Dogged duffer pursues history of golf in Baltimore


April 12, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

Kathy Fitzpatrick has no handicap when it comes to the history of golf in the Baltimore area.

This historian is blessed with patience and tenacity. For nearly three years, she's read reel after reel of newspaper microfilm. She's visited the Library of Congress and the headquarters of the U.S. Golf Association in Far Hills, N.J.

"I don't know what people must think of me, but once I start a project, I just don't like to give up," she says. "The golf research is far easier than playing golf. I really have to work at the game . . . I shoot in the 90s. Not all the time, you understand."

Mrs. Fitzpatrick grew up in Mount Washington and later moved to Edmondson Heights. She's a 1969 graduate of Seton High School, and majored in accounting at the University of Baltimore. She lives in Mount Hebron with her husband, Clarke, who got her interested in golf.

There have been times when she's felt stuck in a research sand trap. She found you just can't go to a Pratt Library file and look up "Golf -- Baltimore -- History." Instead, she discovered, the only way to solve some research problems was to read the sports pages of The Sun and the old Baltimore News and the Baltimore American. She skimmed the columns for any tiny mention of the magic four-letter word -- golf.

In the American of Nov. 30, 1894, she spotted a two-paragraph story that turned out to be a research hole-in-one.

"The enthusiasm over the English game of golf which reached this country last summer and soon resulted in the game becoming fashionable at the swell watering-places and summer resorts has reached this city," the report said.

The paper said Baltimore's first nine-hole course, established by the Baltimore Golf Club, was at the northwest corner of Charles Street and Lake Avenue. It opened Nov. 29, 1894. Early players used what became the Maryland and Pennsylvania Railroad tracks as a hazard to play across.

Today, much of this turf is owned by the Elkridge Club. And indeed, nearly a century later, it is still being used as a golf course.

Golf's popularity swept America in the 1890s from the British Isles, especially Scotland. This was also a period when electric streetcars and commuter trains were opening up the suburbs. At that time, golf courses, country clubs, suburban homes and trolley tracks were natural foursomes.

Mrs. Fitzpatrick found that the first nine holes were followed by courses built at the Catonsville Country Club, the Elkridge Club, Cylburn Estate (today the city's arboretum), the Roland Park Golf Club (near today's west side of Roland Avenue and Deepdene Road) and Druid Hill Park, where some golfers leased land from the city.

The sport's biggest local impetus arrived with the gala opening of the Baltimore Country Club's 18 holes on June 4, 1898. The club had a handsome frame clubhouse built in the classic style of early Roland Park homes by architects Wyatt & Nolting. Its graceful porches overlooked a lush and undeveloped Jones Falls Valley. Golfers played on both the east and west sides of Falls Road. One hole crossed Jones Falls. Much of the original course is today's Village of Cross Keys and the Poly-Western school complex.

In the early days of Baltimore Country Club, groundskeepers employed 100 sheep as grass-cutters.

Golf was initially a winter sport and the normal season was September through May because the wealthy who played it spent their summers far outside of Baltimore. After a January snow, some Baltimore Country Club members decided to play. They used red balls. According to a Sun account:

"All day long the merry jingle of sleigh bells announced the new arrivals while within a great wood fire roared and crackled in the great hall. . . . [There was] a panorama of hill and dale, forest and field, pond and stream. . . . The crimson jackets and bright colors of the golfers' costumes, the swiftly moving figures of the [ice] skaters, the moving trains on the opposite hills, all combined to form a picture of extraordinary beauty."

In September 1899, the Baltimore Country Club was host to the prestigious U.S. Men's Open.

Mrs. Fitzpatrick says her goal "is to have a book out for the 100th anniversary of Baltimore's golfing history." She has no publisher but she's well along on her manuscript.

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