Miami Valley Golf
History of Golf at Wright Patterson AFB 
Thanks to Floyd Baldwin for Sharing 
Wright-Patterson’s golf courses are an historic part of the installation. Major Augustine Warner Robins, the Commanding Officer of the Fairfield depot from 1921 to 1928, established the first base golf course. Robins was an avid golfer who found little opportunity to enjoy the sport. Then, in 1922, he realized that a golf course could solve two problems at the depot. A course could beautify the “unsightly weed patch” on the facility and serve the recreational needs of his bored soldiers. He ordered the weed patch mowed and had his military and civilian employees fashion an improvised course with no greens. The next year, Major Robins assembled his officers, enlisted men, and civilians and instructed them to construct a golf course-during their non-duty hours. Volunteers in this “self-help” project used the facility’s horse and mule-drawn equipment to construct and maintain a six-hole course, with greens. Area businesses donated grass seed, materials, and technical advice. The links were expanded to nine holes in 1924. Another nine holes were added in 1925. The first tee was conveniently located adjacent to the Commander’s residence, today’s ArnoldHouseHeritageCenter, Building 30008.

The course proved popular, but maintaining the 18-hole facility became a problem. In 1927, Major Robins resolved the matter by inviting the military and civilian communities of Wright Field, the Fairfield Air Depot, and neighboring McCook Field to become members of the Wilbur Wright Golf Club. Membership was open to all base personnel as well as members of the local civilian community. The new club and its 86 members took up residence at the original Officers’ Club across the street from the first tee.

Marion “Mutt” Herr, who won the club championship in 1942, 1945, and 1947, began playing the base course in 1932 when $5 was the monthly family membership fee. His father had helped construct the original course as a civilian employee. Reminiscing In 1997, Herr recalled the dramatic changes the course had undergone over the years, although the eighth green on today’s East Course and the fourth on the West Course remain in their original locations. Still a regular on Wright-Patterson’s links at the age of 82, Herr contended that the course was much easier than it had been 60 years earlier. There were no winter rules or handicaps then. The greens were very small and modern roughs posed no challenge to veteran Wright-Patterson golfers.

Herr recollected that in the 1930s the golf course had major hazards. The rough was not mowed, fairways looked like tunnels with 6-foot walls of prairie grass lining their edges. Trees and bunkers were added in the mid-1930s when the Brick Quarters were built. The biggest obstacles, however, were the deadly rattlesnakes that infested the course. The danger was so great that balls hit into the tall rough were automatically abandoned as lost or unplayable. Golfers carried razors so they could treat snakebites, and woman and children were not permitted to play the course. The danger was solved in the late 1930s when hogs were allowed to freely roam the area until they cleared out the snakes. Golf carts, a mainstay of today’s golfing environment, first appeared at Wright-Patterson in the late 1950s. However, golfers were required to produce written permission from a doctor before using them.

Mutt Herr was a regular partner of Augustine Warner Robins during the 1930s. Robins, who played to a 10 handicap, loved the game.  He would frequently close his office and adjourn to the golf course. A tree on the eighth hole proved Robins’ particular nemesis. So much so, Herr recalled, that after a particularly frustrating round Robins ordered the base civil engineer to cut the tree down. When Herr asked him about it, Robins responded that as the senior commander he could cut down any tree he felt like. Robins also hated slow play. He would call over slow groups and order them to report to his office the next morning, at which time he would banish them from the course.

Construction of the Brick Quarters in the mid-1930s necessitated the relocation of several holes. The rebuilt course wound its way around the new housing complex. A round of golf began and ended at the new Officers’ Open Mess, Building 10800, where the Golf Club took up residence. First year operating costs for this revamped course were $2,643.16.

A Golf Clubhouse, Building 10860, was erected behind the Officers’ Open Mess in 1937. This combination Caddy House and Transformer House continues in service as a golf facility. Additions in 1948 and 1951 expanded it from 576 to 1,692 square feet. In 1983, the south end was modified as a bathhouse for male patrons of the swimming pool. A new clubhouse, Building 10813, was erected in 1970 and substantial renovations in 1993 added 800 square feet to the facility.

A 1947 rulebook for the Wilbur Wright Field Officer’s Golf Club boldly proclaimed, “Golf is a game for ladies and gentlemen.” Proper attire, courtesy, speeding up play, and protecting the course were its major themes. Practice swings on tees and greens were prohibited because “We are trying to grow grass.” Similarly, “high heels (ladies and cowboys)” were forbidden. Greens cost $1,000 in 1947 and the daily green fees were 50¢ on weekdays and $1.00 on weekends. Caddies, who were usually the children of military personnel, worked for $1.00 per 18 holes. “This fee is low according to present standards,” the rulebook advised players. “These caddies are young. Please help instruct them.” One can assume that these instructions varied with the quality and temperament of the players. Private golf lessons by the course professional were $2.00 per hour. Group lessons ran 50¢ per person. Tony Pena, Jimmy Demaret, Gene Sarazen, and Byron Nelson were among the notable golfers who played exhibition rounds at the base course in the 1940s and 1950s.

The golf course has undergone considerable change over the years. The construction of nine additional holes in the mid 1960s brought the total layout to 27 holes. In 1969, Brigadier General Coleman Williams, the installation commander, decided that the course needed further refinement. While recovering from an illness in the base hospital, he drew up plans that added several ponds (including the Duck Pond) and over 60 bunkers to the course. He then instructed civil engineers to execute the changes while he was recuperating. Course officials planned to add another nine holes near the hospital, but in 1971 Air Force Headquarters directed that housing be constructed on the site. The Green Acres and Pine Estates housing projects also required the redesign of three holes and cost the golf course its best holes. Holes 9, 10, and 14 were modified in 1986 when a halfway house was added to the links. At the same time, the driving range was moved to its present location across Skeel Avenue.

As the base’s military population grew during World War II, membership was gradually closed to off-base personnel and civilians. An exception to that policy occurred in 1944 when Mutt Herr and five other community benefactors who were awarded lifetime memberships to the Wilbur Wright Field Officers’ Golf Club for their continued support of the club. By the late 1950s, Wright-Patterson’s many civilian employees became dissatisfied with their exclusion from the base golf course. Led by Thomas Z. Jones, a former base restaurant manager, they initiated efforts to construct a golf course for civilian employees. Noted golf course architect William Diddel designed the Twin Base Course which opened as a 9-hole facility in 1961 and became an 18-hole course two years later. Arnold Palmer played the course’s dedication round and shot a course record 65 during a 1967 exhibition. The addition of a large multi-purpose room greatly expanded the clubhouse in 1989. Although built for civilian employees, all members of the Wright-Patterson community were welcome to play the course.

Wright-Patterson added one other golf course in the 1960s. To serve the recreational needs of Strategic Air Command’s alert crews on the West Ramp, a one-hole “course” was constructed adjacent to Chambersburg Road.

On July 8, 1997, the Wright-Patterson Golf Club became the Prairie Trace Golf Club in a ceremony held as part of the base’s Air Force 50th Anniversary Golf Tournament. The renaming honored the heritage of the installation, its golf club, and the role played by Huffman Prairie Flying Field in aviation history. “Prairie” represented the historic flying field, the Cradle of Aviation. “Trace” was the remnant from the past, the natural Huffman Prairie that was nearly lost. The new name recaptured and held the past as a perpetual reminder of the impact the prairie had on the base and Ohio from 1904 to the present.

Today, the golf courses operate under consolidated management and Wright-Patterson continues to offer the base community a variety of golfing challenges.

The rolling 18-hole championship Prairie Trace Golf Course, which spans 6,799 yards, was recently (2006-2007) upgraded with newly designed greens and bunkers.  The East Course is a 9-hole, 2,732-yard, executive course. And, the 18-hole Twin Base Course tests players over its 6,843 level yards.

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