The History of the Oak Hill Golf Club

The History of the Oak Hill Golf Club

8th-fall-420

(Documented by Don Newcomb and edited by Bob Dettra)

How the Idea Was Born

The idea to build a golf course in the Ridge was born out of golf league activities of the Riegel Paper Corporation in the early 1950s. During those years, the Riegel Ridge Community Foundation, which was owned and operated by the Riegel Paper Corporation, was the focal point for many community activities, especially sporting events. Golf was one of these sports in as much as the Foundation organized and ran Tuesday and Thursday afternoon golf leagues. These leagues were comprised of some 12 teams with about 80 players who were either employees of Riegel Paper Corp. or who lived in the surrounding area. Don Hawkins, Director of the Riegel Community Foundation, Bill Case, Assistant Director and Jim Griffith, Assistant Personnel Director of Riegle Paper Corporation were all directly involved in running the sporting events conducted by the Foundation and were instrumental in developing enthusiasm for golf through the these leagues. As a result of this enthusiasm and other golfing events such as the George Borden Memorial Tournament, the idea of possibly having a golf course built in the Ridge was born.

Several exploratory meetings were held during the early 1950s between the Riegel Community Foundation directors and officials of the Riegel Paper Corp., including John Riegel, President. The initial idea of having Riegel Paper Corp. build a golf course for its employees on property in the Ridge was turned down mainly due to legal problems with government agencies. Mr. Riegel, however, offered the thought that enough property could be made available for a golf course if the employees and members of the community could demonstrate a willingness to generate the funds necessary for the construction and operation of at least a nine-hole golf course. He also expressed the hope that if such a course was constructed in the Ridge area that playing on it would be made available to all the workers at the paper mill as well as the General Manager and Supervisors.

With this information in hand, the Riegel Community Foundation, on Feb. 18, 1957, distributed a "Golf Questionnaire" to the employees of the Riegel Paper Corp. in order to obtain information regarding the general level of interest in golf, and whether it would be likely that a golf course could be successfully run. As a result of this questionnaire, the first Riegel Ridge Golf Course Planning Committee was formed. The committee reported to the Riegel Community Foundation and was assigned the task of investigating ways and means of making the building of a golf course a reality. The committee was comprised of t he following members: Roy Anderson, Art Brand, "Shorty" Friling, Jim Griffith, Virginia Harder, Ernie Harper, Claire Hatch, Carleton Kelley, Josh Krechel, Jack Male, Bill Smith, Ezra Wean, Joe Kinney, Herb Stem, Bill Stem, Bill Case, Jim Galloway and John Youpa. (The membership today still includes some of these original planners.)

The finance section of the planing committee presented several proposals aimed at raising funds for the construction of the golf course. The proposals all incorporated the idea of selling shares or subscriptions to both Riegel Paper Corp. employees and others in the community; generating funds which would be used to build the golf course while also building a membership base. The committee presented a general plan outlining the construction of 18 holes of golf on the Brush-Rounsaville farm tracts, which were owned by the Riegel Paper Corp. The method of financing the project would be to sell 200 certificates at $250 each, raising $50,000. This plan was taken to the Riegel Community Foundation for consideration.

During this same period of time, others on the planning committee had developed detailed information about the construction, operation and maintenance of a golf course. Bill Stem, who had taken the lead concerning the legal aspects of the club, had prepared a proposed Certificate of Incorporation and a set of proposed By-Laws. Joe Kinney and Art Brand had organized a team and a plan for conducting a campaign to raise the necessary funds for construction of at least 9 holes of golf. Ezra Wean, along with Don Newcomb and Paul Rickenbach, had contacted and interviewed 5 golf course architects and had obtained bids for the plans and construction of 9 holes of golf. The golf course architects contacted and interviewed were: Harold Purdy, Horace W. Smith, William F. Gordon, Russel Roberts, Rudy Secton and Edmund Ault. (Although Ed was not selected to design the original course, his son Brian would later be hired by the club to make some improvements to the existing layout.)

All of the architects were unanimous in the opinion that the property (Brush-Rounsaville farm tracts) was admirably suited for a golf course and that at least 9 holes could be constructed for approximately $65,000. At this time Virginia Harder and the Women's Committee began to socialize events to further build enthusiasm for the project, and the Riegel Paper Corp. was asked to deed, lease or somehow make available on a permanent basis, the land necessary to construct the course. The company was also asked at this point to loan the Riegel Community Foundation $60,000 for the initial construction, with the understanding that this loan would be repaid in 10 years. From initial visits to other existing golf courses in the area (Copper Hill, Green Pond and Harkers Hollow), it was determined that operating expenses would be approximately $40,000 per year. It was thought that the golf course would be run by the Riegel Community Foundation with a special board overseeing the operations.

The Club Begins to Materialize

In late 1962 and early 1963 top management officials of the Riegel Paper Corp. showed renewed interest in the golf course project. After considerable discussions and communications between the Golf Planning Committee and these officials, Mr. G. Lamont Bidwell, Jr. informed the Golf Planning Committee that the following decisions had been made by the Riegel Paper Corporation with regards to the golf course:

  • Riegel Paper Corporation would lease enough land for the construction of 18 holes of golf on the Brush-Rounsaville farms at a nominal fee.
  • Riegel Paper Corporation would donate $15,000 anonymously for the golf course project.
  • The Riegel Community Foundation could not be the legal administrator of the golf course and it was suggested that a separate company be formed.
  • Riegel Paper Corporation's commitments were contingent on the ability of the Golf Planning Committee to raise the rest of the necessary funds for a golf course consisting of a minimum of 9 holes.

With this information in hand, the Golf Planning Committee began a series of planning meetings in January of 1963 and formed several committees to obtain detailed information for the following areas:

Legal Issues - Bill Stem
Construction and Operating Costs - Don Hawkins
Engineering and Architects - Ezra Wean
Fund Raising - Joe Kinney
Promotions and Public Relations - Art Brand


The proposed By-Laws indicated that the course would be known as the Ridge Golf Club. The club would be formed as a non-profit corporation with a fifteen member Board of Trustees who would serve three-year terms. In addition, the current members of the Golf Committee would be the initial Board of Trustees. On Feb. 3, 1963 the Golf Club Committee passed a resolution to approve the proposed By-Laws and the proposed Certificate of Incorporation. On Feb. 10, 1963 the Golf Committee adopted the name of "Oak Hill Golf Club" as the official name for the course.

The official drive to sell stock of the Oak Hill Golf Club was preceded by a news release which appeared in the Easton Express and the Delaware Valley News on Feb. 15, 1963 revealing plans for a private golf course to be built in Holland Township.

The Club is Incorporated

The Certificate of Incorporation of the Oak Hill Golf Club was executed on Feb. 19, 1963 with all members of the Planning Committee signing the document.

The sale of stock in the Oak Hill Golf Club officially got underway on Feb. 24, 1963 with the Sales Committee being headed by Co-Chairmen Joe Kinney and Bill Case. On March 3rd it was announced that 125 shares of stock had been sold at $250 each during the first two-week campaign.

At the first meeting of the Board of Trustees, held on March 5, 1963, the following officers were unanimously elected to serve until the first annual meeting of the stockholders in Jan. 1965: President - Josh Krechel, Vice President - Don Newcomb, Secretary - William Case, and Treasurer - Don Hawkins. The Board unanimously adopted the By-Laws at this same meeting. The next meeting of the Board was on March 12th, where it was announced that 247 shares of stock had been sold. It was decided that the sale of stock would be discontinued on March 17th if the total number of golfing members for the 1964 season had reached 200. If the number of golfers had not reached 200 by that date the sale of stock to golfing members only would continue until such time that the 200 figure had been reached. After March 17th there would be no sale of stock to anyone who did not indicate that they would be a playing member for the 1964 season. Mrs. Harder was also asked to make plans for a "Victory Dance" and to come up with suggestions for a club insignia.

By March 17th the number of stockholders had reached 315, which effectively ended the stock sale drive. The last of the golf architects was interviewed at this time and plans were made for the Board of Trustees to approve a selected architect. On March 26th Ezra Wean, Chairman of the Architect Committee, summarized the findings of the committee and recommended that Mr. William F. Gordon and Son be retained as architect to design and construct the 9 hole course. The Board of Trustees unanimously approved this recommendation.

At the April 12th meeting of the Board of Trustees, the greens committee was to meet with Mr. Gordon to discuss the contract and walk the site. The greens committee would also initiate advertising for a green's superintendent. The house committee had surveyed the buildings on the site and recommended that the farmhouse be used as a temporary clubhouse.

Ground is Broken

On April 19, 1963 the contract was signed with William F. Gordon Company for the design and construction of a 9-hole golf course to be built on the former Brush-Rounsaville farm. The cost of the project was to be $66,550. The cost included the architectural fees for a layout of 18 holes, a complete tee and green watering system, 9 golf holes with tees, greens, and bunkers. It also included a landscape plan, a practice area, a pond to impound 500,000 gallons of water, fairways cleared of stone to a size of 2", and rough cleared of stone to a size of 3". The greens, tees, fairways and roughs were to be limed, fertilized and seeded in the fall of 1963.

The William F. Gordon Company was one of the prominent golf architectural companies of the time in the eastern part of the US. Their pride and joy is the famed Saucon Valley Course in Hellertown, PA, site of the US Senior Open in 2000.

Ground breaking ceremonies took place on May 22, 1963 with G. Lamont Bidwell, Vice President of Riegel Paper Corporation turning over the first shovel of dirt.

Work on the course began with the 500,000 gallon storage pond, the rough grading of Number 5 green and Number 6 tee. The last areas to be worked on were Number 1 green, Number 2 tee, Number 4 tee and Number 6 green, because those areas had been planted with wheat and the crop had to be harvested first.

At the June 5, 1963 Board meeting the house committee reported on a study of the residence located on the property and came up with 3 possible courses of action: rent the property, give the greens superintendent free use of the property, or use only the old kitchen as a small pro-shop with either Mr. Bush or the greens superintendent living in the remainder of the house.

At the next Board meeting on June 19, 1963 the greens committee reported that construction was 2 weeks ahead of schedule, but the wheat field was becoming a problem. Mr. Gordon agreed to work out a satisfactory arrangement with Mr. Bush if he felt it was necessary to enter the wheat field. The house committee also agreed to get bids for the construction of a small concrete or cinder block building to be used as a combination office, pro-shop. It was also reported that an agreement had been reached with the Riegel Paper Corporation for the lease of the land. The lease called for a term of 20 years at an annual rate of $50.00 per year. The lease agreement was signed by the Board and the first year's lease payment was made.

Dave McGhee is Hired

During the months of June and July of 1963 the greens committee contacted several prospects for the job of greens superintendent. After much correspondence and several interviews the committee recommended that David McGhee of Greenville, PA be hired for the job. Dave was 21 years old, married and a graduate of the Turfgrass Management Program at Penn State University. In addition to his formal education, Dave had gained practical experience while working at the Mercer Golf Course in Mercer, PA. He had experience in construction of greens, tees and fairways, as well as maintenance of these areas. At the time he was hired he was serving as greens superintendent at the Mercer Golf course.

The 'Rock Pickers' Go to Work

One of the stipulations of the contract with the William F. Gordon Company was that they would remove all stones from the rough down to a size of 3" and from the fairways down to 2". It was felt that after this was accomplished there would still be many stones left in some areas that would certainly damage golf clubs when play started the next spring. Therefore, club members were asked to volunteer to join rock-picking parties being organized to help remove as many stones as possible. These rock-picking parties were very successful and helped measurably in getting the playing areas in a satisfactory condition. The term "rock picker" has stayed with the club through the years and founding members are still affectionately referred to as "rock pickers".

By November 5, 1963 it was reported that the William F. Gordon Company had completed their work and that Dave McGhee and his crew were handling the necessary maintenance. The year 1963 came to an end with a golf course built, the Treasurer reporting over $14,000 in the bank, and the 1964 operating budget set at $32,663. The drilling of a well was deferred until April 1964 and the House Committee continued to study whether to convert the barn into a clubhouse. The Pro-selection committee began to interview and screen candidates for the position of Head Golf Professional.

During the Jan. 7, 1964 Board meeting the House Committee presented 3 options for constructing a clubhouse: renovating the farmhouse, renovating the barn, and new construction. Based on recommendations from the House Committee it was agreed to renovate the farmhouse. These plans called for a social room, a meeting room, a pro-shop, and two rest rooms on the first floor. The second floor would contain two bedrooms and a bath. The social room was equipped with vending machines for the dispensing of soda, pastry, sandwiches, coffee, ice cream, milk and cigarettes.

Golf Professional is Hired

At the Feb. 4, 1964 Board meeting the Pro-selection committee reported that it had interviewed candidates for the position of Head Golf Professional and recommended hiring John Quigley as Oak Hill's first Head Golf Professional. The Board approved this recommendation.

The First Tee Shot

On May 5, 1964 the Green's Committee announced that the course would be playable on Opening Day May 30th. They also reported that 250 evergreen trees had been planted on the course and that the stone picking committee was still actively picking up as many stones as possible.

Thus, with the first ceremonial ball being hit off Number 1 tee by Monty Bidwell, golfing at Oak Hill Golf Club got underway on May 30, 1964.

Financing the Second Nine Holes and a Clubhouse

In September of 1964 Joe Kinney and Bill Case were appointed as a committee to look into what it would take to construct a second nine holes of golf and come up with a recommendation of how it could be accomplished.   In the meantime, the Board gave the Green Committee authorization to have a well drilled in the area down stream of # 5 hole.

 

In January of 1965 the Board of Trustees worked to consolidate what had been done during construction of the first nine holes of the golf course, setting up the organizations to operate the club, and providing facilities for the Club House, Pro Shop, cart storage and maintenance buildings.   Renovation of the farmhouse was selected as the way to develop the first Club House and Pro Shop. Golf carts were to be stored in the small buildings near the barn and the lower part of the barn was to be used as the Maintenance Building.

 

In early February 1965 it was decided to move the Pro Shop from the farm house to the east end of the barn in the old milk shed. The old pro shop was then converted into a bar room, with the work done by the Greens crew at minimal cost.

 

On July 6, 1965 Joe Kinney reported that a loan might be available from the FHA at an interest rate of 5% over a term of 40 years. The Board gave its approval to submit a preliminary application which would not be binding until a contract was signed.   Because the Club did not own the property on which the course was constructed the only collateral the Club had to obtain a loan was the equipment that had been purchased. Therefore, the Club requested that Riegel Paper grant the Club permission to use the equipment for security and also to extend the lease agreement so that a $150,000 loan could be obtained from the FHA. The Board of Directors of Riegel Paper Corporation gave their approval and at a special meeting of the Oak Hill stockholders held on December 12, 1965 the stock holders empowered the Board of Trustees to borrow a sum not to exceed $150,000 from the FHA for the purpose of constructing a second nine holes of golf and build a new Club House.

 

During December 1965 the Green Committee reported receiving two bids for the design and construction of a second nine holes; $77,500 from George Fazio and $80,000 from William F. Gordon & Son.   President Krechel reported to the members at the Annual Meeting that the FHA had approved the Club's loan application at the Local and the State Level but that it was now somewhere in the Washington DC office of the FHA.   It was very uncertain as to how much more time might lapse before hearing from them.

 

When the delay in the FHA loan became an extended and uncertain thing, the Board of Trustees began to seek other methods of financing the expansion. All plans ran into the same blank wall – Oak Hill Golf Club did not own the real estate to use as collateral for a loan.

 

At the regular Board Meeting held on March 8, 1966 Bill Stem, the club Attorney, reported that the Club had heard from the FHA and that they had requested quite a few changes that had to be made to the existing by-laws before the loan application could be approved.   The Board unanimously passed a resolution to hold a special stockholder's meeting and on March 27, 1966 the stockholders approved the necessary changes to the by-laws.

Contract is Awarded

Also on March 8, 1966, at the regular monthly meeting of the Board, Greens Committee Chairman Paul Rickenback reported that the Greens Committee recommended that the contract for the construction of the second nine holes be granted to William F. Gordon and Son, feeling that in the long run it would be in the best interest of the Club to have all 18 holes designed and built by the same contractor.   The Board unanimously passed this recommendation and hoped that work would start on the second nine as soon as the funding was secured and weather permitted.

 

On June 7, 1966 Dave McGhee resigned to accept the Head Greens Keeper position at a suburban Philadelphia golf course. Dave Curren replaced him.

Money in the Bank, Construction Starts

Early in June 1966, Bill Stem, club Attorney, reported on the closing of the FHA loan, pointing out that the $150,000 was deposited in a checking account in the Milford Bank and then transferred to a saving account designated as the Oak Hill Golf Club and Farmers Home Administration Construction account.   With the FHA loan money in hand the Board turned their full attention on proceeding with the construction of the second nine and building a new club house. To this end the Board approved the site for the new club house as approximately 50 feet from the east end of the old barn.

Three bids for the construction of the new clubhouse had been received; Blessing & Erwin – approximately $32,500, Julius Nagy – approximately $34,500, and a Phillipsburg contractor – approximately $47,000.   Blessing & Erwin were awarded the contract and work was started during the week of July 11 th .

The full 18-hole course had been measured and the following yardages were established:

 

Blue Tees           6707 yards

White Tees         6424 yards

Red Tees             6150 yards

Ladies Tees         5894 yards

 

During the period of time between March and May many stone picking parties and tree plantings were scheduled prior to the official opening of the second nine and the opening of the new clubhouse.   The official openings took place on May 27, 1967 with appropriate ceremonies including a band, introductions, an invocation and remarks by then President Al Moss.

 

By July of 1967 the condition of the golf course in general and particularly # 6 and # 7 greens had degraded so badly that the current Greens Superintendent was asked to resign and an Acting Superintendent was established until such time as a new Greens Superintendent could be hired.   Dave McGhee was hired as a consultant during this period and before long he agreed to return to Oak Hill for a second stay as Greens Superintendent.

 

The next several years passed along rather routinely with the Board concentrating on running the club on a sound financial base and taking care of the usual minor problems that developed.   Discussions were held regarding the possibility of obtaining a new maintenance building and expanding the clubhouse.   After getting the proper approval from Riegel Paper in 1970, a new maintenance building was built on the current site behind #3 tee.

The Course is Almost Lost

In mid March of 1972 the Club Board and members heard that the paper mills of Riegel Paper Corp. had been sold to the Federal Paper Board Co. At that point, nobody knew what effect that would have on the Lease agreement the Club had with the Management of Riegel Paper.   Discussions were held between Club Officers and Management Personnel of Federal Paper Board and it was soon discovered that Federal Paper Board had no intention of honoring the lease agreement of the land on which the course had been constructed.   As a mater of fact, the Club Officers were shown architectural drawings showing roadways, condominiums and town houses on the property where the course was located.

 

This was devastating news because it meant that all of the time, effort and expense put forth by so many people to accomplish what had been achieved might have been in vain. The mood of the Board was to expend every effort possible to see what could be done to save the course.   During discussions with Federal Paper Board personnel it was indicated that the property could possibly be sold to the Club. This developed into an offer by Federal Paper Board to sell the approximately 240 acres of land on which the course was located at a cost of $237,500.   The Board of Trustees immediately instructed the Planning Committee to develop plans to raise the $237,500 necessary to purchase the land and selected Bill Stem to represent the Club during negotiations with the Federal Paper Board. The Planning Committee proposed that the money needed could be raised by selling an additional 1000 shares of stock at $250 per share.

Buying the Land

In April of 1972 Club Attorney Bill Stem reported that a Federal Paper Board representative suggested that a letter of intent be signed by May 30, 1972 and a closing date of July 31, 1972 be established for the sale of the land.   As a result of all of the activities related above, the Board of Trustees, on April 10, 1972 and the stockholders, on May 21, 1972 approved resolutions, which would allow the purchase of the land to take place.

 

In case it would be impossible to raise the full $237,500 solely by the sale of additional shares of stock, it was decided by the Board to contact the FHA to find out if an additional loan could be obtained from them.   A reply from the FHA in September of 1972 indicated that the FHA could possibly amend the contract provided necessary forms were filed.

 

On October 9, 1972 the Board authorized the Officers of the Club to sign a contract with Federal Paper Board for the purchase of the land upon the final approval of Attorney Bill Stem.   The formal signing of the contract to purchase the land took place in November 1972 with a proposed closing date of April 1, 1973.   On March 12, 1973 it was reported that the FHA had returned the club's request for amendment of the FHA loan and requested additional information, which was furnished immediately. However, since the information had to be sent to Washington before the FHA could approve amendment of the loan, and the closing date with Federal Paper Board was April 1, 1973, the Board felt that provision should be made for a temporary loan that would enable the club to meet its obligation of $137,500 at the closing.   At that time the club already had a special capital fund savings account of $70,588, so the Board empowered the secretary to borrow $70,000 on a temporary basis from a local bank to make up the difference.   Utilizing both the club's capital account and the temporary loan, Oak Hill closed on the land purchase from Federal Paper and the club finally owned the land upon which the course was built.

 

In the meantime, the Board also decided it was time for the old farm barn to be taken down. Bids for this project ranged from $4000 to $10,500 but the Board found someone who would take down the barn and salvage the good timber all for $400.   The barn was down by the end of November 1973 and a decision was made to erect our current cart storage building on the same location.

 

By mid April 1974 negotiations with the FHA had reach a point that the new loan was almost completed so the Board froze any further sale of the Club stock.   Finally on June 13, 1974 the $70,000 loan with the FHA was signed and this money was used to pay off the short-term local bank loan used for the land purchase from Federal Paper.

Let's Just Play Some Golf

After all the construction and financing and projects of the mid to late 1960s the club finally settled into a period of normal operations.   Thus, the fully operational 18-hole Oak Hill Golf Course, complete with Clubhouse, Pro Shop and Cart Storage buildings was created and nourished into the great golf facility that its members have since enjoyed for almost 40 years.