WHITE MOUNTAIN COUNTRY CLUB - Whether it was the high altitude that makes a drive go farther, the fresh cool pine-scented air, or the challenge of missing the ponderosa pines, someone heard the siren call of golf on the mountain in 1952.
White Mountain Summer Homes and White Mountain Country Club became a reality in 1954.
Members will celebrate their fiftieth anniversary Aug. 6, 7 and 8 with a luncheon and entertainment by troubadours Marshall Trimble and Dolan Ellis, a Pioneer Potluck Dinner, and an Anniversary Party and Hoedown with music by Mogollon.
Iron-ically, the "father" of golf on the mountain was a non-golfer, Frank Crosby, partner and chief bartender at Charlie Clark's Log Cabin Restaurant. Charlie Clark's in 1952 was known to nearly everyone in Arizona. Besides being a steak house and bar, it was a gathering place, a clearing house for information, and an early day "think tank."
Crosby said, "I think the idea came from a forest ranger. The ranger had a father who was a golf pro in the East. He was very interested in building a golf course in the Pinetop area and he knew that if we could offer White Mountain Summer Homes for sale that we could be onto something big!"
After a sociable drink or two, the ranger told Crosby they ought to get a group together and approach the USDA Forest Service about buying the former Civilian Conservation Corps Camp for a country club.
Someone persuaded Sen. Barry Goldwater to write a letter to the Forest Service asking them to sell the CCC tract.
Since the original group didn't have enough money to buy the property, they decided to develop the tract into a golf club and summer home area in cooperation with the Forest Service under a recreational use permit. They worked out the details with Lakeside District Ranger Nelson Bernard and Forest Supervisor Clarence "Lanky" Spalding.
Those early days were interesting. Crosby said, "I didn't even know what a golf course was like when we started. Nobody in Pinetop knew anything about golf courses."
A group of long-time club members met last week to exchange stories about their modest beginnings. They dispelled the notion that White Mountain Country Club was built by "a bunch of rich guys." Like Kevin Costner's "Field of Dreams," it was developed by ordinary guys on the assumption that "if you build it, they will come."
Build it they did, with determination and the help of friends. Milt Coggins Jr. said, "Ten guys formed a corporation and donated all their time to make it work."
Long-time member Tom Pavelin said, "They offered stock in the White Mountain Country Club for $180 a share in 1954. We had 234 members."
Southwest Forest Industries, Inc., the company that owned the McNary sawmill, offered corporate memberships. Pavelin said, "They used to pay a bonus of $50 to a member who brought another member in."
Sauve said the idea of developing a country club was not well received in Pinetop at first because business people saw it as competition. "There were some sour grapes in town because you could buy a hamburger at the club house. It took about a year for the town to see this was heaven-sent."
Pavelin, who still lives in the country club year around, said, "We helped one another. We were all neighbors."
Coggins remembers developer Gray Madison hiring laborers to work on the greens. "He'd be out there working with them all day."
They didn't hire an architect to lay out the golf course, They let nature do it, following the mosaic of forest and meadow. Coggins said, "It was cheap. Any place there was a meadow, we'd put a hole there."
The depression that is now a lake was once a flat used by the CCC workers for a ball field, according to club manager Geoff Williams.
Joe Bob Neely, a member of the first country club board of directors, remembers one hole where a spring bubbled up and kept the ground soggy. "We rebuilt it for $140 and our labor," he said.
Coggins said, "No. 7 was a meadow. We really got a leg up on that. The dirt was gumbo. Joe Clifford took the logs we cut for pay and used his heavy equipment to build the green. He did so much for us."
They bought used pipe from a project in New Mexico. Harold Britt sent his lumber truck to pick up the pipe. They got some used PVC pipe out of the mines in Globe. Their out-of-pocket expense was $35,000 for the first nine holes.
Coggins said, "We never had any debt. We didn't buy anything unless we had the money."
Milt Coggins Sr. worked on the golf course tirelessly while it was being built. His son said, "We didn't really have an architect. We had about four kind of flat places. We seeded it in the fall. It snowed a lot that winter. In the spring it came up gorgeous."
Long-time member Roy Sauve said Grounds Superintendent Marvin Wahlin cleaned out his horse corral every fall and spread the manure on the golf course. Sauve said, "My horses had a lot to do with how green it was."
They didn't really have a club manager at first. One season they hired a man named Dick Jahnke who sang at the club at night. When the season was over, he put on his back pack and walked away and no one ever heard from him again.
Pavelin said to raise money they had potlucks. "We made up a menu, told everybody what to bring, then charged 35 cents to go through the line. The money went to the club."
Pavelin said the country club only assessed money twice, $500 per lot each time, to help build the golf course and kitchen.
The Forest Service charged homeowners $35 a year to lease a lot in White Mountain Summer Homes. Homeowners paid for improvements, including houses and roads. The entire area was relatively undeveloped at that time. Pinetop was a hamlet of 600 or so. People had to go to McNary to make a phone call or see a doctor.
By 1966 tourism was on the rise and the demand for summer homes was growing. The Forest Service decided to increase all the rentals to $120 per year. That, combined with the realization that the leases were expendable, led to a decision by homeowners to purchase their lots.
A committee composed of directors and officers of the White Mountain Summer Home Association and the White Mountain Country Club began negotiations with the Forest Service to acquire title to the land.
Bob Fernandez of Bob's Realty in Pinetop was instrumental in working out a three-way trade between the Forest Service, Southwest Forest Industries, and the Homeowners' Association. Sauve said property belonging to the Aztec Land and Cattle Company was also involved in the complex exchange.
Because homeowners had already paid for improving their lots and had put in roads and utilities, the valuation was on an acreage basis instead of by the number of lots. On July 29, 1965, the parties agreed on an acreage valuation of $688,000. In addition to the cost of their lots, homeowners had to pay $100 per lot for platting and engineering, $100 for title and escrow fees, and $50 for filing fees, appraisals, legal and accounting expenses.
In 1966 title to the summer home area was transferred to the White Mountain Summer Home Association, Inc., a non-profit corporation. It consisted of 770 acres, including 408 one-acre lots, a golf course, clubhouse, and other facilities. The highest priced house in the subdivision was $37,000. (The highest price paid recently for a home was $1.12 million.)
One interesting stipulation was that no additional lot would be created in an area where such a lot would interfere with the view or adversely affect the value of any adjacent lot owner. The homeowners' association has stuck with it, although there are now 450 lots.
Fairway lots sold for $3,500 in 1967; other lots went for as low as $1,125. Roy Sauve said, "The evaluation was based on 'what was reasonable and fair.' "
Today, fairway lots at White Mountain Country Club sell for "whatever you ask," according to some of the members. One sold recently for nearly $500,000.
People received memberships in the golf club when they bought a lot. Realtor Jake Struble said, "This was always a golf club. This club has always been a club for families. We had six kids. We all went down to the cookouts at the club house."
The kids were expected to follow the same rules as the grownups around the golf course. Wayne Hall joined the club in 1959. He remembers that a couple of kids ran across a green and picked up some of his golf balls on No. 9 when he was playing. Hall was going to get after them, but Milt Coggins Sr., the first golf pro, said, "That's Joe Bob Neely's kids."
Hall said, "I thought you treated everyone the same here."
Coggins said, "If their dad is chairman of the board of the golf club you don't." He picked up two new balls, handed them to Hall and charged them to Neely's account.
Struble said, "We've had the greatest pros that have ever been."
Coggins said, "My favorite golfer of all time was Phyllis Stahl. She was 76 and played nine holes every day. She'd come in the club house afterwards and say, 'This is the most beautiful day of my life and I'm playing with my best friend."
Prominent Arizonan Bob Goldwater came storming in while the ladies were ready to tee off. He told Coggins, "I can't believe you're going to let those old ladies play ahead of me."
Coggins told him, "Yes, sir. And if you can keep up with them, I'll buy you lunch." Coggins said he never complained again.
Approximately 25 homes suffered damage in the big snow of 1967 when The Mountain had almost 8 feet in two days. All across The Mountain, neighbors helped neighbors rebuild and repair damages. When the roof of the pro shop collapsed, Harold Britt fixed it. After 1967 the summer home owners propped up their roofs with poles before they left in the fall.
At one time the summer homes had a fire chief and an old fire engine. The only problem was, it would never start when there was a fire, so it was retired.
They also acquired an indestructible dump truck that rolled into the lake one day. Calvin Matthews, who owned a garage and towing service in Pinetop, brought his wrecker and pulled it out with a cable. Sauve said, "When they pulled it out, the damn thing fired up."
The White Mountain Country Club is considered one of the most challenging in the region. A 1984 article by Ed Leinenkugel described it as "a tight 6,604 yard par - 72 course carved out of ponderosa pine that features several dog-leg holes, hilly sloping fairways and slick, undulating bent-grass greens. Although it's not a long course by today's standards, it plays relatively long due to its tightness and its soft fairways that yield little roll."
Friendships made in those early days lasted a lifetime. Most of the original board members are deceased now, but their stories are still told, and the spirit of the White Mountain Country Club lives on in those stories.
One day Bob Rehfeld and Eddie Quirk were coming in to the 9th hole at the lake. When they got to the lake, Eddie asked Bob if he could use his six iron. He explained that he had left his back at the car and didn't want to go get it. Rehfeld handed it to him.
Quirk hit the ball into the lake followed by the six iron. Rehfeld said, "That was my iron!"
Quirk said, "If you can't afford this game, don't play it."
A crowd of onlookers stands by in 1954 while Golf Pro Milt Coggins Sr. tees off at the newly built White Mountain Country Club .
Ten local men formed a non-profit corporation to develop the summer homes and golf course.
Their dedication and hard work made it a "Field of Dreams."