Caddies in action at the Sankaty Head Golf Club

Caddies in action at the Sankaty Head Golf Club in 1941. One of the few surviving tales of the Sylva Country Club, which opened in 1929, involves a strike by local caddies.

Ninety years ago today, the Jackson County Journal was in a celebratory mood as it announced the opening of the Sylva Country Club.

The words “country club’’ no doubt bring to mind for many images of an exclusive place shuttered to the public, but the Sylva Country Club concept might better be described as a combo community events/recreation center. Details of its formation can be found of the front page of the Oct. 6, 1927 Jackson County Journal in an article headlined “Country club for Sylva looms’’:

“With the appointment of a committee consisting of A. Weaver, Dillsboro; S. W. Enloe, Dillsboro; Dr H. T. Hunter, Cullowhee; I. H. Powell and H. E. Buchanan, Sylva to select a site and solicit subscriptions for stock in a country club, and with the subscription of something more than $10,000, at a meeting of citizens held in the Chamber of Commerce rooms, Friday evening, a long step was taken toward the creation of a country club and the laying out of a golf course and the construction of a swimming pool for the use of the people of Sylva, Dillsboro, Cullowhee and lower Jackson County. The site most discussed, and in fact the only one talked of at the meeting, was the John Davis place, between Sylva and Cullowhee. It was stated at the meeting that this is an admirable site, it being thought that there is room there for an 18-hole-golf course, and it having more than a mile of frontage on the Tuckaseigee River. It was also pointed that the site is most conveniently located for the large territory it is expected to serve. The owners of the property stated in the meeting that they would sell it for use of a country club, for the amount which was paid for it, plus carrying charges which are said to be in the neighborhood of $19,000. It was indicated that between $25,000 and $30,000 would be necessary to carry the plans into effect… It is proposed to sell stock in the company which will be the owners and developers of the property and to sell yearly memberships in the club to local people. It is thought that the yearly dues and the daily green fees, to be charged non-members using the golf course, will keep up the property and pay a good dividend on the investment. … A number of speakers stated that from the standpoint of the development of this immediate region as a tourist center, that the golf course would prove a most valuable asset, as more and more golf is becoming a popular game with the people of this country, and that a golf course is absolutely necessary to stop tourists and to hold them in a community. Others took the view that a country club is a great community asset in welding the people together, as it was pointed out that when men and women meet, daily or weekly, on the golf course and about the country club, in a social way, they learn each other better, and are naturally drawn closer. Still others favored the move from the standpoint of giving the young people of the community a means of diversion that is helpful and healthy, a means by which the youth of the community can express itself in wholesome play…”

On June 13, 1929, the grand opening was announced:

“The formal opening of the Sylva Country Club will be held at 1 o’clock, tomorrow, Friday afternoon. A number of interesting features for the opening have been arranged, including a putting contest, a long drive contest, a flag contest, and other features. The ladies of the Club, and wives of the stockholders, will serve refreshments at the club house. After Friday, the golf course and club house will be open every day. The membership fees for the club are, Men $15; Women $10; and Boys 14 to 17 $10.

The daily green fees for members of the club will be $1, which entitles the player to play 9 holes or, if he desires, the use of the course for the day. Caddy fees will be 25 cents for nine holes.

The new golf course and country club, just completed, is located on Highway 106 between Sylva and Cullowhee, on the old John Davis farm along the beautiful Tuckaseigee river, and is pronounced, by all sport-lovers who have seen it, to be one of the best in all Western North Carolina.”

Accompanying the article was a brief editorial extolling the beauty and benefits of the new venture:

“The Sylva Country Club is a distinct asset to the community and to the county.

More and more, the people of America are becoming golf-minded. More and more the people who travel about like to stop near a good golf course where they can enjoy this harmless, wholesome sport.

For this reason, the Country Club is making Sylva well known throughout Western North Carolina.

Only on Tuesday of this week, a party of the most progressive citizens of Spruce Pine, more than 100 miles from here, visited Sylva for no other purpose than to inspect the country club and golf course, and to visit the golf course at High Hampton. These people propose to establish a similar institution at the Mitchell county town and came here for inspiration from this model nine-hole course.

Not only that, but the country club is a source of pleasure and enjoyment to the people of Sylva and the other communities of Jackson County. It deserves and should have the support of all the people, wholeheartedly.”

The concept of the country club seemed sound, but its timing wasn’t, as it was launched as the Great Depression came roaring in. With people lacking money for necessities, let alone what many could consider frivolities like golf, it apparently struggled.

One interesting slice of the club’s history was reported in 1933 in the Jackson County Journal by none other than John Parris, who told the tale of an uprising by club caddies.

“There’s a war on at the Sylva Country Club between the golfers and the caddies, all as a result of the caddies striking for higher fees.

The caddies – boys who carry the daily golfer’s clubs, keep his score down below the century mark and tosses his ball out of the rough when the other guy isn’t looking – say they want a raise in caddy fees or else they don’t caddy. So they don’t caddy.

It all began last Friday when four prominent men of Sylva – Dr. C.Z. Candler, the Rev. T.R. Wolfe, Monroe Madison, and S.W. Enloe – walked out to tee off from the first hole and started to engage their caddies. Bob Mathis, who rules the caddy kingdom of the Sylva Country Club, speaks up and says that “we must have 25 cents a round, or else.’’ The foursome feels that it is else. They say they will pay what they have been paying – 20 cents a round or 35 cents for 18 holes. But the boys don’t see it that way and refuse to caddy.

That was seven days ago and those few who venture to play golf must scare a caddy up in Sylva or do his own caddying. A majority of them are doing their own caddying.

“A year ago when times became hard and money was being pinched,’’ began Mathis, who is looked upon as the brains of the caddy system at the country club, and incidentally, who is obeyed in every respect, “we were told that if we would reduce our fees from 50 cents to 35 cents for 18 holes that in less than a year we would be raised back up to our old prices.

“This summer came and nobody mentioned raising our caddy fee so it was left up to us to say something about it. We should have put up a kick before now, but we didn’t. We thought that they would come across as they had promised.

“There have been very few playing golf this summer and of the 15 boys we only average about 2 rounds a week, and that isn’t enough to pay us for our time of staying here all week. So we wanted a raise, which we didn’t get.”

“Do you expect to caddy any more this summer?” Mathis was asked.

“I’ll say I don’t. I know we won’t get the raise and so we are going to hold out. We were not making enough for our trouble.’’

So the hills of the Sylva Country Club no more are roamed in the afternoons by ever-watchful caddies who could keep score to perfection as far as the golfer was concerned. A lone pair of golfers out for an afternoon of exercise mop the sweat from their browns, mumble something which is evident from the look on their faces as they move their golf bags to a more comfortable position on their shoulder, and slowly trudge on across the course to where their balls are, but they have to spend some time looking for them. But they are determined that they will not give the caddies the additional 15 cents. The caddies hang around the edge of course and wink and smile at each other. It’s great sport to them to watch these men carry their own bags and do their own caddying.”

There were notices from time to time in the Journal of events at the club such as dances and golf tournaments, but overall the Sylva Country Club didn’t seem to leave much in the way of an historical records. While photos of the club and golf course may exist, we weren’t able to find any in our records.

We don’t have evidence to back it up, but a scan of newspapers of the era suggests the Sylva Country Club went out with a whimper, not a bang, likely the victim of the Depression and the challenges of WWII. The April 5, 1944 edition of the Sylva Herald carried an advertisement offering up a 135-acre farm known as “Sylva Country Club’’ for sale.

The April 20, 1950 Herald reported the Lee family of Chicago had purchased 135 acres of “the old Riverside Club” and were planning to open Rolling Green Country Club.

The May 25, 1950 edition reported support for the venture had failed, with only 15 people committing to membership.