When the Austin Country Club was in its midcentury growth mode, the city looked east for social activities. Our vintage chronicler Lori Duran looks back at how the club evolved into the hot spot of society activities that included plenty of governors and presidents.
Photography courtesy Neal Douglass Collection, Austin History Center
Today, most drive past it without noticing. But for more than 30 years, one of the chicest addresses in Austin was a green, tree-rimmed spot on East Riverside Drive that was home to the Austin Country Club. Designed with a sleek midcentury trim, its clubhouse, pool, tennis club and members lounge saw countless parties, receptions and just plain power brokering.
Odell Rowe, one of the club’s former employees, remembered that in 1968 or 1969 President Lyndon Baines Johnson and wife Lady Bird attended a major function hosted by Governor and Mrs. Allan Shivers at the Riverside Drive location. He added that Secret Service men were everywhere among the 700 people in attendance. What he remembered from working that night is they were not allowed to pour President Johnson a drink out of an already opened bottle. For security purposes, they had to open a new bottle of Chivas Regal every time he had a drink. Odell also remembered Mr. Shivers as a very nice man.
In the 2000s I made my way to the Riverside Golf Course, which is located at the site of the former country club, for lessons. The first lesson was at the putting green, which was the same one where Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite honed their skills. Over the following week’s lessons, I learned from the golf pros what they knew about the former country club and what remained of it.
The Early Days
The Austin Country Club was located on Riverside Drive from 1950 to 1984. In the early years, Riverside was a two-lane country road. Perhaps the country club should never have moved there from their original cramped location on 41st street (where Hancock Golf Course and Hancock Mall are now.) Austin businessman Commodore Perry correctly predicted that the cedar and oak-covered hills in northwest Austin would become Austin’s prime residential destination. He tried to encourage the club to move to his 300-acre Bull Creek Road development. But instead, they moved to Riverside Drive. On February 5, 1950, The Austin American Statesman recorded the grand opening of the Austin Country Club on Riverside. There was an extravagant dinner dance in their modern brick clubhouse building that formally opened the new venue.
The club stayed on Riverside Drive for the next 34 years before leaving for Davenport Ranch. After they departed, the Riverside Drive club location became an Austin Community College site with a golf course. Becoming part of a community college required alterations to the golf course and the clubhouse, and filling in the swimming pool. However, it doesn’t take long to discover what was left behind and is still recognizable.
And Now, Today
The biggest remnant is the 18-hole golf course itself. It has been modified to accommodate the growth of Austin Community College, but most of the holes are still the same and it’s still a beautiful golf course with gentle rolling hills and tall trees with a creek that flows through it.
The clubhouse building is still there. It is recognizable despite a few updates such as the removal of the second-floor apartment and a new roof. You can see where the patio was. The porte-cochere is still there to provide a covered drop-off at the front door and one can guess the original whereabouts of the 19th hole bar, the teen room, the ballroom and other club facilities.
Directly behind the clubhouse is the original putting green, the pro-shop and the golf cart storage shed. They are still there despite the buildings showing their age. The tennis courts are still in front of the clubhouse to the east and nearby it’s easy to notice that several Montopolis streets have golf-related names such as Fairway, Caddie, Clubview, Hogan and more. On the south end of the golf course, Penick Drive is still there with the same seven houses that stood when the country club was open. The famous golf pro of the club, Harvey Penick’s old house is still there and Country Club Drive itself still partially remains as well.
During the 1960s the Riverside Drive location of the Austin Country Club was busy both with golf and social events, but by the 1970s the social events were scarce. By 1978 the club determined that 78% of its members were coming from north of 35th street and west of Lamar Blvd. Plus, there were other golfing clubs opening in Austin and not as many people were making the trek to Riverside. Revenue was down, and a country clubhouse needs to book weddings, parties and other social events to be profitable. So, the decision was made to relocate the club further west to be closer to their clientele. In 1984, Austin Country Club broke ground at Davenport Ranch where the club was once-again reborn, and remains the crown jewel of that development to this day.
To discover more interesting history about Austin Country Club, look for the book One Hundred Years of Champions and Change: The History of the Austin Country Club.