FORGOTTEN GOLF COURSE
By Dick Mason
Two miles west of La Grande sits an expanse of gently sloping, barren, sun-baked land on the north side of Interstate 84.
The land rarely draws the attention of passing motorists, except the few who know of its unlikely past.
A past that might amaze golfing legends and links history buffs like Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer.
Eight decades ago a golf course sat in this hardscrabble setting north of where the Oregon Department of Transportation weigh station is today.
In its day, it may have been a golfing mecca.
The course, believed to have opened about a century ago, had an expansive clubhouse and a cistern for irrigating its greens, said Gary Webster of La Grande, who has owned the course's land since 1955.
The treeless setting was the site of the original La Grande Country Club. Those who remember seeing people play on it include Jack Gregory of La Grande. He believes that it was a nine-hole course and says that it was clearly visible to people driving by.
"You could see from the road people playing,'' Gregory said.
Many remnants remain of the course, which closed in the late 1920s. They include an area covered with macadam asphalt on the high north end of the course. This may have been used for a driving range.
The clubhouse was on the south end of the golf course. A significant portion of its concrete foundation remains.
"Eighty years have gone by, yet parts of it are totally intact,'' Webster said.
It is not known when the golf course began operating, but a piece of metal at the ruins of its clubhouse is dated 1911.
The clubhouse was about 100 feet long. An aerial photograph taken in the early- or mid-1920s indicates that it was a two-story building.
Webster believes that the golf course was in a 50- to 70-acre area north of the clubhouse. The boundary of the course is still evident today and may remain in place for decades to come. The boundary consists of a long row of rocks along the western and southern sides. The rocks, many of them large boulders, were apparently cleared to make way for golfers, Webster said.
Webster said that it almost looks as if a glacier scoured the land and deposited the rocks at this site.
The reality is that teams of horses pulling scoopers known as fresnos must have moved the rocks a century ago.
"They are too heavy to have been moved by men (carrying them),'' said Webster, who today grazes cattle on the land on which he grows timothy and fescue grasses.
Further evidence of the golf course's location is an underground concrete cistern about 200 yards north of the clubhouse. The cistern has a concrete circular opening with a circumference of about three feet. Water was probably pumped out of the holding tank to irrigate the golf course. The water likely came from the Grande Ronde River, which is less than a 800 yards from the cistern.
The tank is still in place today. It contains an abundance of water that probably has seeped into it, water that eight decades earlier would have given life to a recreational oasis.
It is not known how popular the golf course was, but apparently it was not popular enough. In 1928 the La Grande Country Club opened a new golf course at its present site in Island City.
The La Grande Country Club was moved for at least two reasons, said Bill Rosholt, the country club's current PGA golf professional. First, the original course was expensive to maintain because of its hilly terrain. Second, membership was declining.
It is believed the site of the original La Grande Country Club closed around this time Â— closing the book on a chapter of Union County history.