The Origins of the Lexington Golf Club
Old account ledgers might seem a dry subject to most people, but to a class at Washington and Lee University they offered a rare opportunity to shine new light on local history.
Researching ledgers and records in Special Collections at W&L’s James G. Leyburn Library, as well as other primary source materials, the students selected various local historical topics to investigate, including the origins of Lexington’s golf club.
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When its founding members formed the Lexington Golf Club in 1902, golf was not yet a popular sport, and early financial statements show that the club carried out very simple operations, had a single clubhouse and offered few amenities. Yet the club, one of the oldest in Virginia, survived through the years.
In researching the club’s history, Matthew Smith, a junior accounting and business administration major from Little Rock, Ark., researched early maps, ledgers and member lists in W&L’s Special Collections. He also researched title deeds stored in the Rockbridge County Court House, which helped him find names associated with the land and maps with outlines of lots and valuations. A significant portion of the biographical information in the Glasgow Family Papers, a series of bank accounts and personal letters from the Glasgow family, also aided Smith’s research.
Smith found that the club endured a modest start led by an influential group of 14 founding members, who created its charter. Frank T. Glasgow, an attorney from a prominent Rockbridge family, was a founding member, as was Harrington Waddell, for whom Waddell Elementary School is named. Another recognizable founding member was W. S. Hopkins, acting president of the Lexington Mutual Phone Company — Hopkins Green on Nelson Street bears his family name.
A local real estate boom and bust in the 1880s resulted in a considerable amount of undeveloped land in the area. So in April 1903, the club purchased approximately 22 different lots just outside of Lexington for the location of their new club house and links.
Smith noted in his paper that the golf club ledgers, while informative, showed “a largely unorganized and simple form of accounting,” including pasture accounts, house accounts, membership fee collections and financial statements from 1910 and 1911.
The pasture accounts refer to the golf club supplementing its revenues when the course was not in operation by renting the grounds to local farmers for grazing cattle.
The 1910 financial statement shows that the club relied heavily on that revenue in the early years. Income receipts show $161.48 from pasture rent, compared to $265 from regular members ($369 from all golfers, including the non-member sundry players). Smith explains in his paper that the loss of that monthly income may have been an additional cause for increased membership fees in 1915, citing the book by John Seymour Letcher, “Only Yesterday in Lexington,” published in 1974.
The pasture accounts end after 1914, around the time the golf course was redesigned and expanded.
Smith also cites Letcher’s book in noting that, soon after the expansion, Matthew Paxton, a Lexington native and club member, won the 1915 Virginia State Championship at the Roanoke Country Club, bringing the small Lexington club statewide fame.
In 1930 the club acquired a 98-acre lot known as Tribrook Farms and in 1935 opened a 9-hole golf course on the site. Then in 1969, the club purchased an additional 66 acres and designed the 18-hole golf course still in use today.
To give perspective to the challenges of a small-town golf club, Smith also compared financial statements from Lexington’s golf club to statements from the much larger Country Club of Virginia, obtained from the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. For example, member dues in 1910for the Richmond club totaled $8,855.13 (excluding initiation fees) compared to $265 for the Lexington club.