Oswego Lake Country Club was officially founded in 1924 as the creation of Paul C. Murphy, who has been called the “Father of Oswego.” Murphy was the primary developer of the town then called “Oswego” through his involvement in the Ladd Estate Corporation, owners of much of the surviving lands of Oregon Iron and Steel, the legacy of the estate of William S. Ladd, the wealthiest man in the Pacific Northwest, until his death in 1893. Commencing about 1910, he was involved with the first significant development of a Ladd Estate property with the creation of a separate company to develop the Laurelhurst neighborhood on the east side of Portland, for which he served as vice president and primary sales agent. By the mid-teens, Murphy had been named president, and continued to develop other areas of Portland, such as Eastmoreland, among others. As part of the Eastmoreland development, he constructed the first nine holes of the Eastmoreland Golf Course in 1916-17, with the assistance of golf course designer, H. Chandler Egan. Egan, the great golfing champion from Chicago, had moved to Medford to fruit farm and had already begun his golf course architecture career with the completion of Tualatin Country Club in 1916. Apparently, this was Murphy’s first encounter with Chandler Egan.
Authored by John Hedlund, Oswego Lake Country Club Historian and Long-Time Member in September, 2012.
As Murphy considered the development of other Ladd Estate properties, he focused on the Oswego Lake area. In that process, he conceived his vision of the “Live Where You Play” slogan, leading to his idea for a golf course as a focal point, in fact, the crown jewel, of his development ideas for the town of Oswego. By 1923, Murphy had once again enlisted the skills of Chandler Egan to help site and design the golf course. The Club still has in its possession, the original design concept in Egan’s own hand, drawing up more than 18 holes from which to choose the final hole routing. Murphy himself was quite involved in the process, making some of the final hole and routing decisions according to his own golfing knowledge having traveled to the British Isles to play many of the noted courses of Scotland and England.
The construction of the golf course and the clubhouse commenced in 1924. Murphy chose Wm. H. Tucker and Sons of New York, builders of some of the most famous courses in America, to build the course, and the architecture firm of Church and Whitehouse to construct the clubhouse, both of which were completed in 1925. On July 25th of that year, the course was inaugurated by the “First Foursome” of Murphy, Egan, Larry Newlands, and Prescott Cookingham. Newlands was the Club’s first president, and Cookingham was then a vice president of the Ladd Estate Corporation and former president of the Ladd and Tilton Bank. The course was open for general play by August, 1925. Gwyn Bowen was the Club’s first golf professional. The hilly and difficult par 73 course had expansive views of Mt. Hood and Oswego Lake, particularly on the finishing holes, such as the famous par 3 15th hole, located on the Iron Mountain bluff with majestic views of Oswego Lake. The reputation of the course was almost instantly established. By 1927, the course was chosen as the venue for the Oregon Amateur Championship, won by one of the Northwest’s outstanding golfers of the day, Portlander, Rudie Wilhelm, who won his fifth and last title at OLCC.
In the previous year, OLCC hosted the inaugural Oregon State Father-Son Championship. This would become a noted tradition at OLCC, lasting sixty years until 1986, when the Club, along with the Oregon Golf Association, which had run the tournament since the OGA was formed about 1930, decided to move the venue to Salem Golf Club. With its ever-expanding schedule of club tournaments and social events, OLCC no longer had room in its schedule.
Other championships were held at Oswego through the end of the 1920’s and through the 1930’s. Forrest Watson was the successor professional after Bowen, followed by Boyd Bustard. Bustard did a stint as professional at the Multnomah Golf Course in the Raleigh Hills area, which had been built by the Multnomah Athletic Club but the course had a fairly short life, falling early on to residential development in that area.
By the time of the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing depression, the membership had weakened greatly, never reaching membership goals. By this time, Murphy, along with Frederick H. Strong, had purchased all the Ladd Estate Corporation properties and were now effectively the owners of OLCC. They created a new membership program and re-negotiated the debt with the Club officers to ensure its survival. By 1930, the first change to the original course occurred with the creation of the par 3 “water hole”, which had been a par 5 from the same tee, but played to a green located approximately where the 4th green is currently located. Number 4 became the 4th hole as we know it today, approximately. At the same time, the par 3, 6th of the original course was eliminated, all of which precipitated re-arrangement of the hole’s routing.
The Club managed through The Depression years of the 1930’s, but was far from thriving, when World War II commenced, creating further weakness. Discussions began between the Club officers and Murphy, along with his son, Paul F. Murphy, who had become involved in managing the affairs of the Ladd Estate Company when Murphy purchased Strong’s interest in 1930. By 1942, another rearrangement of terms occurred, including a provision that the Club continue as a golf club, prohibiting it from selling the property for a minimum of seventeen years. During the same set of negotiations, the Club and the Murphy’s agreed that the upper part of the course property would no longer be a part of the golf course, reverting back to the Ladd Estate Company for possible, future development. As a result, the par 5 13th, running down to the West; the dogleg par 4 14th; the par 3 15th heading East along the cliff; and a portion of the long par 3 16th and its green which was just beyond the present 15th tee, were all eliminated.
From 1942 to 1945, modifications were made to rearrange the course to become a par 68, primarily by local contractor, Shirley Stone. While the course was shortened, by no means did this mean that it was made easier. Fortunately, the near-original course was still in tact for its tournament “swan song” in 1941 when the Oregon Amateur Championship was once again held at OLCC. This tournament was won by none other than Oswego’s own Roy Wiggins who took home his second OAC title. Wiggins would win more than twenty Club Championships stretching from the 1930’s into the early 1960‘s. Numerous other amateur and professional tournaments were held at OLCC in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950‘s. To attest to the tournament challenge of the par 68 layout, the medalists in the 1957 Oregon Amateur Championship were Oswego’s Andre (Ad) Huycke and P.G.C.’s Robert (Bob) Atkinson who shot 69-one over par! Ad Huycke went on the win the championship aided by his regular caddie Doug Ragen.
This course routing continued until the fall of 1960 and into the spring of 1961 when further changes were made to create the routing of the par 71 course as we know it today. This major work was completed under a plan that the Club’s greenskeeper, Fred Federspiel had devised, utilizing portions of a plan created for OLCC at one time by noted Canadian golfer and golf course architect, A. Vernon McCann. He supervised the construction which was successfully completed by the spring of 1961. One significant alteration in this plan was the elimination of the large swamp area, located between the current 1st and 18th holes, and extending back through the 18th fairway to the 18th tee. Today, this would probably be considered a wetland area and the alteration might not be allowed. Federspiel had designed Royal Oaks in the early 1950’s and would go on to design the original course at Salishan on the Oregon coast, and the first course at Sunriver near Bend, among others. Both were commissioned by OLCC member John Gray, developer of these significant destination resorts.
The original clubhouse remained more or less intact until the early 1950’s when a large patio area outside of the main dining room area and underneath the main living room was added, along with an expanded bar area and inside seating area, which included a large dance floor. Other minor changes were made between this time and 1994, including an expanded locker room. A small bar and dining area below the men’s card room and locker room was also added. By 1994, a major clubhouse revision took place, creating the Club facility as we know it today.
In 2004, a completely new pro shop complex was built. Though it had survived previous Club remodels, the original pro shop building with all its character, was sacrificed to make way for an outstanding and much larger complex, complete with second floor pro shop and lower level snack bar appropriately named Murphy’s, in honor of its founder. A new club storage and cart building was built beside it.
In the early 1980’s, the Club utilized Architect Robert Muir Graves to study the course and come up with a new master plan, containing some very interesting major changes which ultimately were not adopted. However, Graves did supervise the first re-build of the 5th and 14th greens in 1984. As things progressed, the Club enlisted the services of John Fought, Tualatin U.S. Amateur Champion turned architect, who was instrumental in the development of Oregon golf courses, Crosswater, adjacent to Sunriver in the Bend area, Pumpkin Ridge in North Plains, and The Reserve in Aloha. Fought had excellent ideas and skills but the Club did not ultimately utilize him for major work. He did design the re-build of the 6th, 8th, and 9th greens during the late 1980’s.
In the early 1990s, a Master Plan Committee was formed to study potential major course improvements, including possible re-routing. Under the guidance of architect Bill Robinson, along with the Master Plan Committee, the plan was not re-routed and instead concluded a plan for significant green rebuilding, re-trapping, and creation or rebuilding of tee boxes. This work was completed in 1994. At the conclusion of this significant work, the only greens remaining from the original course of 1925 are the 12th, 15th, 16th, and 18th, which remain untouched and are arguably the best greens on the course for their variety of good pin placements, and subtlety. They retain a hint of Chandler Egan’s style of utilizing double or multi-levels which characterized a number of the original greens, now gone.
Following the Robinson major upgrade,* an entirely new sprinkler system was installed in the late 1990’s at considerable expense. Both projects were over $1 million each. With finances in excellent condition through this period, the Club was able to fund these improvements from membership initiation fee capital reserves, while incurring a moderate amount of debt. In recent years, the final golf architectural work was undertaken with John Harbottle, primarily to revise the sand traps in order to solve problematic sand conditions, and attempt to both emulate the style of Chandler Egan’s design of the Club’s original course and incorporate elements of other sand traps Egan had designed. In particular, his work at Pebble Beach prior to the U.S Amateur held there in 1929. To date, this work has been partially completed and will be finished as budgets allow, though without the services of John Harbottle, who unfortunately passed away in June of this year, 2012.
All of the modifications have been done under the leadership of the respective greenskeepers: Fred Fererspiel from the late 40’s to 1965; Dick Fluter, a 1965 OSU agronomy grad who commenced his 30 year stint with OLCC in the fall of 1965; and Bob Sensemen, formerly with the USGA and Columbia Edgewater Country Club, shortly thereafter. Bob Senseman remains today as OLCC Head Greenskeeper. All made significant contributions to the high reputation of the course conditioning, but Bob Senseman has raised the standard to the highest level since he was hired just over 15 years ago.
Telling even a short history of Oswego Lake Country Club would be incomplete without the fortunate story of Oswego’s head professional, Robert (Bob) Oliver McKendrick, who served the Club for over 40 years, from1946 to 1986. McKendrick rose from the caddie ranks at Waverley Country Club along with one of his brothers, Buchan (Buck) Erskine McKendrick who served as an assistant professional at OLCC from the fall of 1955 until his untimely death in 1981. His service to the Club was broken by a stint as Portland Golf Club’s first director of golf, and another period during which he worked for Peter Murphy of Murphy Lumber to run and redevelop Emerald Valley Golf Course in Eugene. Bob was a great gentleman, and a wonderful golfer, accumulating a number of victories or high finishes in important tournaments, such as the 1957 OPGA Match Play Championship. His record of over twenty appearances on the professional Hudson Cup team likely still stands. He was a capable pro shop keeper from dawn to dusk all those many years. He was the gentlemen who called most members “Mr.”, and was a popular and revered figure in the Club’s history. Buck was an amazing, gregarious character who was a personal friend to many members, both on an off the course.
Both Bob and Buck placed considerable emphasis on the development of the junior players at the Club. The list of juniors who went on to become excellent golfers and tournament winners as juniors and after, is long. Most of those will be forever indebted to the attention and assistance of these two wonderful professionals whom the Club was fortunate to have for such a long period of time.
After Bob McKendrick, there were other head professionals, including Mike Davis, but when Brent Murray was hired in the early 1990’s, the Club hit the jackpot. With major, regional tournaments under his belt, not only is Brent one of the top players in the Pacific Northwest, but his dedication and skill make him a pro’s pro. Brent is extremely popular with the Club members, and is aided by accomplished assistants, Kevin Walsh, and Scott Erdman. Scott was Oregon’s Golfer Of The Year for 2011, resulting from his incredible play in the U.S. Club Professional Championship and his Cup competition following in 2011. The Club has had a number of fine assistant professionals over the years.
There have also been a number of fine club managers over the years, including from Joseph Nance, Jan Richter, Bob Hollister, Tom Strader, Dennis Yamitsky and our newest and current club manager Michael Carbiener.
There is considerably more detail and Club history than is written here. Stories of its fine presidents, the first board and other board members; noted Club junior and amateur golfers; a storied and extensive women’s golf history; the Father-Son tournament; the history of the course records, the Club tournament history, the exhibition visit by Bobby Jones and others; assistant professionals and noted members of the local community, including CEO’s of some of Portland’s biggest companies; slot machines and bottle lockers; national figures who were members; changes to the clubhouse and pro shop buildings; the history of the Club’s social events; longtime noted employees; the lakefront swim property; Fourth of July celebrations; card room chronicles; the tennis court and badminton court history; more detail on the golf course and history of the changes; the golf course and the iron mine; the overnight room facilities; celebrity visits; the Jantzen Club history; the cable car; member stories; and many other details of a long and rich history of one of Oregon’s outstanding country clubs.
*The Robinson major upgrade will be discussed further as this historical section on the Club is expanded.