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by Kelli D. Meyer October 2003

River Oaks Club Holds Well-Earned Allure

Elegant. Exclusive. Expensive. Few things in Houston symbolize these words like the River Oaks Country Club. Nouveau riche name-droppers know that the casual mention of a home in the River Oaks community will impress, but the elite who can boast membership in the Country Club as well as the community aren't the kind to pepper their conversation with such indiscreet disclosures. Private is a term that describes the River Oaks Country Club in more ways than one, and the members like it that way.

For the 1,560 or so individual members and their families, River Oaks Country Club is home away from home. For the other four million or so individuals in Houston, it's an icon of wealth and privilege they can view only from the other side of a gate tended by a guard with the reserved demeanor of a Victorian butler. While most Houstonians may be content to accept the curtain of privacy drawn around the club, many golfers can't help but wonder what treasures lie hidden in the manicured greens and tree-lined fairways behind the clubhouse.

Golf Started it All
River Oaks truly is a community that golf created. On Feb. 1, 1923, the River Oaks Country Club filed incorporation papers. That year, founders Thomas H. Ball, Thomas H. Guthrie and T.W. House Jr. carved the club out of the northern half of 375 densely wooded acres on the south bank of the Buffalo Bayou. It wasn't until the following year, 1924, that developers filed the first subdivision plat for the southern half of the tract and gave club members the option to purchase lots adjacent to their already beloved club. When River Oaks developers and prominent businessmen Hugh Potter, Will Hogg and Mike Hogg made additional land purchases in 1924, they brought the total acreage of the River Oaks development to more than 1,000 acres. These thousand acres have been a Houston landmark ever since.

At that time in Houston's history, a time when horses and mules outnumbered automobiles, a love of golf may have been the only force strong enough to drive well-to-do city residents out to the west-side hinterlands where River Oaks held court. Undeveloped land and farms surrounded the Country Club, and prospective golfers or residents could access River Oaks only by dirt road. To say that River Oaks was a highly speculative development with less than brisk lot sales would be an understatement. In 1925, while trying to promote the early River Oaks to reluctant buyers, Will Hogg relied on "a golf course, which for natural beauty, natural protection, immediate access, and park-way approach, can never be duplicated in Houston?" as the primary draw. It took some time, and some reduction in the original 3.5 to 14.25 acre lot size, but his description eventually did bring in buyers. Now, almost 80 years later, Hogg's words seem eerily prophetic; his description remains true, and his proclamation that River Oaks could never be duplicated in Houston stands unchallenged.

The Course of History
From the moment of its creation, the River Oaks Country Club has made a tradition of seeking out the best designers, architects and pros to create a golf course and club environment to exceed members' expectations. Donald Ross, the foremost golf course architect of his time and one of the most revered to this day, designed the original River Oaks course in 1923. John E. Staub, the local architectural legend who also designed Ima Hogg's Bayou Bend mansion, as well as numerous River Oaks estates, completed the original Spanish Colonial clubhouse building in 1924. Jack Burke, a top PGA competitor of the era, rounded out this extraordinary collection when he took the reins as the club's first golf pro in the fall of 1924. Golf was still in its infancy in America when the club opened, but Houston's golfers couldn't have had stronger hands to support their first steps onto the fairway.

continued on page 2

About the Author:

Kelli D. Meyer
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