History

Founded in 1894 in Akron, Ohio, Portage Country Club is one of the oldest clubs in America. The Club’s founding members were Charles C. Goodrich (the son of Dr. Benjamin F. Goodrich, the founder of B.F. Goodrich Company), Charles G. Raymond (an executive at B.F. Goodrich Company) and Bertram G. Work (also an executive at B.F Goodrich Company).

The growth of Portage paralleled the rise of the rubber industry in Akron. B.F. Goodrich Company, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and General Tire (four of the world’s major tire companies) were all founded and headquartered in Akron during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. As a result, not only did Akron become America’s fastest growing city from 1910-1920, but Portage Country Club soon became the place where some of the country’s most prominent families and their guests gathered.

Originally referred to as the “Portage Golf Club”, its initial location was a rural area a few miles from the current site (then known as the “West Hill Residential District”). Charles C. Goodrich and Charles G. Raymond persuaded Raymond’s father-in-law, Colonel George T. Perkins, to allow them to lay out a golf course on the Perkins farm. The founding members rented a structure on the farm known as the “Old John Brown House” (once the home of John Brown, the abolitionist who became well known at Harper’s Ferry) and constructed a crude nine-hole golf course around it. The Club’s locker room facilities were located on the second story of a nearby stable.

It is also interesting to note that at about this time in 1899, Mr. Work, together with Coburn Haskell (a prominent Cleveland businessman and sportsman), received a patent on a golf ball that greatly helped accelerate the popularity of the game. Specifically, they invented the early form of today’s modern golf ball, a solid core wrapped tightly with rubber threads covered with a harder rubber cover known as the “Haskell golf ball” (allowing for both better distance and greater wear). The balls were first made at B.F. Goodrich Company.

The Club became affiliated with the United States Golf Association in 1904. Interest and membership in the Club grew and on January 5, 1905 it incorporated under the name “The Portage Country Club Company.”

In 1905, with membership still growing rapidly, the Club moved to its present location at the corner of Twin Oaks and Portage Path. The famous Chicago architect Howard Shaw designed the original clubhouse, and the formal opening was on May 19, 1906. By 1917 sufficient acreage had been acquired to expand the course to 18 holes.

The acquisition of the increased acreage occurred on the eve of the “Roaring 20’s”, which was a period of great growth for the game of golf and is often referred to as the “Golden Age” of golf course architecture. At this time (1918), Portage commissioned William B. Langford of the prominent architectural firm Langford and Moreau, to design a new 18-hole golf course instantly making Portage Country Club one of the best and most complete clubs in the United States.

Langford was a golf course designer and civil engineer from Illinois. He graduated from both Yale and Columbia. Langford and Moreau produced over 200 golf courses, primarily in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. In addition to Portage, some of Langford and Moreau’s more famous designs include, Wakonda (Iowa), Skokie Country Club (Illinois), Culver Academy and Harrison Hills (both in Indiana) and Lawsonia Links (Wisconsin).

In 1936, A.W. Tillinghast, the famous architect who designed Winged Foot Golf Club, Baltusrol Golf Club, Bethpage State Park, San Francisco Golf Club and many other renowned golf courses, did reconstructive work to Portage’s course. In 2014, Portage hired Schreiner Golf, Inc. to reconstruct its bunkers, improve drainage and do other renovations to the golf course. Otherwise, the course has more or less remained in its original state since inception.

Portage’s colorful past includes the unusual distinction of having had world famous golf professionals on its staff throughout much of its history. Portage’s professionals have won three of the four majors in professional golf (the Masters, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship) as well as participated in multiple Ryder Cup teams. Colorful Al Espinosa served as head golf professional from 1931 to 1944. He was one of the leading competitive golfers of his day serving on six Ryder Cup teams and qualifying 16 consecutive years for the U.S. Open. He tied for the U.S. Open title in 1929 at fabled Winged Foot in New York, but lost to Bobby Jones in the playoff. Espinosa’s best round at Portage was on August 25, 1922, when he fired six birdies, an eagle, and two pars to post a 27 on what is now the front nine. One of Espinosa’s teaching assistants at Portage, Herman Keiser, won the famed Masters’ title in Augusta, Georgia in 1946. Portage’s current head professional, Steve Parker, is the son-in-law of Mr. Keiser.

Perhaps the most famous Portage golf professional was Denny Shute. Shute served from 1945 until his retirement in 1972. His brilliant career began when he won the 1927 Ohio Amateur title. He won the British Open in 1933, scored back-to-back match play PGA Championship titles in 1936 and 1937, was a member of four Ryder Cup teams and finished in the top ten in the U.S. Open six times, losing the title to Byron Nelson in a playoff in 1939. In 1957, the PGA enshrined Denny Shute in its Hall of Fame, a lasting tribute to his great career.

Although Portage has a proud history, an outstanding facility, and a superb staff, its greatness stems from its long-term success as a family club. Many present members are second, third and fourth generation members, who have literally enjoyed the Club from the cradle. They see Portage not only in the context of recreation and leisure, but also as a place where manners and character are molded.

Insistence on high standards for more than a century is the reason Portage has developed and maintained a membership of exceptional people. Perhaps more important than anything else is the Club’s belief that each member’s individual character ultimately determines the quality and character of the Club.