Dark-fired tobacco and golf might be an unlikely combination but it was because of the cash crop of the early 20th century that the Clarksville Country Club was chartered in 1913.
Clarksville was a major player in the dark-fired tobacco market. American Snuff Company, which later became Conwood and is one of the 10 oldest incorporated companies in the United States, needed a venue to entertain tobacco buyers from the north. They needed a place to “wine and dine” the northerners and provide a place to play golf.
On October 28, 1913, the wheels were set into motion. Six local businessmen, headed by James Murtland and F.N. Smith of the American Snuff Company, and S.E. Winn of the U.S. Tobacco Company, joined together with attorney Michael Savage, N.R. Bardwell, and H.M. Perry and filed the charter of incorporation with the state of Tennessee. It described the Clarksville Country Club as a “place for social enjoyment” and especially for the playing of golf and other athletic sport. The 9-hole course was built on Golf Club Lane. The Clarksville Leaf Chronicle, in its November 21, 1913 edition, proclaimed that the Clarksville Country Club had been organized and it had 42 charter members. James Murtland was elected the club’s president, Michael Savage, the Vice-President, and C.W. Bailey, the Secretary and Treasurer. John J. Conroy was the final member added to the Board of Directors.
For the next 50 years, the club prospered and the little town on the Cumberland River began to make a name for itself in the golf world. In 1950, teenager Mason Rudolph started winning the USGA Junior Amateur championship. That ignited a career that would eventually lead to five PGA Tour victories, berths on both the Walker Cup (1957) and Ryder Cup teams (1971), as well as, at 16 years and six days old, the youngest player ever to qualify for the United States Open.
He was also a multiple winner of the Tennessee State Open and State Amateur championships. In 1992, he was honored by the Tennessee Golf Association as a charter member into its Hall of Fame.
While Mason made the biggest impact of the national golf scene, the club was also home to other state champions. Jimmy Smith (State Amateur and Senior Amateur), Walton Smith Jr. (State Amateur and Senior Amateur), and Rupert Baker (Senior Amateur) won state titles. Craig Rudolph, Mason’s youngest son, also made it to the PGA Tour in 1990-91 but failed to retain his card and left to work as a North Carolina club Pro. He died, tragically, in a helicopter crash but the club honors his memory annually with a junior tournament that bears his name.
In 1928, Henry Livingstone was hired as the third golf professional at Clarksville Country Club; Ralph Romer and Clarence Coff preceded Mr. Livingstone’s service. A native of North Berwick Scotland, Henry Livingstone brought with him a reputable game and a tireless work ethic. The Greatest Story Ever Told, a movie released in 2005, chronicled Francis Oulment’s conquest of Ted Ray and Harry Vardon to win the 1916 U.S. Open in Brookline, Mass. Livingstone beat both Ray and Vardon in an exhibition in Nashville later and once shot 66-67 to better Bobby Jones’ 36-hole record in the 1924 Southeast Professional Tournament. His noted students include both Mason Rudolph and Walton Smith, Jr. He retired in 1950 but his tireless dedication to the game is honored annually by the Clarksville Golf Association with an award.
The club grew along with Clarksville. In 1963, Clarksville Country Club purchased 163.6 acres from Ben Kimbrough for $49.884 to build an 18-hole golf course and clubhouse on farmland located off of Memorial Drive. George Cobb, a well-known architect who helped design Augusta National’s par-3 course, oversaw the renovation of Eastlake Golf Club, in Atlanta, for the 1963 Ryder Cup Matches, and designed countless courses in the Southeast, was hired to design the new golf course.
In 1964, the new Clarksville Country Club was finished and the old site was sold to the city of Clarksville where it was renamed in honor of Mason Rudolph.
The club prospered. In 1998, a new clubhouse was built and the old one razed. The new building opened with 31,000 square feet and provided members with more services and more space for entertaining. In 2004, more dining space was added when an area on the balcony, now called the Terrace was enclosed, and a sports grill, now referred to as the Greenside Grille, added downstairs.