By Tzar Wilkerson
60 years ago next Thursday, Wade Brown finally teed off for the first game of golf at the Boone Golf Club after 19 years of working tirelessly with landowners, stockholder, and course builders to make it possible. He was joined in that first game by Ellis Maples, the architect who designed the course. At the time, Maples was a young up-and-coming architect, but he had learned his craft from his father, who worked as construction superintendent for the celebrated architect, Donald Ross. Ellis Maples became one of the most respected architects, with many of his projects becoming the top ranked golf courses in North and South Carolina. The Boone Golf Club is one such masterpiece.
Often referred to as the “Hidden Gem” of the High Country, the course has a reputation for its beautiful layout, its large, fast greens, and for being fun and fair to play. For these reasons, it has won numerous awards and distinction, including a score of 4.5 stars out of 5 from Golf Digest, Best Buy For the Buck, repeated winner of Best of the Best from the Watauga Democrat, a listing on the Top 50 Courses You Can Play in North Carolina, and rated the best semi-private/public course you can play in Western North Carolina by Derbyshire.
Conceived by Wade Brown as a way of attracting tourists to Boone, the Boone Golf Club was initially intended to be an ASU-affiliated 9-hole course adjacent to Rivers Street. This plan fell through when World War II cut the government funding that would have made that course possible. However, after several other setbacks and years studying many parcels of land, Brown and his associates in Boone Developments, Inc. put together some 200 acres outside of Boone. Construction on the course began, under Ellis Maples’ personal supervision, on May 13, 1958, and was completed in 13 months, on June 13, 1959.
Alfred Adams, a friend of Wade Brown’s and a banker at Northwestern Bank, played an instrumental role in financing the golf course by securing a loan of $60,000 through that bank. Since 1993 his son, Tom Adams, has served as the Head Pro at the Boone Golf Club alongside General Manager Edward Brown, the son of Wade Brown.
While Alfred Adams, like Wade Brown, was not much of a golfer himself, his son Sam Adams was one of the many professional golfers that the Boone Golf Club introduced to the sport, and became the first ever American player to win a PGA tour event. Indeed, the club is a great place to learn the sport due to the addition of a nursery green and practice area in the early 2000s. According to Tom Adams, the club doesn’t host many state tournaments, but does host member tournaments and fundraising tournaments. “We did one this past weekend for Watauga High School’s athletic department – it had 140 players, so it was very successful. It gives them an opportunity to make a few dollars. We do some [tournaments] for the University – some for the fraternities from time to time, we’ve done some for the wrestling team, and the university boys and girls teams and the high school boys and girls teams play out here.” Clearly, giving back to the community is very much a concern of the Boone Golf Club’s leadership, as it has been for the past 60 years.
The Boone Golf Club will be holding a membership dinner on June 13 to celebrate and remember 60 years of Boone golfing. Regarding the dinner, Tom Adams said “We’re gonna open the floor to the membership and see what kind of response we get as far as some interesting or funny stories. I understand we have one person who was a member 60 years ago, so hopefully he’ll be there.” Tom’s own memories of the club go back to its very start, “I started here playing a little golf and as a caddy. We had caddies back in those days; we made $2.50 and $3.50 for caddying. I just have memories of playing and growing up with a certain bunch of young people that – matter-of-fact, we still play together.”
Adams is hopeful for the future of the club. “We keep trying to make improvements in the course all the time. Some people thought the #6 green wasn’t quite fair, so we rebuilt it last winter. We don’t stay ‘status quo’. We try to make nice improvements all the time.” It maybe that this attitude of constant improvement and advancement is what keeps the Boone Golf Club a favorite among golfers all over the Southeast.
Adams says he still plays 6 or 9 holes of golf 4 or 5 days a week – his work schedule doesn’t allow him to play all 18 holes most of the time. Coming from a golf family, he had this to say about the sport’s unique appeal: “The good thing about this game – I played golf with my father when he was in his early 80s. It was my father and myself and a son that was in his early teens. There’s not many sports where you can do that, are there?”