Founded in 1889, The Country Club’s storied history is unique and important to the development of the game of golf and to the early country club scene in America. One of the Club’s founding fathers was the prominent Cleveland industrialist and philanthropist Samuel Mather, who envisioned a clubhouse in the country suitable for picnics, parties and weekly horseback excursions into the countryside. The location that was chosen was in the northern reaches of the small town of Glenville, Ohio (now Bratenahl) near the shores of Lake Erie, and just a short carriage ride away from the “East Side” residential area where Cleveland’s most influential and socially prominent citizens lived. As word spread about the planned clubhouse, a strong interest in membership developed among Cleveland’s leading citizens. Shortly thereafter, The Country Club was formed with a membership limited to 100. Mather was elected the Club’s first President, and Jeptha Wade his Vice President.
Although golf was not a part of the original plans for the Club, it did not take long for golf fever to take hold. In the spring of 1895, Mather visited New Jersey, and was invited to play golf at St. Andrews Club. He became fascinated by the game, and upon his return organized the Cleveland Golf Club, and was elected its first president. The Golf Club was a subsidiary of The Country Club and only members of the latter were privileged to join. A short nine hole course was laid out on land adjacent to the clubhouse, and golf soon became an integral part of club activities.
To the rest of the golfing world, the most momentous moment of The Country Club's history was Coburn Haskell’s flash of intuition that resulted in the first rubber-cored, rubber-wound ball. As the story goes, Haskell, a member of Country, frequently played golf with Bertram Work, a superintendent of the B. F. Goodrich Company, which produced among its many products, the Norka golf ball of solid gutta percha. This ball, and others similar to it, had replaced the historic ball of packed feathers with a stitched leather cover. Legend has it that Haskell had a particularly bad round with one of the Norkas, and was sitting gloomily on the Club porch twisting a rubber band around a finger when the moment of inspiration hit him. Work took the idea back to Goodrich where a patent was quickly obtained. The first experiments with this new rubber-containing ball were carried out at The Country Club by Golf Professional Joe Mitchell and several of the members long before the balls were marketed commercially. The coming of the Haskell ball revolutionized golf and eventually made many of the early golf courses in the country obsolete. It is said that this ball was first used in an important championship by Walter Travis when he won the British Amateur Championship in 1904.
In the ensuing years, the Club continued to thrive, with a new clubhouse being built in 1906 after a damaging fire, and the golf course growing eventually to a full eighteen holes. However by the early 1920’s, what had once been a quiet parcel in the country, was surrounded by industrial property which began to encroach on the tranquility that Club members revered. A train loaded with livestock could have an overpowering impact on adjacent golfers if it halted for a signal. Factory workers eating their lunches along the perimeter of the course were audibly appreciative of the female players, although gentleman golfers were sometimes treated less kindly with disruptive taunts from industrial onlookers: “Hit it, Percy, hit it!”
The solution to this problem came in an offer from the Van Sweringen brothers, assemblers of a railroad empire and creators of the community of Shaker Heights. In 1928, the brothers proposed that the Club relocate to their new Pepper Pike development with the promise of a large parcel of land and a loan with which to build a new clubhouse. The membership approved the plan, and soon work began on the Club’s current home. Prominent Cleveland architect Philip L. Small was put in charge of the clubhouse design, while the task of creating the golf course was assigned to William Flynn, who, along with A. W. Tillinghast, George Thomas, Hugh Wilson, and George Crump, was a member of what came to be known as the “Philadelphia School of Design”. Among his other highly regarded works are Shinnecock Hills, Merion Golf Club (redesign with Hugh Wilson), The Country Club (Brookline) and the Cascades course at The Homestead. Known for his superb routings and strong green sites, Flynn did not disappoint with his work at the new site.
The new Club, in its present day location, was formally opened on August 10, 1930. Cornelia Curtiss, society editor of The Plain Dealer, wrote of the opening:
"From 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon to 7 in the evening was the period designated by the committee for the opening but the charm of the place was so keen that the members and guests lingered far into the evening..."
"Some of the guests then strolled through the French doors out onto the terrace where tables were laid for open-air dining…At one side, the swimming pool glowing like a great jewel in a white setting.”
"A tour of the building kept the visitors in a continuous state of admiration. There was the Pine Room, with its knotted pine walls and furnishings in dull reds and orange hues and a great fireplace for cool days; the white paneled dining room with its brilliant yellow wallpaper printed in white..."
The Country Club holds the 1935 National Amateur Tournament...
In 1935, The Country Club’s still youthful course was the scene of the National Amateur Tournament, in which Lawson Little completed his “little slam"; the winning of both British and American titles in two successive seasons. Little won the event on the 16th hole with an eagle three which sent Walter Emery back to the clubhouse.
The depression and war years were difficult times for the Club, but with prudent leadership, the Club was able to persevere. In 1945, a mortgage burning party was held as the Club was able to shake off its old debt. Family activities became more important to the membership and many physical improvements were made to address changing member interests. Tennis, platform tennis and skeet shooting gave Club members a variety of recreational activities beyond the traditional ones of golf and swimming.
As the Club enters the 21st century, it continues to live up to the high standards set by its founders. The facilities have been improved with additions such as the new fitness facility, children's amenities, casual dining, outdoor terrace dining, and more. There is also a strong desire to preserve the unique history and character of the Club with sensitive renovations such as the recent major golf course project to restore William Flynn’s original design. The future of the Club is bright and can be best summed up by its Mission Statement which was adopted by the current membership:
To be a family-oriented country club with first-class facilities and services offering exceptional golf, athletic and social activities consistent with our tradition of excellence.