The Lookout Mountain Golf Club, originally the Fairyland Golf Club, was part of Garnet Carter’s dream for an exclusive resort colony called “Fairyland.” It so happened that Scott Probasco Sr. had made an acquaintance with the noted golf course architect Seth Raynor in 1923, and upon Mr. Probasco’s request, the great architect was hired to design this great course.
Great things were going on in the mid to late 1920’s across the United States and Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain were no exception. Chattanooga native Adolph Ochs, then owner of The New York Times, was especially generous in his efforts to enhance Lookout Mountain. Thanks to his generosity Garnet Carter and O.B. Andrews planned an exclusive resort colony on top of the Mountain called “Fairyland.” This resort would be compared to Pinehurst, The Greenbrier, and The Homestead, and, obviously, a world-class golf course was an integral part of the plan.
As luck would have it, Scott L. Probasco, Sr., an avid golfer, attended the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, and he made a donation to his alma mater during a redesign of their nine-hole course in 1923. The architect on this redesign was C.B. McDonald’s former engineer and protégé, Seth J. Raynor. Through this connection, Mr. Probasco convinced Raynor that he should meet Mr. Carter, and the plan for the Fairyland Golf Club was in the works.
Tragedy struck as Mr. Raynor died of pneumonia at the young age of 47 while working in West Palm Beach, FL. With our course nearing completion, LMGC became Raynor’s last work. Charles Banks, an English teacher at Hotchkiss, left the school to join Raynor’s design team as a full partner. Banks, also known as “Steamshovel” because of his talent for moving dirt, did an admirable job in completing construction in 1927.
As the course approached completion, there was only one course in the USA more costly to build: Yale University’s course, which was another great Raynor design. The uniqueness of our “mountain-links” course would live on, although the course was not finished according to Raynor’s original plan. Some say they hit rock and completion became too expensive, and others contend that violent storms washed grass seed down to the valley necessitating balance of money to reseed. However, regardless of the challenges, nothing compared to the recession just around the corner, which put a sudden stop to the great plan called “Fairyland.”
Following the Great Depression, the return to normalcy established the Lookout Mountain Golf Club as a wonderful course with camaraderie within the membership that created a special place. Whether it was a competitive round of golf within groups such as the Bubble, Balloon, Whisperers, Elders, or Ladies, or a Club event run by the Golf Professional staff, the Club had something for everyone. There were also some wonderful social happenings that brought the membership out for some great times. The showcase annual event most talked about is called the Swing Ding.
Just as William “Chops” Bryan was deemed the King of the Swing Ding, it seems that the Club’s history could not be told without mentioning his contributions. Current Club President, John Dever, indicates that “Chops” was running things at LMGC upon his arrival in the early 1970’s and had most likely taken over that role in the mid to late 60’s; and there was no question that he was in this role at his death in 1989. Bryan was a self-educated agronomist, and as a Club member volunteering his time with the course, the events, and decision making with many Boards. A dedicated member like this usually comes around only once so we are thankful for Mr. Bryan’s many years of service. Upon Mr. Bryan’s death, Mr. Gaines Campbell and his business associate, and fellow member, John “Sweetie” Gass stepped into “Chops” role of running the Club. It was largely through their efforts that the William Bryan Fund was created for the purpose of advancing Junior Golf and funding any future planning for the course that Bryan so loved.
Lookout Mountain Golf Club, with its physical location in Georgia, is a member of the Tennessee Golf Association, PGA, and the Chattanooga District Golf Association. As an active Club with a great Seth Raynor course, we have hosted many Championships over the years including the Tennessee State Amateur, Tennessee PGA, Tennessee Women’s 4-Ball, Chattanooga Amateur, and we have recently hosted the Women’s Southern Amateur and Dale Morey Senior Amateur. Golf Professional Brett Mullin Allen Brown, and John Williams, with financial support from John “Sweetie” Gass, and the late Rody Davenport, began and ran a William Bryan Memorial event for junior golfers. This event was most likely the catalyst for the AJGA JR tour which funnels players to colleges and on to professional golf. Although it is now a local event conducted for the CDGA, the Bryan event lives on.
As the new Green Chairman, John “Sweetie” Gass remembered a map his Wife, Tibby had found in their attic many years ago which turned out to be an architect’s rendering of the Fairyland Golf Club. It still hangs in the Men’s Grille, but was barely noticed until the mid-1990’s when golfers were once again talking about course architects, especially the great ones from the olden days.
Conversations were taking place that the greens needed to be replaced due to wear, so more attention was being directed to the original map. Knowing that something needed to be done and fighting a variety of club politics along the way, it was determined in 1997 that a major restoration would take place. Thanks to the leadership of John T. Lupton and Rody Davenport, who provided seed money for the project, Jim Cheney, Club President, campaigned for the restoration. From this special effort by Doug Stein, who did the construction, and Lewis Oehmig, who also worked to create the Seth Raynor Society, LMGC is again in the forefront of the traditional courses in the USA with a ranking of #125 by Golfweek Magazine.
As LMGC moves forward, the challenges presented by a shrinking membership and a tougher task in creating interest for the game have changed the way clubs function. Serving in his fifth year as Club President, John Dever has done an amazing job in controlling expenses without losing quality of course conditions or service to the Membership. There is also a genuine effort to encourage members and their friends to use the Club for Wedding and Corporate events, either in the Clubhouse or on the golf course. Clubs are facing a real need to become family friendly and the efforts to focus on golf and social events for the women and kids of the Club have become a major priority. As we take this look back, the Club is also looking forward to a dream that may someday have America’s #1 architect, Gil Hanse, finalizing the perfect Seth Raynor. This maybe a promising endeavor for the Club’s Centennial celebration in 2025.