“All the members of Sunny Croft have given us much laughter and taught us many aspects of life that not even the most prestigious university could offer” – Jim Scolapio
She is often called “Golf’s Jewel in the Hills.” Others, just smile and call her “Home.” Call her what you like, but one thing is certain: Sunny Croft Country Club was, and is, a social landmark for North central West Virginia and a golf club “where everybody knows your name.”
Her story begins with a vision by two brothers: A vision overshadowed by poverty, hunger, unemployment, and Hoovervilles – shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression. It was 1929. Amid all the suffering, Jim (pictured below on the left) and John Dolan Jr. (pictured below on the right), had an idea. They gathered a group of close friends and asked, “What do you think about building a golf course?” Everyone approved.
So, on November 7, 1932, ground was broken for a nine-hole course with 18 tee – boxes on 300 acres of land off Route 19 South, outside Clarksburg, West Virginia on land given to them by their father John Dolan Sr. Certainly a risky venture. But, that is what visionaries do. They do not see what is. They see what could be. And, find a way.
With plows and horses, they turned a fertile farm into “Golf’s Jewel in the Hills.” The course was planned and named by Jimmy Spencer (pictured below) who came to West Virginia in 1908 from England. He named the course Sunny Croft because, on his first visit, it was a “sunny” day and the word croft came from the English word “small farm.”
Thus, Sunny Croft Country Club was born May 30, 1934, when John Dolan Sr. hit a ball off the first tee. The first club house, built from Dolan farm logs (pictured above), opened in June, 1935. However, there was a disastrous fire in 1937. Members suspected arson but there was no solid evidence. Rumor was: A disgruntled caddie broke into the building, stole money, and set the structure on fire. He was never prosecuted, although his identity was known by a few.
In 1938, a new clubhouse was constructed. The picture above shows the clubhouse today. It includes both men and women’s locker rooms, a bridge and poker room, restaurant, bar (Conky’s 19th Hole), a covered patio where golfers congregate sharing “truth and exaggerations,” an upstairs lounge, and a banquet hall which can seat over 250 people.
Over the years, Sunny Croft continued to grow in reputation and membership, attracting the attention of celebrities and world famous golfers. In 1948, the club hosted Mildred “Babe” Zaharias (pictured below on the left) for an exhibition round. Zaharias shot a 67. “Babe’s” caddie was Sam Scolapio, who now lives close to hole No. 2’s green.
Zaharias is considered, by many, the best female athlete the world has ever seen. She was a record-setting 1932 Olympian: two gold medals and one silver medal and an All-American basketball player. In golf, she won 17 major tournaments in succession, 48 total professional wins. In 1950 the Associated Press named her the Greatest Female Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century. In addition to Zaharias, Sunny Croft also hosted an 18-hole exhibition by Julius Boros, winner of the 1952 U. S. National Open and 1955 World Championship. The club is very proud to have these professionals as part of its history.
Sunny Croft also had its own (early) home-grown champions. Margaret Bingman, winner of five club championships, two holes-in-one, and had a 9 handicap (1970’s); Frank “Conky” Giaquinto (pictured above on the right), 1957 State Junior Golf Champion, 1955 State Champion and later, the club pro; Alpha Lawson, winning county championship after championship, eight club championships, and playing “scratch” golf for many years (0 handicap – 1950’s). This is just a thumbnail sketch of the past Sunny Croft greats.
As Sunny Croft entered the 1960 and 70’s, she continued as the social and golf epicenter for Harrison County. If reality shows existed in 1970, the club would have been featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” In 1975, the membership rose to 220, which included these (locally) influential members: Bob Tolley, Sam Ellis, William Hershman, Bob Minehart, Frank Mazzei, Matt Minard, Laban White, C. William Colvin, Ulysses Buffington, Andrew Banko, and S.F. D’Annunzio, just to name a few. However, my all-time favorite was “Coach” Joe Marra – a man loved and respected by everyone.
While researching the club’s history, I came upon a list of members, beginning in 1941. Of the first 29, only two are still alive: Frank ‘Conky’ Giaquinto (pictured above on the left) and Sam Scolapio (pictured above on the right), both caddies in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. Yes, that is the same Conky (above) who won the 1957 State Title and the same Sam who caddied for Zaharias. They joined the club in 1957, Conky a few months before Sam. Both are still active golfers and major storytellers, keeping the history of the club alive.
Although many of the names and faces have changed, Sunny Croft continues to maintain the same high standards and expectations established by the first board in 1938. This year, the club welcomed 26 new members. They have a weekly bridge club, an active men’s and women’s golf association, host several charitable and club tournaments, and organize many family social events. As one person said, “Sunny Croft is more than a golf club – it is a lifestyle.”
Today, many outstanding area golfers call Sunny Croft home: 14-time Club Champion Eric Giaquinto, 10—time Champion Ceil Cole, Senior Champion Jim Rogers, and current Club Champions Ceil Cole and John Cleavenger.
For the locally-curious golfers and those traveling through the area, stop and experience her lush fairways, manicured greens, fine food, friendly atmosphere, and surprisingly affordable memberships. And, if time permits, sit on the patio and just experience a history lesson like no other. Only then will you truly understand why she is called ‘Golf’s Jewel in the Hills.”
Before you leave, you must visit the club’s photo gallery. Click the video below for a magical tour of Sunny Croft Country Club. For those interested in a guided tour or a story session, contact me and I will make the arrangements. The restaurant, bar, and golf course are open to the public.
A special “Thank you” to Jim Scolapio whose book “A Pictorial History of Sunny Croft Country Club” provided much of the information for this column.
Until next time,