found the state incorporation filing, showing that it was incorporated in 1926 and closed in the 1940s. I also knew an old friend, Ray Pinto, who had been a caddy there, so I called him looking for photos. As it turned out, Ray had scorecards from the course. One card was for 1926 to 1934 and another card was from 1934 to closing. From the cards and Ray’s memory, I decided to replicate the layout. I got satellite and topographical maps and made a rough layout using the scale from the topographical map.
“Albert Schenk, Jr. owned the property before the golf course was built, but when he died it passed to Albert Schenk, III. At his passing, it was divided among his six daughters who all still live on the property, except for Kathleen, who passed away on July 14, 2016. The 3 C’s church is also on the property. With these maps, I went to tour the area. I was well received by everyone I met, as they too were curious about the golf course. They pointed out and showed me many features that are still remaining (noted on the map). After several versions and many consultations with Ray and two other former caddies, Nyal Irwin and Jim McGinnis, I arrived at this final version of the Cedar Rocks Country Club golf course map.
“Also included in this report are photos of signs recovered from the property and a photo of the house that was used for a locker room on the second floor, with a bag room on the first. I was told there was another building with a restaurant/bar/clubhouse) and a barn for equipment near the location noted on the map.”
-George Jones, July 2016
When I decided to ask George if he’d like to put his story on Archiving Wheeling, I also asked him to show me what remains of Cedar Rocks. Luckily, George has become well acquainted with the current property owners, so he was able to give me a backstage tour. But please remember, though some of the old course is visible from the road, most of it is private property. So please respect that privacy, and enjoy our virtual tour.
“The Cedar Rocks Country Club is one of Wheeling’s most recent golf layouts. Here the golfer finds another eighteen holes of championship length with many troublesome holes to demand attention. The Cedar Rocks course lies in the valley of Wheeling Creek, rimmed by a majestic series of hills. This course boasts the greatest yardage of any in the Wheeling district and is replete with hazards, natural and otherwise.”
–Forward Wheeling, May 1931
You can still see a golf course.
In some places, it’s overgrown and reclaimed by nature. In other places it’s still well groomed, part of a manicured back yard or driveway, still tamed, clipped, controlled, but now meant for leisurely strolls or picnics, not “good walks spoiled” with the snap and whir of drivers and wedges.
Here, a long ago tee still mounds from the surrounding earth. There, a long ago green, still flat and vaguely circular, beckons: “Bring your putter.”
Even where the goldenrod and ironweed have reasserted dominion, there’s a design apparent beneath the chaos — a human design; a slowly decaying architecture. If you close your eyes, then open them, you can still see Slammin’ Sammy Snead, standing on the Number 5 tee in his straw hat, readying his stance to crush a drive across Big Wheeling Creek.
For me, golf courses have always stirred mixed emotions. Sometimes, I agree with Jay Griffiths, who wrote in Wild: An Elemental Journey, “Golf epitomizes the tame world. On a golf course nature is neutered. The grass is clean, a lawn laundry that wipes away the mud, the insect, the bramble, nettle and thistle, an Eezy-wipe lawn where nothing of life, dirty and glorious, remains. Golf turns outdoors into indoors, a prefab mat of stultified grass, processed, pesticided, herbicided, the pseudo-green of formica sterility. Here, the grass is not singing. The wind cannot blow through it. Dumb expression, greenery made stupid, it hums a bland monotone in the key of the mono-minded. No word is emptier than a golf tee. No roots, it has no known etymology, it is verbal nail polish. Worldwide, golf is an arch act of enclosure, a commons fenced and subdued for the wealthy, trampling serf and seedling. The enemy of wildness, it is a demonstration of the absolute dominion of man over wild nature.”
At other times, I feel as C.B. MacDonald did, “I believe in reverencing anything in the life of man which has the testimony of the ages as being unexcelled, whether it be literature, paintings, poetry, tombs — even a golf hole.”
Because it features elements of both Griffith’s tame world and MacDonald’s unexcelled artistry, what remains of Cedar Rocks offers a fascinating case study in human interaction with nature — both the transitory human attempt to tame it, and nature’s wild but patient, relentless reply.
On the way back to his house, George and I lamented the lack of vintage photographs of Cedar Rocks Country Club. They have to be out there somewhere, we agreed. Have to be. It’s what we always say when there are no known images of something that we are certain must have been photographed.
Inevitably, the next day, with the universe thus alerted, while searching for something else in the Pinkie Williams Collection – a scrapbook of society column layouts from the Wheeling News-Register, 1938-1942 – my colleague Erin Rothenbuehler called out, “Here it is! Cedar Rocks Country Club!”
And that’s the big fun of archives — that serendipitous, eureka moment. We did have a few images of Cedar Rocks after all. They were under our noses all along, for all these years. And only the power of archival kismet (and Erin’s instincts) brought them off the shelf at just the right time.
George and I discovered something else on the way back to his house: we both owned a set of Wilson Blue Ridge Sam Snead golf clubs. This was the first set of clubs I ever owned, and I still have them. And it is, after all, Slammin’ Sammy’s mastery of the course that added so much to the mystique of Cedar Rocks.
Giving Par a Trouncing at Old Cedar Rocks
“Forget your opponents. Always play against par.”
Having said all of the above, it’s still just an old golf course, right? So what? Big deal. Wheeling has lots of them.
Well, perhaps what makes this one special is that one of the greatest golfers of all time walked the links of Cedar Rocks, “trouncing par” and winning, like he so often did elsewhere, at legendary courses like the Greenbrier, Augusta National, and St. Andrews.
At midnight on September 14, 1938, a lean, nattily clad young man named Samuel Jackson Snead from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, checked into the McLure Hotel in downtown Wheeling.
A professional golfer known for his long, powerful drives, 26-year-old Slammin’ Sammy was a sophomore on the PGA Tour, and already the tour’s leading money winner, with several impressive victories under his belt. He was in town to compete in the West Virginia Open Golf Tournament at Cedar Rocks Golf Club in Elm Grove. He had won the two previous state opens at Huntington and Charleston.
But even before Snead, Cedar Rocks had made an impact on West Virginia golf. In 1934, just two years prior to Snead’s first state open win, the Cedar Rocks Pro, one Rader Jewett, had won—on his home course—the second West Virginia Open ever played. And well before that, one of the founders of Cedar Rocks, whose name is listed on the Certificate of Incorporation, a Wheeling man named Julius Pollock, won the first ever West Virginia Amateur Championship in 1913 in Fairmont. He then went on to win 9 of the first 18 opens.
But in September 1938, the Wheeling Intelligencer dubbed young Snead “the greatest the games has to offer.” His primary rival for the title was Art Clark, who had arrived the previous day, impressing fans with a practice round of 71 on a rain-soaked course. Wheeling pro Bob Biery, who would design both Wheeling Park’s and Oglebay’s Crispin golf courses, was sidelined by a neck injury.
As for the Cedar Rocks course, the Intelligencer declared it “in the best condition in recent years…set and ready for the state’s leading shot-makers.”
A pro-amateur round was set for Thursday with the state tournament to begin Friday, September 16. On Thursday, Snead shattered the course record, shooting an amazing 64 in a tune-up round. “It would appear the Big Wheeling Creek course had been built especially for the nation’s leading money winner,” the Intelligencer reported, “for despite soggy greens and heavy fairways, dampened by yesterday’s rain, he was tripped but once during the first tune-up round.” Snead offset his bogie on the 12th with 8 birdies and one eagle, prompting the News-Register to quip that Snead’s blistering round in the rain had cast a cloud over the hopes of the rest of the pros who had gathered at Cedar Rocks.
Adding to the anticipation, Snead was paired with the popular 15-year-old Huntington amateur Billy Campbell for the pro-am. But as “young Campbell failed to contribute,” [News-Register] they were narrowly defeated by the pairing of Clark and state amateur champion Frank Crum, 68-69.
Unlike most modern golf tournaments, which feature 72 holes spread out over four days of competition, the 1938 West Virginia Open was completed in just two days, with an intense, 36 holes played on each. And after the first day of grueling competition with windy conditions, Clark led Snead 145-146. It seemed the champ’s usually trusty putter had gone “cold.”
But on a drier, sunnier, and warmer day two, Snead’s putter also warmed up, allowing the champ to recapture his “Sub-Par Touch” to claim the West Virginia Open title for the third consecutive year, “unleashing a par-cracking finish” to distance himself from Clark, 280-291. Snead’s blistering final rounds of 68 and 66, “viewed by a large gallery that religiously kept pace with the racing Snead, enabled him to whip this year’s field by the margin of 17 strokes.” [Intelligencer] Meanwhile, Cedar Rocks amateur George Hoffer finished 4th, posting a respectable 301. Rounding out the local contingent, Wheeling Park’s pro Mickey Donoghue finished 8th, Cedar Rocks pro Chuck Onoretta finished 9th, and Wheeling Country Club pro A.J. Chapman finished 12th.
For his triumph, Sam Snead was awarded the grand sum of $140, consisting of $125 for winning the Open and another $15 for winning the pro-am. Chapman won $5.00, and as the leading amateur, Hoffer received a “statuette and an electric razor.”
“Sam Snead has set at rest any rumors,” the Intelligencer declared, “that the boys who stay within the state’s borders while he mops up on the big-time circuit might be capable of pinning his ears down.”
But that didn’t stop the boys who stayed in West Virginia from having the last laugh. While Snead departed immediately for Pittsburgh to hop a plane for New York, he was “chaffed by his fellow pros for his failure to leave the cup here.”
As for Cedar Rocks, it seems to have stopped functioning as a country club and golf course around the time of the Second World War. But despite its brief existence, the spirit of Cedar Rocks lives on in local golfing lore. And now we know a little more about this wonder of “Lost Wheeling.”