A vigorous and warm centenarian is always worthy of attention. The Joplin Municipal Golf Course at Schifferdecker Park turns 100 this year.

It all started with a bequest, which within a decade grew into an 18-hole course, becoming a star attraction for tourists traveling Route 66 in the 1920s.

The history of golf in Joplin predates the Schifferdecker course by approximately 21 years. The first course, established in 1899, was a greensand course on the Button Hole mine property near what is now the Iron Gates district. It lasted about a year before the founders moved to the Texas oil fields and interest died down.

It was in 1911 that insurer Howard Gray led the training of a group of aspiring golfers looking for land suitable for a golf course. After a year of searching, they found a hay field owned by the Mattes brothers on the southwest side of Joplin that looked perfect for a nine-hole course. The Mattes reservation, as it was called, was bounded by mines, the Frisco railroad line, and the Southwest Missouri Railroad intercity line. Mattes offered the land rent-free with a machine to keep the hay mowed.

In August 1912, the Joplin Golf Club was formed at a meeting at the Connor Hotel. It was open to men and women. In December, the incorporation papers were filed and the Oak Hill Golf Club was born. It was a private club.

Charles Schifferdecker

The potential for a municipal golf course left the world speculative upon the death of philanthropist Charles Schifferdecker on October 30, 1915. He bequeathed the 120-acre park on West Seventh Street to the city.

In response to the news, Mayor Hugh McIndoe said the legacy will provide many opportunities for recreational improvements, including a free municipal golf course.

The pages of the News Herald ran a number of articles over the next year touting this possibility.

And then the other shoe fell off.

In January 1916, JG Starr, chairman of the park commission, announced that there was no money in the budget for a golf course. He cited the cost of maintaining the Oak Hill course at $6,000 per year. OD Royse, president of Oak Hill, said maintenance was the biggest expense of his career.

With a park budget of $10,000, a golf course was out of the question. Even with a conservative estimate of $4,000 to maintain a first-class course, it was not feasible. The News Herald reporter wanted a “charity fairy to donate an additional $4,000 to $6,000 a year to the park commission.”

At that time, the war in Europe occupied everyone’s attention. In 1917 the United States entered the war and in the same year the developer of the golf course, Mayor McIndoe, was recalled by voters, so the golf course projects gathered dust. By the end of the war in 1918, the flu epidemic had spread through the Tri-State District. In 1919 and early 1920, the area was hit by the short post-war depression, which squeezed the city’s budget.

the time had come

Although the idea remained publicly dormant, some were looking for a way to build a municipal course. In 1920, F. Taylor Snapp, later mayor, was playing a round of golf with MW Latimer at Oak Hill. Latimer approached Snapp to once again try to garner support from city officials for a municipal course. They decided the time had come.

Latimer spoke to the park’s board and found them enthusiastic and willing to cooperate. Budget concerns, however, hung over the project like the sword of Damocles. How to fund it was the question.

In February 1920, the board took its first steps by appointing Dr. GE Ward, a dedicated golfer, to the Improvement Committee. Ward gave his full support. He said a professional golfer once offered to help for free. However, the enthusiasm was a thin porridge. For the next two years, discussions were all that took place.

The Globe began supporting a municipal golf course in editorials beginning in December 1921. Its first editorial noted the game’s growing popularity, citing Chicago’s success with its seven municipal courses.

The game was gaining space in the sports pages of newspapers at the expense of baseball, and Joplin would handicap himself if he ignored golf. Along with the Schifferdecker Park Tourist Campground, a golf course would attract and keep tourists in town to spend their vacation money.

In the spring of 1922, the cause gained ground. A high school fraternity has offered to help set up the course in February. In March, Latimer organized golfers into the Joplin Municipal Golf Association.

That same month, the park board officially set a schedule for the construction of a course on the west side of Schifferdecker Park. The objective of opening the course in the summer has been stated. A public bath and other necessary facilities would be installed.

Funding for the work would come from popular subscriptions and the organization of a municipal golf club. Dewey Longworth, the 24-year-old Oak Hill pro, was hired to set the course.

Globe editorials continued to emphasize the economics of an attractive golf course. If one could not afford to join a private club, a municipal club was an option.

And, “people in northern and eastern cities who have the time and money to take vacations are golf players, and we need to give them every incentive we can if we’re going to inspire them to continue in this direction”.

Delayed opening

The association solicited all shareholders of the former Jasper County Parks Association to donate their shares. The money from these shares would be invested in the golf course. With the fairways rolled, tees and greens prepared, the Globe noted that work on all nine holes was completed in a record five weeks.

A prospective opening has been set for June 11. Then the date was pushed back. According to Latimer, golfers were relieved to know that the reason for the delay was the installation of grass greens and underground pipes to water them. The city had entrusted the management of the course to the golf association in order to minimize its own costs.

Finally, the big day, Thursday, June 29, 1922, is approaching. Latimer gave the dedication. Mercer Arnold accepted the course on behalf of area golfers.

Mayor Snapp and three other golfers gave a driving demonstration and were the first foursome.

A large crowd followed the foursome around the nine-hole course. The fixed charge for the nine-hole course was 35 cents, which was considered a fair charge.

In August 1923, the city council renamed the course “Schifferdecker Park Golf Course” in honor of Charles Schifferdecker. That month approval was given to build the final four holes to complete the 18-hole course.

The park board noted that over 23 days, with just 14 holes, 2,119 people played the course. The golf craze remained strong.

As the 1921 Globe editorial prophesied: “Once we have a municipal golf course, we will wonder how long we have been without it as long as we have.