Frank L. Oliphant

Frank L. Oliphant

A century ago, in June 1921, the Vincennes Country Club was organized and property on the Buena Vista Farms east of Vincennes was acquired for a golf course and prospective clubhouse. That fall, construction of the 9-hole course was started, designed by noted Chicago course architect William Langford.

The new course finally opened in the late summer of 1923, replacing a temporary course that had been laid out on the old Fairgrounds. While this was a happy occasion for club members, there were already serious concerns about the debt that had been incurred. The initial investment to purchase the grounds alone was $20,000 (more than $300,000 in today’s money). At that point, construction of a clubhouse was put on hold.

The coming years saw the infant club struggling financially. In the spring of 1926, the club entered into an agreement with the city to operate the course as a municipal course for that year. Then, in February 1927, John T. Oliphant, the original owner of the property, sued the club, with the Citizens Trust Company of Vincennes as co-defendant, for foreclosure of the mortgage. The Knox County Superior Court appointed a receiver to operate and maintain the golf course. Frank Oliphant, John’s brother, President of the Vincennes Bridge Company, turned the course over to his company, and, for the 1928 season, operated it at a loss. He hoped that the club could again take it over, although that did not seem likely, as club membership was steadily decreasing.

In March 1929, a series of meetings were held to attempt to organize a new club and build a clubhouse. A clubhouse was deemed vital to making the golf course a success. Frank Oliphant agreed to erect a $25,000 clubhouse and give the club five years to purchase the building and grounds. While $10,000 was initially collected for this purpose, it was determined that the money could not be raised and the entire plan was abandoned. The checks were returned, and Oliphant continued to run the course as a private enterprise for many more years.

In 1934, a temporary clubhouse on the property was completed, incorporating an old pavilion on the grounds.

Finally, in April 1944, it was announced that a new club, the Buena Vista Country Club, Inc., had been formed and the property leased to them. The club worked that spring to get the still 9-hole course in shape. One green had been rooted up by hogs.

On March 7, 1946, a meeting was held at the YMCA, in which the Buena Vista Country Club was reorganized into the Vincennes Country Club, Inc. Thirty-nine people signed on as members. Their plan was to build a clubhouse and acquire the present golf course by selling 160 debentures for $500 each. This plan was successful, and the club became free of indebtedness, once again taking ownership of the golf course.

In 1948-49, the long-hoped for modern clubhouse was constructed.

In the coming years, the club was once again plagued by financial difficulties leading to the sale of all assets. On Feb. 5, 1959, members of the Vincennes Lodge No. 291, B.P.O. Elks voted to purchase the holdings of the Vincennes Country Club, Inc. and to operate the golf course and clubhouse. The vote was 233 to 8. The lodge took on approximately $44,000 in first mortgage bonds and some $73,000 in debentures were cancelled with the holders receiving various forms of compensation. Further, the lodge agreed to pay the current property taxes, along with a $2,900 balance due on six golf carts. The club was then known as the Elk’s Country Club.

The Elks immediately began remodeling the clubhouse and several years later, expanded the golf course to 18-holes. They initially charged their members and immediate family $125 for a season golf membership. Green fees were $5 on Sundays and holidays and $3 on weekdays.

The club would remain in the hands of the Elks for the next 50 years, although fiscal concerns continued. In early 2010, brothers Brett and Mark Melton, the former a PGA professional in Daviess County, purchased all of the assets for $850,000, renaming the club the Country Club of Old Vincennes. The owners constructed a new clubhouse and opened the course to the general public.

Finally, in 2017, local developers L.J. Benjamin and Mike Sievers purchased the property. The club now embarks upon the next 100 years of its history.

Brian Spangle can be reached at brianrspangle60@outlook.com. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published last year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.

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