Palmetto Golf Club
Drone Video of Palmetto Golf Club
Palmetto Golf Club was founded in 1892 by Thomas Hitchcock, a prominent sportsman from Long Island, New York. He and his wife attracted many wealthy families from the Northeast who established a Winter Colony in Aiken. These winter residents created a number of recreational facilities for polo, fox hunting, horseback riding, and tennis. Several large estates were constructed in the heart of Aiken in the vicinity of the Palmetto Golf Club, many of which continue to exist.
Recognizing the interest being taken in golf in America, Mr. Hitchcock laid out four holes in 1892 where holes #16, 17, and 18 and the practice range are now located. Title to the land and facilities was transferred to the Whitney Trustees in 1901 to assure that it would be preserved for the future. The Palmetto Golf Club has leased the facilities from the Whitney Trustees since that time and recently signed a new lease through the year 2080.
After the first four holes were constructed in 1892, Herbert Leeds, who also built Myopia Hunt Club in Boston, laid out the remainder of the initial nine holes. Palmetto was expanded in 1895 to 18 holes with the completion of the second nine holes that had been designed by Leeds and James Mackrell, Palmetto’s first golf professional. There is a record of Donald Ross having done some work at Palmetto in 1928. It is believed that his firm installed an early irrigation system on the golf course by damming up the creek down the hill from the 18th tee.
In 1932, when Dr. Alister MacKenzie had completed the Augusta National Golf Club, he was asked to draw up plans for converting the Palmetto sand greens to grass and lengthening the course. Many of the original Augusta National investors were Winter Colonists from Aiken who also belonged to Palmetto. Wendell Miller of New York, who had just finished building Augusta National, was contracted to manage the project. The work at the Palmetto used some excess materials from the Augusta National project.
Research indicates that the Palmetto Golf Club is the oldest, continually operated eighteen hole golf course in its original location in the Southeast and probably the second oldest in the United States, with the Chicago Golf Club being the oldest.
Palmetto Golf Club has hosted numerous prominent professional golfers throughout the years. The legendary British professional Harry Vardon visited the Club during his initial visit to America in 1900 when he won the U.S. Open at the Chicago Golf Club. During Vardon’s visit to Palmetto, as a professional, he was denied access to the clubhouse and was not allowed to wear “plus fours” on the course. He was only allowed to smoke on the course by virtue of a special dispensation from the golf committee.
Some of the other prominent professionals who have played Palmetto are Masters Champions Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Sam Snead and, in recent years, Ben Crenshaw. From 1945 to 1953 Palmetto held the prestigious Devereux Milburn tournament as a pro-am the weekend before the Masters. This tournament was won by such notables as Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, George Fazio, Henry Picard, and Lawson Little.
While not one of the five original founding members of the USGA, Palmetto Golf Club joined on January 22, 1896, some fourteen months after the USGA was founded. The Palmetto Golf Club’s USGA certificate is believed to be the oldest still in existence and is on display at the Club. Currently Palmetto Golf Club’s USGA certificate ranks 19th in seniority among active USGA certificates.
The current clubhouse, completed in 1902, was designed by noted New York architect Stanford White, who also designed the Shinnecock Hills clubhouse. A number of the early members of Palmetto also were members of Shinnecock. The Historic Aiken Foundation has designated the Palmetto Golf Club as a place of historic significance.