Portland Golf Club by Joanne DeHaan

Portland Golf Club members developed and maintained the first nine holes of their golf course. But, local men, from the Garden Home area, developed the other nine holes – half of the golf course. In 1920, the golf club hired Donald Junor as the head greens-keeper. He hired a crew that included some members of my husband’s family, the DeHaans.

John R DeHaan lived on the family farm – five acres that his grandfather, Adam DeHaan, and father, John C DeHaan, had bought in 1890. The farm straddled Fanno Creek on the west side of what is now called 92nd Avenue. Alva Davis was often there, visiting with John’s sister, Dora.

John and Alva joined Donald’s crew at the Portland Golf Club. Ed and Walt Sandberg lived on Garden Home Road and Bill Rice lived nearby on what is now Marissa Drive. Over the years, they worked with John and Alva and we believe they were part of that original greens-keeper crew, too.

Alva drove his homemade car down from the Davis family farm on Mountain Home near Newberg. Then Alva and John, carrying their lunch pails, could walk the Oregon Electric Railway tracks to the golf course tool shed, near where the old club house had been.

One of the greens-keepers’ first jobs was to tackle a beaver dam that flooded a large portion of the grounds. Pulling logs and branches out of the dam had not deterred the beavers. The crew got rid of them, cleared brush, pulled out stumps with the tractor, graded the grounds, and created fairways, tees, and greens.

In 1922, John and Alva married each other’s sisters, acquired adjoining lots on the DeHaan property, and planned the homes they would build. With Alva working at the golf course, his wife, Dora DeHaan Davis, could stay near her family and Alva could work outside, as he had on his father’s farm.

The crew worked at improving the existing nine holes, too. They planted trees between the fairways, used horses to dredge out a lake on Hole 7, and reshaped its bunkers. On Hole 8, they bulldozed a hill so that players could see the flag from the tee.

Even with all their work, there was too much water around the back nine holes. Knowing these men and their personalities, the following conversation could have happened.

“Most of the tee for Hole 18 is a swamp,” Donald worried, “we need to do something about it.”

“We could fill ‘er up, raise the ground a bit,” reckoned Alva as he tapped his pipe on his heel.

John tugged on the bill of his cap. “We’d still have to deal with the water. It’s got to go somewhere.”

“Let’s bring the creek on up to it,” was Alva’s solution.

“Move the creek?” Donald wondered if they really wanted that much work.


In 1925, Alva and John, along with the other workers, dug a new creek bed with a tractor and shovels. Day after day they pushed wheelbarrows full of rocks to the trench to line its banks. They stooped, crouched, and knelt in the trench to slap concrete between the rocks. And, they put that creek where it could drain the swamp.

Just like the creek, the school district line was also moved. John’s house was re-zoned into the McKay school district and that’s where his children attended school.

John and Alva continued working through the depression, earning $2.85 a day. During the winter, when there wasn’t enough greens-keeper work for both of them, they agreed to take turns working one week at a time. Since they had a cow, pig, and chickens, John and his wife, Effie Davis DeHaan, were able to sustain their family of eight through this time. Effie even fed the down-and-outers who showed up at her back door.

In November 1941, when John’s son, Virgil, was almost 17, he received a special permit to work with machinery at the golf course. He earned $.50 per hour when the minimum wage was only $.30.

After Thanksgiving, Virgil, his pa, and uncle, traveled to the Davis family farm, gathered cedar branches, and decorated the club house for the holidays. Occasionally, they needed to repair something inside the clubhouse. One day, Virgil was working inside, near the ‘Members Only’ slot machine. He had a quarter in his pocket. He kept feeling it there, burning a hole, one might say. He looked around. Pa and Uncle were busy, not watching him. He pulled that quarter out and slipped it into the slot. Pulled the handle. Rumble, clink, clank, clinkety-clank, 100 quarters dropped out of that machine.

Startled, John turned to see that Virgil was causing the commotion, “What’re you doing? You’re not supposed to be foolin’ with that.”

“I didn’t think nothing would happen,” said Virgil while he frantically grabbed at the quarters.

With a chuckle, Alva swooped his large hand under the spout and helped catch the rest of the coins. Virgil scooted after the quarters that had rolled across the floor and quickly stuffed them into his pocket. He was relieved that no club members complained.

Virgil learned to prepare the greens for the players. Donald was still head greens-keeper, but his son, Harvey, gave the instructions. “Take that hose there out to a green and drag it across to knock the dew off. Do all of them that way.”

“Can I mow when I’m done?” The fairway tractor with three reel lawn mowers out each side and one across the back was very interesting to this teenager.

“No, I want you to take the dump truck down to River Sand & Gravel.”

Virgil liked that even better. He put that Model AA in gear and took off. He hauled back a load of river silt and anticipated releasing the handle to dump the load in the work yard.

“Whoa, now, back that truck out on the fairway. Get as close to the green as you can. But don’t drive on it. Take this shovel with you,” Harvey ordered.

Virgil maneuvered that truck out to the green, shoveled silt from the bed, and shook it lightly all over the turf, filling the divot holes.

When Virgil had enough money, he bought a car. One day, a friend asked him to drive him to Portland Gas & Coke so he could apply for a job. Virgil drove him there and when he heard what jobs were available, he left the golf course and went to work at the gas company.

In 1942, John and Alva decided to help the war effort by taking more meaningful jobs. John went to work at Triangle Mills, a grain distributor, in Portland on the Willamette River. Alva became a welder in the shipyards.

By May of 1943, when Virgil was 18, he was drafted for World War II. He was sent to storm the beaches of the South Pacific. He used a caterpillar to clear out air strips so planes could bring in troops and supplies. He sometimes dodged enemy fire by hiding under, or behind, the caterpillar blade.

After the war, Virgil went back to work at Portland Gas and Coke as a pipe welder and then a foreman. Virgil retired years ago and now at 95, lives in a Beaverton senior facility. Likewise, John continued as a millwright at Triangle Mills.

Alva returned to the golf course and told John about the coming 1946 PGA Open. John rode his son’s horse, Smokey, along the old railroad tracks to Hole 15. The tracks ran much closer to the golf course than Fanno Creek Trail does now. John sat there on his horse, watching the golfers for hours. He was pleased to see Ben Hogan, the winner of that tournament.

Alva was still working at Portland Golf Club in 1950, when John’s 15 year old son, Dave (my husband) went to work at the golf course under a worker’s permit. Dave earned $1.25 per hour when the minimum wage was 75 cents.

While his uncle Alva mowed the fairways, Dave mowed greens, roughs, and the old creek banks. While mowing the creek bank that crosses Hole 12, he saw something, he thought a fly, go past his face. Soon, a worried golfer found him and was relieved that his ball had not hit him.

Dave maneuvered an older, smaller version of the above pictured fairway mower through the trees in the roughs, avoiding stray golf balls. If he hit one, he ducked, because the blades would pick it up and send it bouncing off of nearby trees. If it was close to quitting time, he’d hurry, too fast, back to the tool shed. That mower with its spiked metal wheels made a thunderous noise as he sped across the wooden bridge. And he would be reprimanded for it.

When he and a friend were sent to put weed killer on fairway 18, they mixed 1½ times the recommended dose, figuring that would do a better job. That mistake caused large brown patches in the fairway.

By the time Dave turned 16, he had earned enough to buy a ’38 Chevy.

The next summer, he worked on the night crew, watering the fairways. Arriving at work, he’d turn on the water pumps to build up pressure. One pump pulled water from the lake and the other from a well. Then he walked the roughs to find each sprinkler, drag it to a sunken faucet, screw its hose onto that faucet, and drag the sprinkler onto the fairway.  If he was lucky, when he turned the faucet on full blast, the hose wouldn’t blow out and he wouldn’t need to repair it.

Each night, he made four trips around his assigned holes, with 45 to 50 sprinklers to position on each trip. When he made his second trip, it would be dark. He used a kerosene lantern, set on the ground, to show him which direction the sprinkler was currently shooting. Moving into the back side of a sprinkler, he’d grab the vane so that it shot away from him, and dragged it to the next location. The first setting had been near the edge of the fairway. This time he’d set it straight out from the faucet. The next time around, he’d move it back against the edge on the far side of the faucet – the settings creating a fan shape.

And, on his last trip, he’d turn off all of the sprinklers and hide them in the rough, out of sight of the golfers.

He sometimes saw men down by the lake with flashlights, looking for golf balls. He knew they weren’t allowed there. But, alone in the dark, he didn’t confront them. One time he even gave permission. As he neared the lake between fairways 7 and 11, he saw a shape growing larger and larger. He stopped in his tracks. A man popped out from behind a bush and asked, “Would you mind if I got some golf balls out of the lake?”

Shaken, Dave replied, “I don’t give a damn, you can take the whole lake.”

Other nights he’d see people over by Hole 18 sweeping the ground with dim flashlights, collecting night crawlers for their next fishing expedition.

After Dave returned from serving with the Army in Korea, he and I married, and in 1962 we bought a house on Mayo Street, off Oleson Road. Our children attended Garden Home School, just like their grandfather, John DeHaan. And, our son, like his father and grandfather, wanted to work at the golf club. Harvey Junor was still there as head greens-keeper. So, when Randy applied to work at the golf course, the family name got him the interview. But, to get the job, he had to prove that he wanted to work there by asking for it a second time.

As before, the pay was still significantly above the minimum wage. He passed the word to friends from Garden Home. Steve Vale was one of them that worked with him. Steve and Randy were interested in flying. They saved their earnings for flying lessons.

Since we had moved closer to the golf club, near Jamieson Road, Randy rode his bicycle to arrive at work by 5:30 am. On a typical day, before the golfers arrived, the crew steered self-propelled reel mowers across the greens. During the rest of the day, they might spray weeds, paint sheds, trim bushes, take the weed-eater to tall grass around the lake, top-dress greens, cut sod to replace divots on tees, aerate fairways, or shovel sand into the traps and rake them smooth. They had only three Cushman carts to deliver the workers from job to job. So, they piled on where they could.

And, they considered the area from the eleventh tee to the tool shed as a race track of sorts, often coming down the hill and around the corner on two wheels.

Randy spent several weeks repairing the creek banks, the ones his Grandpa John and Uncle Alva had constructed so many years ago. Wearing hip waders, he walked through the creek to knock out loose concrete, mix new, and trowel it in between the rocks. Another friend, Dave Stephens, worked with him on this project and liked to catch the crawdads from the creek and put them on someone’s neck or in their face.

Dave Stephens recalls that all of them used to pick up apples along the fifth fairway, stash them in their carts, and throw them at each other whenever they were close enough. Eventually, this jokester got serious. He turned greens-keeping into a career, and is now the superintendent at a golf club in southern Oregon.

Randy didn’t work nights watering the fairways like his dad had, because by then the club had an automated sprinkler system. If something needed hand watering, he’d use a quick coupler to hook up hoses. And sometimes, he drove the Old Ford tractor pulling a water tank to water trees. He saw Nancy Lopez play in the 1979 LPGA tournament.

Randy and Steve, remain close friends. Randy is a retired Air Traffic Controller and is currently advising the company that is re-writing ATC training manuals and procedures. Steve is still with the FAA and was recently promoted from his position as head Air Traffic Controller of the tower at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport to general manager of the entire region.

Dave had a career as a truck mechanic and shop foreman at a shop for Kenworth trucks. He advised me on much of this story. We now live in Beaverton.

Most of these men took advantage of the one-night-a-week, free golfing for greens-keepers. But they were not invited inside the clubhouse.  Years later, our daughter, Anita, was on the staff of a private school and was an invited guest at that school’s four annual fund-raising events at the Portland Golf Club.

[Editor: read more about the history of the Portland Golf Club.]

This entry was posted in Early History, Memoirs, Places and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Portland Golf Club by Joanne DeHaan

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