Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Miami Memories: Rockdale Country Club



Rumor has it that George L. Coleman originally built a four hole golf course in Miami so his  son George could learn how to play golf.   It is true. He built the original four holes in 1916 so his young son, George Jr and others could learn how to play the sport that he'd seen other people play in California and Florida. Jane Osborn shared that George Jr. and Willie, her husband, visited a lot.  George told Willie that his dad built the course so he could learn to play golf. George Coleman and his wife traveled a great deal and realized that golf was a new up and coming game, and it would behoove George Jr. to know how to play the game. 

The original four holes did not have greens, they instead had a target designated at which to shoot. 


Hole  #1 a par 4 faced the west with a target that lay in the SW corner of the lot. It did not have grass or sand greens merely a target for each hole.

 Hole #2, a short par 4 faced NE following the creeks and trees on the left side of the fairway with the target approximately where #3 green lay (on the south side of the creek) when the course became nine holes in 1936.

Hole  #3 faced east crossing the creek and continuing up the hill (like old #4).


Hole  #4 then reversed and headed back to the clubhouse building, again crossing the narrow creek.  


By this time, 1916, the Miami Royalty Mining Company made George L. Coleman, Alfred Coleman, James Fountain Robinson, and Charles Harvey very wealthy men.  The mining of lead and zinc would put Ottawa County on the map for its lead and zinc production during World War I. The Miami Royalty Mining Company consisted of George L and Alfred Coleman, who were the experts in drilling and whose original interest was in drilling for water, along with James Fountain Robinson and Charles Harvey, who had formed a partnership in securing land, leases, and the insurance business and were able to obtain capital to drill for the possible weath to be found below ground.

As the lead and zinc mines began feverishly producing  in 1907 from Commerce, Ok, through Treece and Galena, Kansas, the SE tip of Kansas, and through Joplin, Missouri to Carthage, George L. Coleman and James Fountain Robinson worked in various projects to put Miami on the map as a place to visit and live. In 1907 when Oklahoma became a state Miami became the county seat of Ottawa County (but not without a contested battle for the honor). Because of their influence and money, the Miami Baptist Hospital and the Board of Education became a reality. Miami grew in health, prosperity, education, and entertainment thanks to what is commonly called the "Big Four." 

For more information on the mining of lead and zinc from 1905-1940's please refer to The History of Ottawa County by Velma Nieberding. 

After several years of the community learning to play golf and take an interest in this new sport, Coleman hired Ed Dudley in 1920 to become the first professional golfer at Rockdale Country Club.  During this time Dudley and several members of the club designed and added five golf holes to the existing four.  Sand greens were added at this time.  One of the most colorful characters, Ky Laffoon,  learned to play golf at Rockdale Country Club under through the teachings of Ed Dudley. Ky Laffoon went on to win several professional golf tournaments. Over the next forty years the influence of Ed Dudley, George Coleman Jr., and Ky Laffoon impacted amateur and professional golfers throughout the United States.  Dudley went on to become a well-known and admired PGA golf pro. Two of his most admired students were President Dwight Eisenhower and Babe Didrikson Zaharias. For more information on Babe click on this link. Biographical sketch of The Babe

In 1923 Ed Dudley left Rockdale to become the pro at Oak Hill Country Club in Joplin (later known as Twin Hills). Oak Hill along with Schifferdecker club were built with money from the lead and zinc mines in this area. More information on Ed Dudley

Wooden shafted clubs


From 1923-24 John Gavin became the golf professional. George L. Coleman was elected President of the Rockdale CC by the seven directors: Ed Millner, Ross R. Bayless, James A. Robinson (son of James Fountain Robinson), A.C. Wallace, L.A. Thompson, and R.W. Skinner. 

There are so many interesting stories about early golf in the new state of Oklahoma, but this fact I found most interesting, considering the cost of golf nearly one hundred years later. In 1924 Rockdale Country Club became a member of the Oklahoma State Golf Association giving local members of the club the right to play, without paying a green fee, other courses in the state that were members of the state association. 

The Tri-State Golf association was already active in men and women's golf in the early 1920's. The first tournament of the Tri-State association in which Rockdale players entered was held in Pittsburg, Ks on May 4, 1924. The Tri-State championship tournament was held at Rockdale Country Club September 23--27, 1924 on the nine hole course. In order to lure large numbers of men and women golfers George Coleman announced that there would be an elaborate reception and grand prizes for the players. 

More stories to follow month on the development of the Miami Country Club.

Resources:
Thanks to Barbara Becker, genealogy librarian,  Miami Public Library
Jane Osborn
John Robinson Jr.
Dobson Museum, Jordan Boyd
Wally Wallace sports writer Tulsa World 1958.
John Finley
Velma Nieberding's The History of Ottawa County
The News Archives

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