Alderwood Country Club: An airport runway that once hosted the 1937 US Amateur (Portland, Oregon)
Posted on Monday, August 05 2013 10:38:52 AM in News by Akbar Chisti
Alderwood Country Club was the brainchild of a group of 16 Portland golf enthusiasts in the 1920s. One night, they came up with the idea of building a golf course on the banks of the Columbia River in NE Portland. With only enthusiasm and their passion for golf, they managed to build one of the Northwest’s most legendary golf courses.
The founders of Alderwood had not picked a better time to build their course—the 1920s was the height of the Golden Age of Golf Design. From the end of World War I and the beginning of the Great Depression, the number of golf courses in America grew from 750 to over 6000. But quantity wasn’t the only thing increasing, the quality of the golf courses from this era make them the best courses in the country to this day. As we are well aware, Pebble Beach, Cypress Point and Augusta National were all built during the Golden Age. These great courses were created by new generation of golf architects like Donald Ross, Alister Mackenzie and others who pushed the boundaries and set the foundation for this era of American golf design.
Starting in November of 1923, the group of 16 headed by Aaron H. Gould, began adding members to their perspective club. Eventually they had over 150 people interested in their venture, at which point they flew in famed golf designer and Irish Imigrant, A. Vernon Macan, to survey the site. Macon designed 15 courses in the Northwest including Columbia Edgewater in Portland and Broadmoor Golf Club outside Seattle. Alderwood was Macon’s most difficult and bold golf design to date. The Alderwood founders eventually raised enough money to build the course, and it was opened in June of 1925.
Alderwood became the 6th golf course in the Portland area (Columbia Edgewater opened that same year). With its strategically placed bunkers and tricky water hazards, it was one of the most difficult courses on the west coast at the time. In fact, several water hazards were removed shortly after the course opened due to its high level of difficulty. Macan’s bold and exciting design also made Alderwood one of the most architecturally significant courses in the area. There were 12 clubs in Portland at the time, making the Portland area a premiere golf location for the Country.
Aaron Gould went to 1936 USGA Amateur in Garden City Golf Club in New York. There he met with USGA organizers who became interested in using Alderwood to host next year’s championship. The USGA committee flew out to Alderwood and was very impressed. Alderwood’s reputation as a challenging course, as well as its gorgeous views of the Columbia River made it an ideal choice. The large spaces between the links, also would provide ample room for spectators and grandstands which were extremely important in large scale championships like the Amateur. The USGA organizing committee quickly decided to host the championship at Alderwood the following summer.
It was up to Gould to sell the Portland community on this opportunity. At the time Great Depression was gripping the nation, and golf playership was hitting a low. Many city leaders were skeptical of hosting a national event for what was then considered a rich man’s sport during the height of an economic downturn. Alderwood itself had lost over 200 members due to harsh economic conditions. Gould explained to the city that the press coverage, tourism and injection of capital from the tournament would be a huge boost to the golf community and Portland as a whole. The city eventually came around, and organization for the championship began. It would become the first USGA sanctioned event of this calibre to reach the Pacific Northwest.
For one week in August, dozens of sports writers, fans and golfers descended on Alderwood. In traditional northwest fashion, the day before the tournament witnessed large downpours and a lightning storm. But, the weather cleared up for the first day of play. Portland amateur golf legend Don Moe was the hometown favorite, but didn’t make it to the final round. Instead the win went to Nebraska amateur Johnny Goodman, who became one of a couple of golfers ever to win the US Open (in 1933) as an Amateur and before proceeding to win the US Amateur as he did at Alderwood in 1937. Mr. Macan, course architect was quoted as mentioning that no player would break 70 during the tournament, and as a testament to the difficulty of the track this statement held true through the 1937 US Am.
The tournament was a huge success for the city of Portland and Oregon’s golf community. The event drew more than 5000 people daily and the final round attracted over 9000 spectators. The event invigorated the golf community and contributed to the growing popularity of sport in the Portland area despite the Great Depression. Portland wouldn’t hold a golf event of this magnitude until the Portland Golf Club hosted the Ryder cup in 1947.
In 1948 the Vanport Flood caused the waters of the Columbia River to wash through the Portland area. Vanport City, which was north of Alderwood, was completely submerged and reported 15 deaths. Luckily the Club had no fatalities, though the first floor of the clubhouse was submerged in 1 ½ feet of water. The course itself was completely underwater, but the efficient drainage system quickly dispelled the water.
Beginning in the 40s, the club experienced increasing conflict with the neighboring Portland Airport. Incoming and outgoing flights paths were right above the course, which lead to noise population and distraction. While Alderwood board directors and members found this troublesome, it was nothing in comparison the new problem that arose.
By 1949, the Portland Airport had plans to expand—right into the southern end of Alderwood Country Club. The club and the City of Portland spent weeks in negotiations, battling over the land. In 1950 the city acquired the land and paid Alderwood a sufficient severance to allow the club to re-build seven holes of the course on adjacent property.
However, in 1952 the Port of Portland announced new plans to buy Alderwood in order to build a second landing strip. The Port offered the club a far lower price that the course was valued at, and unsurprisingly members refused to sell. Eventually the Port of Portland had Alderwood condemned. The course closed in July of 1953 and the Port of Portland began construction of the new airport runway. Though the course had surivived the Great Depression and World War II, it couldn’t survive the rabid era of progress.
Alderwood was built at a time when golf was only beginning to gain widespread popularity in the United States. While Alderwood is no longer in existence today, it lives on in the diverse and thriving Oregon golf tradition it helped create.
Headline of Johnny Goodman's 1937 Amateur win at Alderwood
"Bidding Adieu" June 28th 1953 Oregonian
Photos courtesy of Historical Oregonian Archives and Oregon Historical Society. Blog post written by Olivia Kantor, SEAMUS GOLF intern and International Business student at George Washington. Special thanks to Pat Sutton, Head Golf Pro at Riverside Country Club in Portland, Oregon, and leader in the golf history community for providing the Scorecard, panoramic photography , and helpful commentary regarding the special 1937 event. Please note that this is an attempt to recover information on this great, lost club. If you have any information that might be helpful to our research of Alderwood Country Club, please do not hesitate to let us know ([email protected]).
Our dropbox link here contains links to significant articles or photos used in the production of this post and further research.