Green Valley Country Club celebrates 50 years in 2008

furman university golf historic

Alester G. Furman Jr. loved "his" university, his hometown and golf. In the 1950s, on nearly 500 rolling acres west of Travelers Rest, those interests came together.

As chairman of Furman University's Board of Trustees and a Greenville Realtor since 1914, he had presided over the purchase of about 1,000 acres of red clay land near Duncan Chapel Road for the university's new site (and nearby faculty housing) in 1950.

After breaking ground for the new campus three years later, he turned his attention to golf. He was devoted to the game, playing regularly with textile executives at gala gatherings at the Biltmore Forest Club in Asheville and at Augusta National, but he was not a member of the 30-year-old Greenville Country Club.

That club, located at the center of Realtor David Traxler's 1923 "Country Club" development off Augusta Road, was the bastion of Greenville society and its golfers. But it had just one 18-hole course, a long waiting list of potential members and crowded tee times. Wealthy Greenvillians eager to have unimpeded access to the links wanted a second private club.

When Furman explored along Roe Ford Road at the edge of the university's new campus, outfitted in high boots to wade the Reedy River, he tromped through a hilly and well-watered site that seemed perfect for a golf course development. Then, with construction magnate Charles Daniel and Francis Hipp, president of Liberty Life and head of the Governor's Economic Development Board, the three men developed a strategy for creating an exclusive private club with prestigious homes surrounding a first-class golf course. Greenville hadn't had -- or needed -- new elite housing since the late 1920s, but by the mid-1950s, with a soaring economy, the time seemed right. (The Parkins Mill area was developed at almost precisely the same time.)

Hipp and his brothers, Herman and Calhoun, agreed to lead the development. Daniel, who didn't play golf, was building his home "Whiteoaks" just down Roe Ford Road, but he too became a member of the first Board of Governors of the project they called "Holly Ridge."

In 1954, Furman took an option on 490 acres costing $180,000, and serious planning began. Two years later, the Hipps hired George Cobb, the designer of the Sapphire Valley course at Cashiers, to lay out the course and to manage the Holly Ridge Development Corp. Fifty charter members would share the cost of the land, and they and invited members would then buy lots that would fund course and clubhouse construction. Holly Ridge would be a community of like-minded friends, enough to ensure stability but not so many that tee times would be a challenge.

At least that was the initial idea. Within three years, however, Holly Ridge had to be reorganized because slow lot sales did not cover development costs of a "million dollar club." (Many charter members, among them Furman and Francis Hipp, did not move there.) Twenty-four of the 50 charter members met formally at the Poinsett Hotel in January 1958 to pass bylaws, elect directors, agree to limit membership to 250 and establish membership categories at the newly renamed Green Valley Country Club.

These categories included single "junior members" of both sexes under the age of 32, although those who later married had to have their spouses approved by the board. New members could join only by written invitation; anyone daring to apply would have an automatic 36-month waiting period. Exclusive indeed!

While the course and clubhouse combined would cost $985,000, course construction came first. It was well under way, and the first homes of Green Valley Estates -- those of Herman and Calhoun Hipp -- were already occupied when the charter members met that night. In July 1958, the board learned that the fairways were in good shape. They should have been. Building committee chairman Alester Furman had watched groundskeepers with an eagle eye, firing off memos to Cobb about the frequency of watering the greens and the need to keep roving teenagers away from them.

Opening day was set for Oct. 1.

Sept. 13, though, was "a fine day for golf," according to George Cobb, and the first eager players took to the links then. Green Valley was launched as Greenville's premier golf course. Greens fees were set at $5 a round; caddies would be paid $2.50 for one bag. Players were immediately delighted by what Greenville News sports writer Dan Foster called a "deceptively pretty course," soon to be rated among the nation's top 200 in difficulty.

But they couldn't have been as happy with the temporary "clubhouse," a concrete block structure featuring vending machines, one shower (for men), and a porch with a charcoal grill. That changed in 1960, when, after several plans and construction estimates were rejected, the building committee accepted a bid of $397,000 from Porter-Shackelford for the clubhouse and adjacent swimming pool. Six Associates of Asheville were the architects.

The permanent clubhouse opened in June, and while there were only 200 members at the time, it was sized for potential expansion with large, multi-purpose rooms. The pro shop, for example, was located in the men's locker room, but plans already showed its future site.

Although some charter members had longed for an all-male club like Augusta National, wiser (and more practical) heads had prevailed. The development would be family oriented.

Wives of members began a golf association in 1959, accounting for about 20 percent of rounds played that year. They had a locker room of their own, a quarter of the size of the men's, in the new facility. In 1961, in a remarkably progressive move, the board approved a Lady's Membership category, and in 1997, women were finally admitted to full membership.

Aside from slower sales than anticipated (the last lot in the development wasn't sold until 1990), the only major problem confronting the new club during its first years was flooding on the Reedy River. (There were relatively few complaints about the foaming dyes emitted from Renfrew Bleachery upstream from the course.) The board had to deal with constant problems until the river was channelized in 1965.

By that time, though, expansion was on their minds. They needed tennis courts and more locker space. Since several charter members had moved away, costs would increase unless more members were added. With membership approval, the board increased membership to 348 and expanded the clubhouse and its facilities.

Green Valley was becoming less exclusive, a process that has continued because of more competition and changing mores -- executives have less time to play; women are now working. Green Valley today is not exactly the club that Furman, Daniel and the Hipps envisioned 50 years ago. But as its members celebrate its heritage, they still enjoy challenging rounds of golf on a luxuriant course surrounded by gracious homes.

Judith Bainbridge