Milt Crandall was going about his day-to-day duties as manager of the Brookside Par 3 golf course in Roanoke a few years ago when a young woman from upstate New York showed up to learn the game.
Crandall gave him some superficial instructions, then he stood back to watch his new student tee off on the 95-yard first hole.
“She said, ‘I’ve never played golf before. Trying for the first time,” Crandall recalls. “She got on the first hole and hit the ball in the hole, the first golfer’s shot, and she left the course. Quit. Plus she quit.
The young woman may have given up on golf, but Brookside is still here.
On Saturday, the club adjacent to Williamson Road in North Roanoke County will celebrate its 60th anniversary.
The venerable nine-hole course, sitting on 12.66 acres crossed by Carvin Creek, debuted on May 1, 1962 and is one of the few remaining par 3 courses in the state and the only one within 100 miles.
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Built by Jack Hall on land owned by his brother Bill, Brookside opened when Arnold Palmer was king on the PGA Tour and has survived the golf industry’s economic ups and downs to remain a somewhat raw but valuable in the Roanoke Valley.
“Sixty years is amazing for a par 3 to last,” said Crandall, a Maryland native who ran the course from 1998 to 2018. “It’s a great design. It’s a fun place.
The appeal lies in the simplicity and availability of the course.
A nine-hole course takes about an hour and the venue is open 365 days a year, weather permitting.
With holes ranging from 70 to 130 yards, only a handful of clubs and a putter are needed to run the 850-yard course.
Many times the putter is not needed.
Anyone who’s answered the phone in the Roanoke Times sports department over the past two decades has become familiar with Crandall’s voice.
Weekdays, weekends, holidays…if Crandall called, someone at Brookside had just scored a hole-in-one.
How many have there been in 60 years?
“Thousands,” said Crandall, 81, still a steady golfer who has himself landed 15 aces.
The late “Brother” Jack Dillon holds the course record with 48 holes in one.
According to the Brookside website, the course scoring record is shared by Jerry Saunders and George Mercer, who each carded a 7 under par 20.
Miscellaneous course records include the lowest score in a captain’s pick at four to 18 set by members of Northside High School’s 2007 golf team, Chad Jarrett, Max Barney, Josiah Branham and Cory Woodring.
How about the course record for most rounds played in a day?
This took place on June 23, 2021, when Roanoker Bill Parsley played 28 rounds – or 252 holes – over a 12 hour period.
Parsley, now 64, said his background as a marathon runner motivated him to aim for the course record.
“It was the 20th anniversary of the last marathon I ran,” Parsley said. “I haven’t been able to race for 20 years, so I thought, ‘What a great way to celebrate the anniversary of this.’ “
Current course director and former Northside High golf coach Jim Wolfe witnessed much of the Parsley Golf Marathon, which was essentially a series of sprints.
“He walked really fast,” Wolfe said. “The other people who were playing kind of knew what he was doing and let him play. It had virtually no facilities. I guess that goes to show that we think too much about the game sometimes.”
Parsley, a retired Norfolk & Southern employee and club member who took up golf in his mid-50s, started playing at 6 a.m. He completed 20 laps, then returned home to rest and recharge. He came back in the afternoon and knocked out the other eight rounds.
He averages 21 minutes per round. His best nine-hole score was 25.
At the end of the record-breaking day, Parsley celebrated the only way he knew how.
“I went home and sat in the mirror,” he said. “Then the next day I went out and played about eight or nine [rounds] then around eight or nine o’clock the next day.
Parsley expects his record to fall. When does it?
“I’m just going to turn around and smash it again,” he said.
Brookside’s hours of operation are seasonal, running from 9 or 10 a.m. until dark.
Night golf is available on request as each green is equipped with lights.
The lights have been in place since the course opened, Crandall said.
Tragedy struck in the early 1980s when a young golfer was electrocuted when he contacted a bare wire from a lamppost with his golf club, Crandall said.
“The wires were frayed and he picked up his club trying to find his golf ball and hit that wire,” Crandall said. “Once that happened, they put the wires above ground.”
The property changed hands twice and the 19.66 acres including 7 acres housing an equipment storage facility were listed for sale in 2016 until taken off the market in 2017.
Crandall’s brother-in-law, Kenny Mooty, is the current owner of the course.
Crandall resigned as course director in 2018, exactly 20 years to the day after taking over the operation after a career in real estate in Maryland.
“I worked 90 hours a week, on average, for the year,” he said. “In summer, 125 hours.
“How can a man work 125 hours a week? You must have dedication. You must have love. It was the most fun a person could do. If I had to do an errand, I couldn’t wait to go back. Brookside does this to you.
Brookside exploded in its early days under Archie Goode, who ran the course with his wife, Elsie, until 1987.
Goode was a local legend, such a familiar gentleman that locals simply referred to Brookside as ‘Archie’s Place’.
Brookside originally had a driving range on land across Clubhouse Lane, which is now the site of a strip mall.
While some of the establishments on Williamson Road at the time may not have been child friendly, Brookside was welcoming to the young people of the valley.
One of them was David Tolley, the Roanoke native whose second-place finish in the 1982 U.S. Amateur Championship earned him a berth at the 1983 Masters.
“The road to Augusta started right there,” Tolley told Roanoke Times writer Randy King in 2013. “From age 7 until I was 13, I played Brookside because I wasn’t old enough to go on a big course.
“My family lived just behind the place on Bunker Lane. I could walk there in two minutes and played all day. … My mother liked it because she knew where I was. She was one hell of a babysitter. You could never get in trouble at Brookside.
The only real danger now might be for cars on Florist Road, which runs just behind the No 7 green and is a short duck hook from the No 8 tee.
“It happens periodically,” Wolfe said of the errant tee shots ringing off the vehicles.
Brookside not only survived the COVID-19 pandemic, it actually thrived.
“It may sound weird, but COVID was good for us,” Wolfe said. “People were coming in saying, ‘We’ve never played golf before, but we have to get out there and do something. “
Brookside was founded with a core “If you build it, they will come” philosophy that has held true for six decades. The cozy clubhouse behind the #1 tee is largely the same structure as it was in 1962.
The club is holding a captain’s choice tournament on Saturday in which the three players in each team must be from three different generations.
Players who play two rounds on Saturday and Sunday will only pay 60 cents for the second nine holes in honor of the 60th anniversary.
The golf world is focusing next week on Augusta, where the Masters takes place from Thursday to Sunday, preceded by the annual Par 3 tournament on Wednesday.
It will be open to businesses.
“People who play here are like their second home,” Crandall said. “A lot of them come here every day and play, salt of the earth in Roanoke. They’ve become family.
Brookside climbs to the top. No abandonment project.
“It really is an amazing place for people to start playing golf,” Crandall said. “We had a new wave of activity. Hopefully this will last.