As golfers hit golf balls from the driving range at Oak Hills Golf Course with others watching from carts, a black and gold plaque peers out at the golf course. The plaque pays tribute to a well-known community philanthropist and the creation of Hough Park, Jefferson City's first public park.
The first 50 acres of Hough Park will turn 100 years old Aug. 30. Throughout the last century, the park, which has more than 180 acres, has grown to more than three times its original size and has seen different improvements.
Development of Hough Park
On Aug. 30, 1917, Judge Arthur Hough presented 50 acres to the City Council, requesting the land be used for the city's first public park. The council unanimously voted to accept Hough's donation and passed City Ordinance 1747.
According to the ordinance, the city sought a public park for several years, stating the "necessity of a public park becomes greater each year." However, there was not a suitable location in or within 1 mile of the city limits for a park.
At the time of the donation, the 50 acres — the northern part of the outlot 100 — was located a quarter-mile outside city limits, according to the ordinance.
"I feel grateful indeed for the magnificent donation you have made to the city," then-Jefferson City Mayor Frank Chapman said during the council meeting, according to an Aug. 31, 1917, article in the Daily Capital News. "I do not know of anything that would be more appreciated than this beautiful piece of ground."
In the deed of conveyance, Hough laid out several terms and conditions. He wanted the land to be solely for park and recreational purposes and for the park to bear his name. He also wanted a fence constructed around the park and for a road to connect the property to Moreau Drive, which was about a half-mile away. He requested a bronze tablet containing his name and the date of the donation be placed on the property. He also requested alcoholic beverages not be allowed on the property.
Before the property was donated to Jefferson City, the city's Country Club considered purchasing it. The club sat on 157 acres, purchased in February 1910, and contained a nine-hole golf course constructed in 1912, according to the Aug. 31, 1917, article. To use the club's golf course, people had to pay fees to be a member of the Country Club.
Todd Spalding, director of the city's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, said for someone to give that much land was uncommon.
"That first 50 acres was given by a person who was very highly thought of in the community and who was very forward-thinking," he said. "People didn't just give land away, especially for a park, so I think that was a pretty impressive thing to do, especially back then."
After the donation, the city went to work developing the area into a public park. The Municipal Athletic Association, organized in 1918, raised funds to turn the area into a sand green golf course. Sand green is a golf course constructed of sand, and golfers used a rake to create a clear path between the holes and their golf balls.
The golf course became Jefferson City's first public golf course and still remains the only municipal golf course in the city, former Jefferson City Mayor John Landwehr said. Other present-day golf courses are either privately owned or clubs.
The opening of the municipal golf course, also known as the municipal links before it was named the Hough Park Golf Course, was June 1, 1918, and it contained nine holes, according to a June 2, 1918, article in the Democrat-Tribune, now known as the Jefferson City News Tribune. The course hosted a golf tournament on opening day; all proceeds went to the American Red Cross War Fund. The fund was used to help soldiers during World War I.
Spalding said he and some members of the department thought about re-creating the Red Cross tournament for its 100-year anniversary next year. In 1918, Missouri Gov. Frederick Gardner was the first person to drive the ball at the Red Cross Tournament, according to a June article in the Democrat-Tribune. Spalding said he thought it would be neat if Gov. Eric Greitens hit the first ball at the 100-year anniversary tournament.
Over the next 20 years, the city would continue to develop the park, such as building a $500 shelter and smoothing out the golf course, St. Louis resident Dan Newman said. Newman, who has been researching Hough Park's history for several years, played golf at Hough Park and was a grounds crew member.
The city also constructed a bronze plaque in honor of Hough, which currently is mounted at the park's clubhouse. Park clubs, such as the Hough Park Golf Club and a tennis club, were created in the 1930s. Two tennis courts were located where the current maintenance parking lot is, Newman said.
A little more than 20 years after the first 50 acres were donated, Hough Park almost doubled in size. In October 1939, Mitchell Hall, president of the Hough Park Golf Club, sold 47.5 acres to the city for the purpose of expanding the municipal links into an 18-hole golf course, according to an Oct. 3, 1939, article in the Jefferson City Post-Tribune. The land was located south of Hough's donated land and was known as the Arthur Cox tract.
Nina Summerville originally owned the 47.5 acres and was married to, and later divorced, Arthur Cox, Newman said. After selling the land to Mitchell Hall, Summerville requested a plaque honoring Cox be placed on the property. When Hall sold the land to the city, he stated in the deed of conveyance the city honor Summerville's request.
A plaque honoring Cox is located on a rock building behind the 10th green today.
The park grew again in the mid-1960s when John Iven sold 51.7 acres to Jefferson City, and the city later built a 12-acre lake on this land, Newman recalled. Three new holes were also constructed on this property.
Over several decades, Hough Park grew in popularity, attracting several golfers and clubs. The Jefferson City High School and Lincoln University golf teams practiced at Hough Park and held meets there. The park even hosted the Missouri sand green championship in 1955, according to a May 13, 1955, article in the Post-Tribune.
After 48 years of being a sand green golf course, the park was changed to grass greens in 1965, Newman said. Since the golf course contained grass greens, golfers no longer needed a rake to clear a smooth path from their balls to the holes.
"Before, you would putt and there would be like a big squeegee, and you would go between your ball and your hole and create a flat surface of sand. And then you would hit on the sand, and that's how you had something that would feel like a grass green," said John Landwehr, a long-time golfer at the park.
Newman said he has several memories of Hough Park, which include both golfing and playing in the clubhouse, which was constructed by the Jefferson City Lions Club in 1968, according to a plaque on the front of the clubhouse.
"The clubhouse had shuffleboard and ping pong tables, and in the early 1970s, youth could play golf all day, year-round for $20," Newman said. "It was a great opportunity to play a lot of golf for a small fee. Several Hough Park youth received golf scholarships to college, and some of my Hough Park golfing friends from that time turned pro."
In 1995, the city purchased 29.06 acres west of the park from the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission, Newman said, and two holes were added sometime later. Over the years, there have also been smaller, miscellaneous parcels purchases by the city in various areas around the park.
Even though the park hosted several events and attracted golfers from around the state, the park started to go downhill after the 1960s, which Landwehr attributed partially to the creation of Meadow Lake Acres Country Club in New Bloomfield in 1961.
In the early years of the park, Jefferson City made an agreement with the Hough Park Golf Club to maintain and operate the Arthur Cox tract. However, in December 1959, the Hough Park Golf Club announced it was creating the Meadow Lake club, which would sit on 141 acres in New Bloomfield, about 10 miles north of Jefferson City, and include an 18-hole grass greens golf course, lake, swimming pool and clubhouse, according to a Dec. 13, 1959, Post-Tribune.
The club later gave the Arthur Cox tract back to the city to maintain and operate.
Landwehr said some golfers couldn't afford to be members at the Jefferson City Country Club, so they gravitated toward the Meadow Lake country club.
"During that era, the golf course may have fallen into some disrepair because they weren't getting as many rounds as there used to be," Landwehr said. "They weren't as well utilized, so less revenue, which led to somewhat of a downward spiral in the '60s and '70s."
Landwehr said he thought maintaining the golf course was most likely the biggest problem, especially since maintaining a golf course is difficult. He said between the excessive heat, golf carts driving over the grass and golf clubs making holes in the land, it can be hard to constantly maintain the course.
He also said, with the park being city-owned, Jefferson City officials had to prioritize spending, and depending on what items needed funding, the golf course might have not received as much funding as past years.
Until about 15 years ago, Hough Park had earned the nickname "Rough Park" because of its rocky, sloped terrain. When Bill Lockwood became the Parks Department's director in 1982, he said one of the biggest complaints about the city's park system was the condition of the golf course.
Over the next 30 years, the Parks Department worked to repair and modernize the golf course, including hiring staff members with expertise in turf management.
The renovations included rebuilding almost all the greens, relocating the holes, leveling the fairways, fixing drainage issues and remodeling the clubhouse. The department also added different features, such as sand traps, to make the course more interesting and enjoyable.
Lockwood, who stepped down as the Parks director in early 2016, said the process was gradual because the department had to make improvements as the funds became available.
"There's not much left there that you would have found 30 years ago," he said. "We've received a lot of compliments about the positive conditions out there over the last few years after so many years of dissatisfaction and complaints over the course."
Jefferson City resident James Davis has been golfing at Hough Park for about 25 years and was using the driving range Friday. He remembers golfing at the course when the park was still nicknamed "Rough Park" and said he is impressed with how much work was done on the course.
'They've done a lot of work here, and this course is in really good shape for a public golf course," Davis said. "We played a lot in St. Louis, and this is as nice as any public course up there. Nice public courses are few and far between."
Lockwood said the department created the city's Oak Hills Golf Course Advisory Committee to provide suggestions to the department and prioritize what needs to be fixed or changed. The department also created a master plan, which provides long-range goals for the parks system and the golf course.
Part of redeveloping the park was changing the name of the golf course from Hough Park Golf Course to Oak Hills Golf Center in 1989.
Lockwood said with surrounding golf courses as competition, the Parks Department has to maintain the golf course to attract golfers.
As the park was being redeveloped, the Jefferson City Council started looking at selling alcohol at the golf course. Alcohol was allowed on the Arthur Cox tract, according to the deed of conveyance; however, Hough's deed of conveyance states, "No beverages containing any quantity of alcohol or its substitute shall ever be used or drunk on said premises."
In March 1991, the council wanted the Cole County Circuit Court to condemn the first 50 acres to lift Hough's deed restrictions. However, the council withdrew the request after public opposition.
The article also states Hough's heirs signed a quit claim deed in 1952 to free the land from its restrictions, but there is no record of the deed at the Cole County Recorder of Deeds office.
The idea of selling beer at the golf course was presented multiple times after that, eventually being approved by the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission in March 2016.
"For the longest time, we allowed alcohol to be out there," Spalding said. "We didn't sell it, but we allowed it. The community flat out told us that 'we want to be able to drink beer while we're playing golf.'"
In a Feb. 18, 2016, article, the News Tribune quoted Assistant City Attorney Bryan Wolford as saying the statute of limitations on land issues is 10 years, and several other conditions from Hough's deed were never met, such as a road being constructed and the name of the 50 acres being "Hough Park."
Park staff said they thought beer sales would help them better control alcohol in the park, as well as generate more revenue, according to multiple News Tribune articles.
The Parks Department made $41,047 in revenue from beer sales in 2016.
Purpose of the course
Jim Landwehr started golfing at 12 years old at Hough Park and, along with his cousin, John Landwehr, caddied for his aunt, Minnie Landwehr. He said the park gave him and several other people opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have had.
"I think it's been quite an asset," Jim Landwehr said. "When they converted to grass greens and converted everything around, it just made everything more interesting to a lot of people who couldn't play at Meadow Lake and the Country Club. It was a great opportunity for people to play golf who probably couldn't have an opportunity to play at the Country Club or Meadow Lake."
Spalding said while the Parks Department is not planning a 100-year anniversary of the 50 acres, he thinks the golf course has played a part in the community's identity.
"I think it's important to always know about our history, and it's been a fabric of what our community has looked like, having golf, which is pretty unique to have a golf course that's that old," Spalding said. "Anytime you turn 100, that's a huge deal. It's pretty neat we have a parks system that old and knowing that it's one of the first (public) parks, so it's neat being involved in something that old."