When I first encountered the name Link Hills Country Club after moving to Greene County four decades ago, I assumed the “Link” part of the name referred to the “links” of the land. golf there. I’m sure many others have thought the same.
It seemed reasonable. Everyone knows that if someone declares their intention to hit the “links” after lunch, an afternoon of golf is on the way.
Eventually I learned that I had gotten the name Link Hills wrong. “Link” in this case is a surname, this family being the one whose land became the site of LHCC in the mid-1950s.
FIND A SITE
Among the many avid golfers in Greeneville and Greene County is Kent Bewley, whose late father, Roswell Bewley, was the first president of Link Hills Country Club. Kent would assume that same role in 1985, making the two Bewleys the first father and son to both serve as LHCC presidents.
Speaking to Kent recently in his lecture hall in the old Crescent School building, he reminded me of an unusual and interesting piece of Link Hills history: the late Bob Link, the member of the Link family directly involved in the sale of the land, is buried on the country club grounds.
Kent says Link, then an elderly man, made the sale of the land conditional on an agreement that when the time came he would be buried in what had been his family’s land.
His wish was granted. When you go up the entrance road into LHCC, his grave is on the left, marked by a headstone with the word “LINK” on it.
Kent had a front row seat, so to speak, in the creation of the Link Hills Country Club. He was a young boy who often followed his very active father, Roswell Bewley, observing his business activities, etc. It was valuable early training for Kent, who went on to pursue his own multi-faceted and successful professional life.
Roswell Bewley was an automobile dealer specializing in Pontiac, Packard and Cadillac vehicles. Kent would follow his father into the automotive business and also become a property developer and landlord.
The initial effort to create a country club in Greeneville was largely born out of the desire of local golfers to establish a bigger and better golf course than was available here at the time, Kent says.
The search for suitable and available land was the first step.
Key community leaders in the various early stages of the country club effort included Roswell Bewley, Wylie Milligan, Frank Gass Jr., Dr. Edsel Kilday, and others such as MC James, Judd Brumley, and Barney Smith.
Kent observed from the metaphorical sideline that his father “trampled the deal” in negotiations with Bob Link, who lived in the large, beautiful historic home that would later become the residence of Phil Bachman and his family. The showcase house is opposite the entrance to the LHCC.
Kent recalls that the negotiation process was largely acceptable to all sides, with the issue of Bob Link’s desire to be buried on the country club grounds being the only apparent “blockage”, although this was quickly resolved.
Bob Link noticed young Kent and presented him with a cannonball that had been found on the Link property around where the No. 2 hole is today. The cannonball was a relic from the war civil, during which the Confederates had a camp at the site of Link House.
Federal soldiers established an outpost on land that is now part of the golf course to watch the Confederates and their movements.
A SALE OF 300 ACRES
Long story short, the deal was done and 300 acres changed hands. Of the 300, approximately 150 would become the country club grounds, including the golf course. The rest would be sold.
Soon in Link Hills history, a British-born man came to the United States with his parents when he was 5 years old. As a young man, Robert Trent Jones worked as a caddy on a country club golf course. He would be a prominent figure in the world of golf for the rest of his 93-year life.
At Cornell University as a young man, Jones directed his studies towards golf course design and, upon graduation, began working with an architectural firm. By the 1930s, he was working independently as a golf course designer and establishing a reputation as a leader in the field.
By the time the Greeneville country club developers connected with him in the 1950s, Jones was to golf course design what Frank Lloyd Wright was to structural architecture. His courses were “the gold standard,” as Kent puts it.
Following the launch of Link Hills Country Club, membership and activities grew, with the golf course being its biggest attraction, with a swimming pool, tennis courts and a large clubhouse adding to its appeal.
Young Kent would have been the first person to use the club’s swimming pool if his sister, Rosalind, hadn’t distracted her and jumped into the water before Kent could.
By the mid-1980s, golfers using the Link Hills course were mostly happy with it, but some claimed the #5 and #8 holes needed some changes. Could course designer Jones be consulted on any adjustments?
Kent got in touch and waited for a response, not sure there would be one. Then one day, while standing in the Bewley Oldsmobile showroom working with a customer, an assistant told him he had a call.
From whom? Mr. Jones, he was told.
Thinking the caller was probably John M. Jones or another local Jones, he asked his associate to seek more specific identification. When the caller turned out to be Robert Trent Jones, Kent rushed to the phone.
Despite all the golf courses he had designed since LHCC, Jones remembered Link Hills well and fondly. The landscape layout was great for golf, he told Kent in that phone conversation.
Kent today remembers how cordial and friendly Jones was during that phone call. He was also sensitive to local concerns and “sent a man” to deal with the requested changes to the No. 5 and No. 8 holes, Kent says.
Today, Link Hills promotes its status as the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course through its website and other advertisements.
The course has grown since its inception, adding its “Back 9” section a few years after the first portion.
A MEETING AT THE MASTERS
There is yet another Jones connection in the world of Greene golf, Kent says. This time the Jones is not Robert Trent Jones, but his son, Rees. He. like his brother RT Jones Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps and became a famous golf course designer. Rees Jones, now in his 80s, now lives in New Jersey.
Kent was at the Masters golf tournament a few years ago, wearing a golf visor bearing the name Link Hills Country Club. A stranger approached him and asked him if he knew the Chuckey community in Tennessee.
That outsider turned out to be Rees Jones, whose familiarity with Chuckey stemmed from the course architecture he had done on the Graysburg Hills golf course, which has a Chuckey address.
Kent remains an active member of Link Hills Country Club and is probably the club’s oldest member. Having first been a member under the membership of his father’s family, he has remained a member ever since.
Link Hills remains one of his favorite golf courses, and he sees the reason for the local community’s pride in Link Hills and Graysburg Hills.
“Can another community like ours lay claim to two courses designed by Jones?” Kent asks.
GOLF AND BUSINESS
Although I was never a golfer myself, the late John M. Jones, for whom I worked for years when he was editor of The Greeneville Sun, was very fond of this game. as with many local business figures, the golf course was a place to meet with local professional peers, discuss the latest insights and news relevant to their work, and occasionally finalize business deals and details.
I remember John M. frequently returning to the Sun office after a golf outing, bringing news of an upcoming development in local business and industry that he had just learned about on the course.
It would be fascinating to know how much business has been done, over the years and decades, at the Link Hills and Graysburg Hills golf courses.
“The sun never sets on a Robert Trent Jones golf course,” the famous links architect liked to say. It was true: the man designed or reworked more than 500 golf courses around the world.
And even today the sun shines on some of the historic legacy of man right here in Greeneville and Greene County, Tennessee.
Cameron Judd is a Tennessean born and raised in Cookeville, and a resident of Greene County since 1982. An award-winning columnist and widely published author of westerns and fiction, he is retired from The Greeneville Sun. He and his wife Rhonda live in Chuckey.