In the 1930s Bibb Manufacturing created nine holes of golf along the banks of the Yellow River near Porterdale. As this era was before free money, times were hard and the gift a benevolent and generous gesture by Bibb to spend the money required to give its employees recreation in the form of a golf course.
The course was nine holes and said to have been designed by the most respected name in golf — Bobby Jones. The course had sand greens impregnated with oil to prevent wind erosion of the sand instead of the manicured grass greens we are familiar with today. Sounds so primitive, but as one who caddied and played on these sand greens golfing was fun. After everyone was on the “green” a smooth surface was created using an iron pipe about 2 feet wide attached to a handle. Then all balls were placed equidistance from the respective lies on the “paved” surface. Putting only required calculations for speed as breaks were small and if you were lucky enough to putt second you saw the break clearly.
On a personal note, I fell in love with the course while a student at Newton County High School and spent many days (some days when I skipped school) there caddying for players mostly from Newton County. Resident legends such as Joe Heard, Charlie Elliott, Albert “Foots” Norton, Otis Spillers, Howard Sullivan, Cotton Harwell, Bud Blair, the Smith brothers, Carl, Peaches and Charlie, and many others who influenced my life so positively. The big caddy days were Wednesday after the noon hour when all the businesses closed and the owners and managers would head for the golf course. Often on Wednesdays, Homer Sharp, the principal at Newton, would send Ms. Clara Hays out to the course to round up all the students laying out of class. We would see her coming and hide out in the woods until she gave up. Back in those days of wonder and honor, the caddies were paid $1 for nine holes. I often carried two bags that weighed as much as I did and often caddied 45 holes in a day and played nine. On the weekends, the scat games were played — each scat worth a quarter and would mount up as all carryovers were paid to the winner — often Albert Norton took the bacon home. There were so many side bets that a secretary was needed to keep up with how much was owed.
Two of the local players worthy of mention in this tribute, not obituary, of the old Porterdale course were Drs. Peaches Smith and Vernon Cowan — both dentists who played major roles in my dental care and hygiene awareness. They both noticed that my teeth were being neglected and cavities forming. Back in these days of fillings instead of crowns, both these fantastic players and gentlemen would charge me $4 per filling and allow me to caddy the charge off. They would always pay me a little on the side so would not go home broke. They will be in my heart forever.
There were many caddies and players who became my lifelong friends — friends such as John and Charles Womack, Jack Loyd, Billy Crowell (a great man by anyone’s standards), Clifford Capps, Earl Tollerson, Gerald McGibboney, Billy Dean Rutledge, Jeff Dial and so many others, too many to name but all will always be remembered. All my ushers at my wedding were players and friends from the old Porterdale course.
The old Porterdale course has many stories to tell — some good and some not so good but all worthy of a fine memory bank for me personally. It later became an 18-hole course with grass greens as fine as anywhere with names such as Silo Cay, Fox Run and, now, The Oaks. It has been The Oaks since 1990 — 31 years and managed by Mr. Dick Schulz who has provided the local area a really fun and nice course with reasonable fees equal to anywhere. Dick has put his life into the course and his heart must break as does mine that the story of the Porterdale course will now end. In the next couple of days no tees will ever be stuck into the ground nor balls hit again — sadly it is over. Once not so long ago I had thought about having my ashes spread over this land that I had trod so many hundreds of times. But not now.
I do not believe that the course is closing due to finances and that it is still profitable, but the land not as profitable as it could be. It is surprising and sad that the county or the city could not step in and buy the course.
If $75,000 can be spent on an unauthorized study for the feasibility of building condos and apartments on the space now occupied by Baker Field and the old Covington Gymnasium, and supposedly without the knowledge of the City Council with goofy explanations that the money came from bonds (that surprisingly as if the bonds were money from trees that did not need redemption or paid interest), then this piece of history could and should have been saved.
As I drive on I-20 into Covington I see signs saying Historic Covington. With the County Commission’s drive to rewrite history in the insanity of removing the statue of Johnny Reb on Covington’s square and now the closing of our 90-year-old historical golf course, I now wonder what is historic about Covington besides the local lore about Sherman’s march through Covington on the way to Savannah.
The closing of the old Porterdale course should be a day of sorrow for all who love this town and county. It is for me. Money now trumps everything else. Too bad!