Ray County Genealogy
Excelsior Springs Golf Club
(copy obtained from Excelsior Springs Golf Club)
Missouri's National Resort" was Excelsior Springs' way of billing itself in its heyday in the early part of the 20th century. The original Elms Hotel had been built and opened in 1888 to serve the visitors from all over America who came to enjoy the healing benefits of the mineral waters found there.
Even when the Elms burned down in 1891, and before it was rebuilt, the crowds continued to come, and smaller hotels were built to accommodate them. All this activity looked attractive to a British investor, Dr. W. A. Ball, who, with his son, Major W. A. J. Ball, were putting money into real estate in several parts of this country.
They formed the Mineral Water System, a real estate company, in Excelsior Springs during the middle of the first decade of the century, and purchased land for a golf course and residential development atop the rolling hills not far from the Elms.
In 1909 they took as manager one of the movers and shakers of Excelsior Springs, C. W. Fish. This estimable gentleman was the very heart and soul of Excelsior Springs' development. His father, Henri C. Fish, had been one of the town's founders-with John Henry, they built the town's first building, called the Excelsior Springs House.
They organized the Excelsior Springs Company in 1886, and Charles W. Fish joined them. He had graduated from Kansas City's Central High School in 1875, one of 13 in his class. After working at the Union Station for several years, in 1880 his eyesight became so poor that he had to quit his post, and he joined forces with his father and Henry. They developed the first Elms Hotel and laid out the western part of town.
C.W. took charge of a bottling works, and evolved a formula for ginger ale that made Excelsior famous, winning first prize in that division at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Iron manganese water from the town's springs also won first prize at the Chicago Fair.
Seven hundred acres atop what is now Golf Hill were purchased by the Bells as the firm waslaunched in 1909; the seller was the O'Dell family, whose forebears, Edwin and Letice O'Dell had migrated from Tennessee and settled the land in 1825, building a log cabin which is now preserved within the clubhouse. This historic landmark is one of very few structures to survive from that period, and was built of walnut and oak trees cleared by the O'Dells.
A patent was granted on the land on November 1, 1830, and the fa mily farmed it successfully for 80 years until the Bell purchase. Having enjoyed the game in England, the Bells had a golf course very much in mind as the centerpiece of their development, and they promptly brought in Tom Bendelow, a then-popular and available golf course planner, to lay out nine holes. The brush and long grass was cleared with the aid of goats and sheep, and the course opened in 1910.
Patrons of the Elms and other hostelries were promptly won to the game, many learning the rudiments from Alex Ross, the Scottish professional brought in at the recommendation of James Dalgleish of the Evanston Club. Ross had helped supervise the setting up of the course with Bendelow.
By 1915, a second nine holes were built and the widely promoted Excelsior Springs Invitational Tournament was inaugurated as a kick-off to the golf season for the area between the Appalachians and the Rockies. This match-play competition, which offered free play, free lodging, and free lunches to all competitors, was understandably popular.
From the 1920s until the 1970s, five O'Dell brothers, direct descendants of the original settlers, worked on the golf course and helped to build Golf Hill Road, which replaced an earlier entrance road on the opposite side of the course. The Bells themselves laid out the subdivisions of the property, and named all the streets within it, according to Clarence Snyder, a native son of Excelsior who served as golf professional there from 1958 to 1978.
Alex Ross' wife, Martha Neil Ross, operated the dining room in the clubhouse for many years, and was renowed for her fine Scottish dinners, her orange marmalade, and cornbread pones.
Clarence Snyder was a friend of Alex Ross' son, and recalls that Charles "Chick" Evans, the Chicago amateur golf star, was an early and frequent visitor to Excelsior, often staying with the Rosses. Evans usually brought talented friends and played exhibition matches, which enhanced the Excelsior Springs reputation as a good place to play golf.
In those years before World War 1, it was not uncommon for several railroad cars of golfers from Chicago clubs to come to Excelsior Springs for a few days of golf, relaxation, and the waters. Trains left the Illinois city on a regular basis to come to Excelsior from spring through autumn,, in somewhat the same manner as Kansas Citians went to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Clarence Snyder, who caddied at the club as a boy, recalls many prominent figures from the sports world who on occasion came to the Springs. Among them were Jack Dempsey, Jack Curley, Tony Canzoneri, and Barney Ross from the boxing fraternity, and Ban Johnson and Charles Comiskey from the baseball world. Joe Stecher, world's champion wrestler, came often. In 1919, Jess Willard came to Excelsior immediately after losing his heavyweight boxing title to Jack Dempsey in a short but brutal fight. He set out to play golf but quit after two holes, telling his caddie that he was too sore from the fight to continue.
Snyder remembers that 60 caddies were regularly available daily during the summers of the 1920s, and on occasion, even that number was not sufficient to meet the demand.
The 1920s golf boom encouraged the owners to add a third and fourth nine holes around 1928, but the stock market crash of 1929 and the subsequent depression hurt the town's business, and play quickly fell off. In 1933 the Eppley Hotel Company (The Elms operators) leased the course from the Bells and ran it for three years. The city took over the lease and ran the course under lease until purchasing it in 1949 for $85,000. An airport soon replaced the second 18 holes, with the course undergoing realignment.
Snyder was the manager and pro when the clubhouse was rebuilt in three phases from 1965-1969. At that time the treasured log cabin was re-exposed to the elements, and raised off the tree stumps beneath it so that a concrete base could be placed under it. The loft inside the cabin was eliminated and rewiring was done, after which new outer walls were installed. Surprisingly, the old walnut and oak walls of the original cabin were strong-Snyder said that termites which attacked them left for better opportunities after two weeks on the premises.
Alex Ross served the Excelsior Springs Club for 20 years, leaving in 1929. He was followed as head professional by Henry Decker in 1929-1931; Walter Bales in 1931; Roy Boyer in 1932-33; Herb Woods from 1934-195 1; Ray Pettegrew from 1951-1953; Raymond Dale from 1953-1958; Clarence Snyder from 1958-1978, as noted; and Barry Dale from 1978 to the present time.
When C. W. Fish died in 1931, his obituary was written by C. E. McBride, sports editor of the Kansas City Star, who was a close friend. McBride stated that Fish was so generous that he could never have amassed a large estate, that so many of his gifts to people were never known by any but the two parties involved; and that, while he shunned public notice, he always sought friends. Above all, he was the quintessential booster of the town. Fish died as the Great Depression began-a force that did irreparable economic damage to his beloved project.
During the 1910-1930 period at Excelsior, play was at its zenith-but today, with several new courses nearby, such as Shirkey at Richmond, Liberty Hills, Claycrest, Hodge Park, and Paradise Pointe drawing golfers, the numbers at the Excelsior Springs course are sharply down. The decline of the city as a resort attraction has had its effect on play too. It is known that the city is underwriting a loss on the course at the present time, a most unfortunate development for one with so rich a history.