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Pasture Golf to PGA Championship

The rolling pastures of Homer Summerour’s cotton farm have attracted golfers both then and now.

In the land lottery of 1820, the Summerour family won that parcel lying along the Chattahoochee River and on both sides of a dirt trail that lead to the settlement of Turkey Roost, later renamed Pinckneyville. They may have imagined row after row of fluffy white cotton, nuggets of gold waiting to be panned from just under the silt or neighbors getting’ dunked for baptism in the waters of the big pond.

Certainly they couldn’t have imagined, even in their wildest of dreams, masses of 40,000 golf fans traipsing around the lush green acreage following the likes of Phil Michelson, Rory McElroy or Tiger Woods--modern day players stroking their way to the title of 2011 PGA Champion. 

Homer Summerour inherited the land that is now the home of the Atlanta Athletic Club as his portion of his father’s inheritance just before 1900. He and his wife, Susan Mitcham, bred horses, raised a stock of pigs, sheep and feeder cattle. They cross-pollenated one of the earliest hybrid cotton seeds ever developed in the state, known as "half-and-half."

Quite the experimenter, Homer dabbled in irrigation systems and the rotation of crops, as well building a dredge boat to scoop gold from the chilly river. A natural mechanic, he also designed and built an elevator in his home on the property so his dear wife could lower glass milk jugs to the cellar for cool storage.

While charismatic amateur Bobby Jones was wowing crowds from East Lake to Augusta, many of Homer’s neighbors took to his pastures to smack rocks with wood slates from a sandy tee box to plowed smooth "greens."

The goal was to roll and bump your ball into the hole which, in those days, was a variety of tuna, soup or coffee can. Hazards of "pasture golf" included grazing cows, squawking flocks of chickens and the thick fog lofting up from a frigid Chattahoochee.

Players were encouraged to not only replace divots with sand (buckets of which were left along the rough course with scoopers included), but to clean up the droppings from the grazing "obstacles." Eventually, some players stroked real balls along the gentle hills of the Summerour farm with wooden clubs purchased from catalogues. 

Back in those days, primitive churches in the area used one of the ponds, now considered a hazard on the Riverside course, to immerse believers in the waters to save their sinful souls. Revivals on this property are documented in Summerour bibles and the family would often cook up a pig in a pit for the enjoyment of worshippers gathering for fellowship.

When Homer’s son Ben sold most of the property to the Atlanta Athletic Club in the 1960s, a small section (running from the river to what is now Highway 141) was also purchased for use as a shooting range. For decades, shots rang out reminiscent of a bygone era when settlers hunted deer or rabbit there.

Construction of today’s professional links began after the club moved to John’s Creek. The Atlanta Athletic Club was a private club first established on Edgewood Avenue in Atlanta in 1898 then expanded to East Lake. 

Robert "Bobby" Trent Jones was considered the world’s most famous amateur golfer. His career culminated with the Grand Slam of golf in 1930 and he was an active member of AAC, serving as president until his death in 1972. Display cases full of Jones’ memorabilia grace the "trophy room" of its grand clubhouse.

No, duffers of the early 1900s, just hoping to drop a smooth round rock in an old tin can, could never have dreamed of the bustle of activities on their golf pastures this hot week in August of 2011.

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