It was a pleasant summer afternoon. The Treaty of Versailles had officially ended World War I. Carbondale was a boom town shipping countless tons of coal a year to power industry that would make America a superpower.
Dr. John Niles, Frank Hemmelright and J.W. Johnson sat on the porch of a Crystal Lake summer home. They had just finished a round of golf in Honesdale, and were musing how much they enjoyed the game but how inconvenient it was to drive to Honesdale to play. Johnson pointed to a hill that he owned on the other side of the lake, between this lake and the lake beyond, an area that would later be known as Greenfield Township. He told them if they could generate the interest, he would give them that land to build a golf course. The idea of Elkview Country Club was born.
The club opened in 1919, and will celebrate its centennial this year.
J.W. Johnson was president of what would become one of the largest and most successful medical and pharmaceutical companies in the world. Today their revenues exceed $60 billion a year. J.W., along with his brothers, founded the company in 1886 with 14 employees and revolutionized the medical world by developing a technique to mass produce sterilized surgical bandages. What followed was a succession of products too numerous to mention (e.g. Band Aids, dental floss, baby powder, Listerine, Tylenol and more). There he was, sitting on the porch that summer’s day.
His companions owned lakefront cottages nearby. Dr. John Southworth Niles was an eminent Carbondale surgeon and president of Carbondale General Hospital. During Dr. Niles’ career it was estimated that more than 23,000 patients were treated.
Frank Hemmelright began working in the coal mines when he was 10 years old. Through hard work and ability, he rose to become president of the Temple Coal Co., president of the Peckville Bank, chairman and director of the Scranton-Lackawanna Trust Co. and director of the First National Bank of Scranton, to name a few of his accomplishments.
Johnson gave them the land and provided a loan to build a club house. Niles and Hemmelright put up $25,000 each and recruited 75 charter members at $75 for a year’s membership. Membership was closed at 75 but within a year had to be expanded to 200.
They hired a superintendent of the work to supervise construction but took a while to decide on a course architect. They eventually settled on Donald Ross, a designer of more than 400 courses, including Aronimink in Pennsylvania and Seminole in Florida and Pinehurst in North Carolina.
What else could you possibly need to complete this picture? Of course: a young phenom with immense talent. Elkview had one. His name was Carl Cramer. Carl won his first championship in 1925 at the age of 12 and dominated Elkview golf for the next 25 years, winning his seventh championship in 1946. The rest of Elkview’s finest finally breathed a sigh of relief when Carl moved away from the area. Over the years others have tried to match Cramer. There was Jimmy Allen (7 championships), Vince Scarpetta, Jr. (6), John Pash (5), Dave Scarpetta (4) but it wasn’t until the next century that Harry Heck (10) set the modern record.
Women from the beginning were an active and integral part of Elkview. There is more than ample evidence of their support, planning and participation. Their enthusiasm and pursuit of excellence is well documented by their champions: Helen Pronko (4 championships), Jane Gillen (8), Kay DeRichie (9), Marlene Smith (9), Debbie Novak (5) and Selena Cerra (4).
The club is planning several events to celebrate the centennial, including a May 7 cocktail party, a June 29 “Hickory Stick” Tournament and an Aug. 17 dinner dance with a fireworks display.
The story of Elkview parallels in many ways the story of golf in a changing America. Elkview, like the game and the country, endures, filled with expectation and promise, testing and resisting, heroics and dashed hopes, but still looking good here on that hill between the two lakes.
So, the next time you happen by, have a glance over the other side of the lake and remember three men sitting on the porch on a summer’s day.