Eric Standridge is a historian and author who focuses on Oklahoma's history, with an emphasis on LeFlore County and Poteau.
Golf Throughout the Ages
Throughout recorded history, every civilization has played a game with a club and a ball. For example, Pangea, as described by Roman scribes, would appear to be the source of a precursor to modern hockey and the Celtic games of Shinty and Hurling.
In one form or another, older varieties of present-day golf were clearly enjoyed throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. The game persisted over the centuries, and the forms that it took and rules that were applied varied as widely as the terrain the game was played over.
In short, the game consisted of knocking a ball from one pre-designated place to another where the ball was to be struck off a predetermined object in the least number of blows. Games often extended from village to village.
This game being ousted from the towns and onto the commons land beyond is one possible answer to the question of how it all began. Whatever the exact origins, it is known that by the 15th century, "kolf," as it was known in the Netherlands, and "Goff," as it was referred to in England, was a pastime enjoyed by kings and commoners alike.
Golf has evolved drastically since those early days. Today, it is one of the most popular sports in the world. In LeFlore County, the Choctaw Country Club Golf Course is one of the oldest and finest in the region.
I have a tip that can take five strokes off anyone's golf game: it's called an eraser.
— Arnold Palmer
Origins of the Modern Choctaw Nine-Hole Course
Poteau's original golf course was built in the 1930s. 1930 was considered the start of a new era in golf. By this time, most players had abandoned the old wooden clubs in favor of steel-shafted golf clubs. With new equipment, players games began to improve. This helped spur on a greater love of golf throughout the country.
"W. O. Kemp has been called the "father of golf" in Poteau. He built a few holes on some rented land. This created so much desire that he later bought the land, sold $500 shares, and developed a new nine-hole golf course with sand greens. That was about 1946. Buyers of the shares were Arthur Cragon, Charles Sigmon, Lama Sigmon, Or. R. G. Gillson, F. W. "Doc" Bird, Or. Roy F. Baker and Riley Smith." [1913 Study Club]
This golf course was located on a 99-acre plot of land. The first clubhouse was located where the present maintenance barn is on the west edge of the golf course. During this time, irrigation for the golf course was not possible, so they used sand greens. The greens were typically circular and around 35 feet in diameter with sand 2 or 3 inches deep. The player whose ball was furthest away from the hole was required to rake the greens before moving on.
"It was not long until many good golfers began to show their skills, and right up among them was a young fellow named O.K. Kemp. The best 15-year old and 16-year old golfer this writer ever played with was Ray Babb Jr., and papa was not too far behind his son. Many excellent golfers have played this course for years, including another father-son team, Glen and Hal Dowden. Also Wayne Plummer, and far too many to mention. The course has fine grass greens and a splendid clubhouse now, quite different from the struggling pioneer days." [1913 Study Club]
The course remained this way until the early 1960s. During that time, a new clubhouse was erected, and the course was overhauled. Bermuda grass was planted on the greens and in the fairways. Choctaw Country Club and Golf Course was incorporated on April 24, 1963, to provide the growing city of Poteau an updated recreational venue. It is one of the few remaining nine-hole facilities in Southeastern Oklahoma today.
In 1979, the second clubhouse was destroyed by fire. It is believed that this started in the fireplace and spread quickly from there. That same year, a new clubhouse was constructed to replace the one that had been destroyed. The clubhouse is still in use today.
The Choctaw Country Club Today
This two-story building houses a large clubhouse on the second floor. It is used by both members and non-members for special events, including reunions, wedding receptions, parties, and corporate meetings. It includes a fully equipped kitchen, a full bar, a large carpeted meeting and dining area, a dance floor, and a bandstand. A private outdoor balcony provides spectacular views of the greens and pool area. The building was constructed so that the entrances to both the first and second floors are at ground level. This is due to the land sloping downward from front to back. The lower floor has a small cafeteria, a private lounge, a pro shop, bathrooms, and locker facilities.
In 2010, the greens were upgraded again. Champions Bermuda grass was installed along with an updated irrigation system.
While the course consists of nine holes, it remains "One of the most challenging nine-hole courses in the state," as quoted by seven-time OGA champion Joe Nick. One of the things that makes the course challenging are the multiple teeing areas. This allows for several changes on each nine. Mature Oak, Elm, and Pine trees make the second, third, and fourth holes challenging, and water traps challenge all but the first two holes.
Choctaw Country Club and Golf Course also offers a driving range with target pins at 100,135, 150, and 200 yards. It is free for members and includes unlimited balls. There is also a short game area. Target flags there are located at 40, 60, and 80 yards.
The country club also offers a large 40-by-20-foot in-ground swimming pool. The fenced pool consists of a large lounge area with furniture and tables.
© 2017 Eric Standridge
Jack Gatewood on January 01, 2018:
My father, Carr Gatewood, was one of the founders of the club. I will look for his share certificate.