Country Club of Birmingham Founded in 1898 by 77 men, the very exclusive Country Club of Birmingham (CCB) was first located near the end of the trolley line in North Birmingham as a driving club for horse-drawn buggies. The idea of having a club to show off prize horses and shiny rigs expanded to include a tennis court, golf links, baseball diamond, ten-pin bowling alley, and a bicycle course.
After the 77 men signed the roll establishing the club, 12 prominent Birmingham businessmen signed the incorporation papers and became the officers and governing body. Of those, Henry Key Milner became the first president. His father, Willis Julian Milner, was a pioneer of Birmingham and officer of the Elyton Land Company and laid out much of the city and suburbs, including South Highlands and Lakeview Park. The younger Milner was related to Francis Scott Key through his mother. A trained engineer, Henry formed Milner Land Company and laid out areas in Southside around Key Circle and Milner Heights. The first secretary of the CCB and one of the club’s incorporators, Robert Henry Baugh, a former president of the Birmingham Baseball Club and president of the Birmingham Gun Club, became the second president in 1901. Another prominent incorporator was Robert Jemison Jr., who served as its youngest president in 1917 and later, through his Jemison Real Estate and Insurance Company, developed Redmont Park and Mountain Brook Estates. Local industrialist Charles F. DeBardeleben served as president in 1919 and was followed by his sons Charles Jr. (1939) and Prince (1947).
The original one-story clubhouse boasted a large ballroom used for dining, dances, and receptions, as well as ladies’ parlors, men’s quarters, and tennis courts. In 1899, member Robert Henry Baugh, an engineer and sportsman, transformed a 2,200-square-yard meadow near the club into the first golf course in Birmingham. He left the “fairways” in their natural state and scraped off nine 10-foot-square areas, placed tin cans in them for cups, and called them “greens.” Since few had ever played golf, Baugh gave a one-man exhibition. Thus the popularity of golf began in the city and especially at the country club, which became nationally known for excellent courses and stellar players, including Alabama native Hubert Green.
Country Club of Birmingham, 1908 At the turn of the century, as many downtown residents moved to Highland Avenue, the country club relocated to the other end of the extended trolley line at Lakeview. The design firm of Miller and Martin built a large fieldstone, board-and-batten structure with a massive limestone entry arch, elaborate rooms, and verandas, all containing the latest amenities. Nick Thompson, a Canadian who came to Birmingham in 1900 as instructor at the Birmingham Golf Club, constructed a hilly nine-hole golf course and in 1906 added a short front nine, changing the greens from sand to grass.
The new facility welcomed members and guests, including former U.S. vice president Charles W. Fairbanks and former president Theodore Roosevelt. In 1915, the Women’s Southern Golf Association (WSGA) held its first tournament at the club and has returned five additional times. The WSGA tournaments increased women’s interest in golf, and the country club had its own women’s championship by 1923. The men successfully entered Alabama Golf Association tournaments, and in 1915, member Jack S. Allison was the victor, followed by A. Buckner Harris in 1916 and 1921. By 1925, the men had begun their own club tournament.
Elbert Jemison, Paul “Bear” Bryant, Arnold Palmer, and Pres. Gerald Ford In 1926, the club moved to farmland in Shades Valley. Noted golf architect Donald J. Ross carved two 18-hole courses out of 284 acres, leaving eight acres for a clubhouse and room for a picnic area and riding field. The course accomplished Ross’s goal that players of any skill level would be challenged by the layout and by the surroundings. The course and swimming pool opened in 1926. The following year, the architectural firm of Warren, Knight, and Davis completed an English Tudor-style clubhouse on the high ground between the two golf courses.
In 1998, the members celebrated with gala centennial events. For the first time the club acknowledged its sportsmen, women, and children by displaying in a permanent trophy room numerous awards representing golf, tennis, swimming, and diving accomplishments. As of the twenty-first century, the Country Club of Birmingham remains at its Shades Valley location in Mountain Brook.
Satterfield, Carolyn. The Country Club of Birmingham: Centennial History. Birmingham, Ala.: The Country Club, 1999.