History of The Lakewood Club
A full historic perspective entitled "A History of Lakewood Golf Club at the Grand Hotel, Point Clear, AL" written in 2001 by Doug Roberts is available at the Lakewood Clubhouse. Here are a few highlights to convey a quick snapshot of your Club's significance through history. It has truly been a special place to the lives of so many.
Many thanks to Mr. Roberts. Please see "About the Author" at the conclusion of this section.
Lakewood Golf Club ï¿½ The Granddaddy of Southern Courses
The year is 1948 and as you drive south from Fairhope, Alabama on scenic Highway 98 along the beaches of Mobile Bay's Eastern Shore, centuries of old oaks draped in Spanish moss guard the point of land known as Point Clear (Punta Clara). A large soaring water tower that presides over a rambling resort hotel simply called "The Grand"; suitably named, amassed with all the tradition and charm of the Old South.
Venture across the highway, meander along a curvy pine laden roadway feel the southern breeze stirring the Spanish moss and you'll begin to hear the whispers of golf's greatest legendsï¿½Sammy Snead, Bobby Locke, George Bayer, Tommy Bolt, George Fazio, Billy Casper and Patty Berg. Celebrity golfers, such as Paul "Bear" Bryant and Bob Hope, and President Gerald Ford have also played these courses. Historically rich and overflowing with hospitality, there is no doubt Lakewood is the granddaddy of Southern courses. Today Baldwin County boasts over a dozen golf courses, but Lakewood was the area's first professional quality course.
As the hotel was undergoing major renovations after World War II, Edward A. Roberts, CEO of Waterman Steamship Company and owner of the Grand Hotel, was busy planning the gala opening of a beautiful eighteen hole golf courseï¿½his dream and passion. Henry C. Slaton, an executive with Waterman Steamship Company, and J. Finley McRae, CEO of Merchants National Bank, were instrumental in the realization of this dream.
They commissioned renowned golf course architect, Perry Maxwell of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to begin laying out the course in 1944. Maxwell, probably best known for designing the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, site of the 2001 U.S. Open, positioned a trail extending through magnificent old oaks, magnolias, pines, and clusters of dogwoods. The two original nine-hole courses, Azalea and Dogwood, were completed in May of 1947 and the dazzling opening took place the following month. Language falls short in describing the panoramic view of green corridors of grass flowing like a huge green carpet all the way down to the water's edge of Point Clear Creek that runs through the property. A large island off of Azalea #1 was covered with vibrant azaleas that reflected their splendor on the water around them. The sight of this menagerie of hues dancing in the water was bewitching. Maxwell was a master at blending beauty with danger on almost every hole. Using his trademark design, Maxwell integrated an array of massive bunkers to safeguard the greens and challenge even the finest golfers.
When the golf course was initially opened, the clubhouse and pro-shop were not completed. Those facilities, each an architectural feat, were finished in December of 1948 and were designed and built by J. Platt Roberts, brother of E.A. Roberts. Mr. Platt Roberts designed and constructed the Grand Hotel, as well.
Andy Mortimer, from Carnoustie, Scotland, was the first golf professional employed at Lakewood. Andy was an excellent golf instructor and taught numerous members and hotel guests not only the basics, but the finer points of the game. Andy even taught a Hollywood actress, Jeanette McDonald, during a two-week stint as she vacationed at the Grand Hotel. Patty Berg, the first winner of the Women's U.S. Championship in 1946, came by frequently for instruction. Members who played at Lakewood during their childhood remember Andy as their first introduction to the game. Peggy Nicholson Murray and Carolyn Smith are two such pupils of Andy's and both are exceptional golfers today. There is an exhaustive list of players who benefited not only from Andy's golf instruction, but from his lessons in life as well. Andy is well remembered by those whose lives he touched. After retirement Andy and his wife Ann, returned to his homeland, Scotland.
Lakewood began with two nines, aptly named Azalea and Dogwood because of the profusion of each on the property. These original eighteen holes, now referred to as the Old Course, opened June 7, 1947. Mr. Roberts, Mr. Slaton and Mr. McRae were the first to tee off on number one of Azalea. This marked the beginning of a great and wonderful playground for the rich and famous guests of the Grand Hotel and the elite members of the Club.
In 1947 golf was a luxury that drew only those of considerable means who could afford to spend a leisurely day playing golf. In those days the course was walked with caddies, and it was customary to play the front nine, break for a leisurely lunch and finish up another nine holes. In 1947 green fees were only seven dollars and caddie fees were a dollar and fifty cents plus the customary tip. You could play nine holes for three dollars. Dress was a little different in those days, too. Male golfers wore slacks and golf shirts while the ladies wore skirts and blouses. This was prior to the fifties when wearing brightly colored shorts and slacks became popular.
During a ten year span, from 1949 through 1959, as golf's popularity rose, increased numbers of golfers from the hotel descended on the course. With increasing interest in golf came the need to add more space for accommodations to suit the growing demand of clientele. Ten cottages were built on the hotel grounds, five on the bay side and five on the lagoon side. Each cottage had two living rooms and four bedrooms. The Bayhouse was erected overlooking the fishing pier. With these additions to the hotel, the course began to accommodate larger tournaments and conventions.
Of the many tournaments, one of the most memorable was Life Magazine with 250 golfers, writers, and photographers. It was an impressive affair with a band playing on the first tee of Azalea as the golfers teed off. The tournament was quite festive with several bars on the course and a large buffet on the front terrace of the Club.
The Club facilities were available to the four hundred members and the guests of the Grand Hotel. Food was served on the front terrace, in the dining room, on a rear porch and in both the men's and women's locker rooms. The loft served as a banquet facility. Weary golfers could dine during the summer months on the front terrace under the umbrellas and the tall pine trees.
Nationally known for its elaborate events, the Lakewood Club was selected, during a four-year period, as the site for parties in conjunction with the Junior Miss Pageant. TV talk show personality Mike Douglas hosted the first party, while Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, Ed McMahon and Michael Landon succeeded as hosts in the years that followed.
Lakewood received further notoriety in 1959 when All-Star Golf was introduced. This made-for-television event featured Jimmy Demeret as commentator with several legendary golfers such as Bobby Locke, Tommy Bolt, Dow Fensterwald, George Fazio, Billy Casper and George Bayer participating. One of the most memorable matches was between Bolt and Fensterwald. As a large gallery looked on, Bolt took the early lead and held a two-stroke lead through the 12th hole. Then, the match turned with a two-stroke swing as Fensterwald evened the match with a birdie at the par 3 13th while Bolt had a bogey. Fensterwald went on to defeat Bolt by one and win the champion's check in the amount of $2,000. How things have changed!
During this time, building lots were made available and homes began emerging along Azalea #1. B. R. "Babe" Wilson was the first resident and, soon many more followed. Mr. Wilson also had the further distinction of being Lakewood's first president. Under his 22 years of stewardship and nurturing, Lakewood blossomed seemingly taking on Babe's energetic personality and drive to succeed.
In those years Lakewood served as a getaway for many. Some of the most memorable guests were from St. Louis, Missouri who for several years affectionately referred to Point Clear as a suburb of their city. During those days the G. M. & O Railway was tremendously supportive of the Club. Not only were their corporate executives active members, but the railroad also provided the means of transportation for guests from St. Louis to the Grand Hotel. This train ride ran through the night with the people of St. Louis never skimping on fun and frivolity. The Grand Hotel provided limousine service from the station and the golf course was their primary destination. To coin a familiar line, "There was never a dull moment!" when these fun lovers were in Point Clear. These people from St. Louis knew how to have a good time.
From 1963 until 1966, Southern Industries, a holding company subsidized by Waterman Steamship, with R. H. Radcliff as CEO, took over the management of Grand Hotel and Lakewood. They continued to manage the facilities until 1966 when entrepreneur, Malcolm McLean, owner of McLean trucking based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, purchased the Grand Hotel and Lakewood in July of that year. Later, J. K. McLean purchased the hotel and club from his brother. Mr. McLean made some noteworthy changes to upgrade the facilities and completely redecorated both the Grand Hotel and Lakewood. Wade Lott of Mobile and Daphne was employed to refurbish both interiors. During this time, condominiums were added on the Magnolia course along the fairway of the eighth hole.
In 1960, Lakewood was fortunate in obtaining the services of Ewing Pomeroy as golf professional, or, Director of Golf as it is now named. Ed Miles, veteran golf writer in Atlanta told the Mobile Press Register, "You're getting one of the best pros in Atlanta." Ewing who was coming from the Ansley Club in Atlanta commented that although he had it good in Atlanta, he just could not turn down the job in Point Clear because it was "so beautiful in every way." Ewing remained at Lakewood from 1960 until 1981. Both members and guest grew quite fond of Ewing and accepted him, as well as his two sons, Joe and Bobby, who worked as assistants. Today there is an annual golf tournament named in his honor. Bobby accepted another position; however, Joe remained at the Club from 1964 until 1983. Joe became Head Pro and took on many responsibilities, managing the pro-shop, as well as, being an active instructor.
Due to the growth in membership and number of hotel guests, the club began to consider options for expansion of the staff and facilities. In 1965, the nine-hole Magnolia course, designed by golf course architect Joseph L. Lee, was added to complement the Old Course. Lee carved Magnolia through heavy swamp and low land along Point Clear Creek, creating three challenging water holes at numbers 2, 4 and 9. Ewing liked to talk about the spectacular number 9: "It can be a nightmare for the golfer who hooks. It's a 381 yard, par-4 that doglegs left around the lakes, with a creek fronting the green. The best you have ever played might just be good enough to take par". Ewing could take par!
In September of 1979 disaster struck the Grand Hotel and Lakewood. Hurricane Frederick paid a visit and took with him over two thousand trees. The majority of trees were the pines, however some century old oaks were also lost. It was definitely shocking to view the golf course literally covered in debris. The hotel had to close operations, but amazingly, within two weeks, the crew on the golf course was able to push all the trees and debris off the fairways and onto the rough to allow the members to play. On number ten of Dogwood you can witness a souvenir left by Frederick in the form of a large oak. On the left side of the fairway the oak continues to grow to this day with its roots thrust upward as a result of the raging winds of Frederick that forced it from its natural position in the earth. It is told that while the crew was clearing the course after the storm, they tenderly covered the injured tree roots with soil and the mighty oak with the help of Mother Nature took over to provide golfers with a conversational piece of history.
The Marriott Corporation purchased the Point Clear facilities in September of 1982 and began renovations to the property adding an additional 200 guest-rooms. This expansion meant more golfers would be able to visit the resort and as a result, Joe Glasser, the new Director of Golf from Camelback Resort in Phoenix, Arizona, engaged the services of golf course architect Ron Garl. Joe redesigned and expanded the pro-shop area and worked with Mr. Garl to design nine more holes over the old polo field. This nine, completed in the fall of 1986, features expansive use of space and challenging holes with undulating greens and an island hole. With this enhancement, Lakewood's course was brought to 36 holes and designated as one of Marriott's Golf Resorts. Lakewood now stands as the only golf course of this quality along the Eastern Region.
Over the years, Lakewood boasted of some of the best golfers in the area. Gilbert Wesley dominated for years winning seven championships including a string of five consecutive from 1977 through 1981. Gilbert lost his life in a plane crash in 1987. Richard Beall won the tournament five times with consecutive wins in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Course records have been set by Ron Gring and Glen Hnatiuk with 64 on Azalea and a 63 on Dogwood, respectively.
Celebrities at Lakewood
The following celebrities have visited Lakewood, although not all were golfers.
Max Bauer, Jr.
Reverend Billy Graham
Paul "Bear" Bryant
Tommy Lee Jones
Bishop J. Fulton Sheen
Lee Roy Jones
Harry Connick Jr.
Giada De Laurentis
About the Author
James "Doug" Roberts
1922 ï¿½ 2003
Doug Roberts is a native Alabamian, who grew up on the outskirts of Birmingham and moved to Fairhope as a young man. Doug is a veteran of the invasion of Normandy and four other major campaigns during World War II. He attended the University of Alabama before accepting a position to be night auditor at the Grand Hotel in 1947. He later became Assistant Manager, then moved to Lakewood Golf Club as manager when the clubhouse was completed. Doug served as manager from 1948 until his retirement in 1985.
Doug Roberts passed away on December 12th, 2003 at the age of 81.
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