The Excelsior Springs Golf Course/
Edwin and Letice O'Dell Cabin
The original owners of the log cabin, located inside the present Excelsior Springs Clubhouse, were Edwin and Letice O'Dell. The O'Dell cabin is considered to be the oldest existing building in Ray County, Missouri and was located on Old State Road, the first route across Missouri, the stopping place for western travelers.
On November 1, 1830, the O'Dells took out a patent on a 160-acre farm and in 1825 built the cabin. Almost all of the logs used in the cabin are walnut, hewn with broad axe and adz. The corners are dovetailed and are beautiful specimens of this early handcraft. Pole rafters support the roof. The whole structure consisted of one main room with a dirt floor, a loft where the children slept, and a passageway leading to a lean-to, log kitchen. The main room is 17x19 with walls approximately 11-ft. tall. The loft window, still there, looks south over the land which is now the greens of the golf course. A fireplace was later added to the cabin's main room and the dirt floor was replaced with wood. The fireplace is stone with an oak mantle built across three projecting stones, an arched fireplace opening, concrete block interior firewall, and a red brick hearth.
By 1910, a new Missouri corporation was formed, the General Realty & Mineral Water Company. The corporation was formed in March with Dr. William A. Bell, George Kessler, and Charles Fish in control of the management of approximately 200 acres of land, with an additional 326 acres to be obtained. Dr. Bells son, Major William A.J. Bell, was president of the company. The proposed lines of development were placed in the hands of George Kessler, who concentrated on mapping out the golf course development which opened 9-holes in 1912 for the east hill as a park.
A certificate of incorporation of the Golf Club had been filed and signed on March 13, 1911, by the Secretary of State in Jefferson City. The amount of capital stock was $5,000, divided into 50 shares of $100 each. Comprising the first board of directors were Allen M. Bates, Samuel W. Henderson and Charles Fish. The three also were the only shareholders. The corporation was to continue for a term of 50 years. Income fom fees, dues and the rental of lockers was to be used to defray expenses. No payment was to be made to a stockholder or individual.
Tom Bendelow, the noted course architect of Chicago, had his expert hand in the shaping of the Excelsior Springs course, his plans revised by Fish, the secretary of the club and manager of the Golf Hill Properties, and Alex Ross, its Scottish golf professional. Martha Neil Ross, wife of Alex Ross, was in charge of the culinary department. A veranda was added to the cabin and later extended and enclosed with glass, making it possible to care for more than 100 persons at lunch.
On October 16, 1915, the second 9-holes of the course were opened. Major Bell at that time was fighting with British troops somewhere in France. In 1916, the dedication of the first 18 holes was held. In writing for the Golfers Magazine on the dedication, Americans premier golfer Chick Evans related this about the Excelsior Springs course:
The station like so many others in that part of the country, sits perkily on a hill, and it is an extremely glamorous spot. The town, on the other hand, lies in a valley. There was one thing that struck me about it when I saw it at night, and that was the appearance of the brightly lighted town against the dark background of the encircling hills. It was like a dark-rimmed cup full of twinkling lights.
This part of Missouri has all the features necessary for the formation of a strikingly picturesque landscape. There are heavily wooded hills. The well laid out course is on natural golfing land, blessed (or should we say cursed?) with fine natural hazards whose close acquaintance it is surprisingly easy to make. The turf on both nines is very fine, for the land has been covered with blue grass for thirty years and this circumstances means an excellent fairway.
Although the Chicago golfers were agreed that the Excelsior Springs Golf Course is a fine natural one, well laid out; good at the present time and promising to be all that its founders hope.
The third 9-holes were opened in September 1927, and by 1928, an additional 9-holes were in play. At that time the golf course was the only 36-hole course between Chicago and the Rocky Mountain region.
In 1930, the Excelsior Springs Golf Course suffered a loss in the death of Alex Ross. A year later, on August 9, 1931, it suffered another loss in the death of Charles Fish. Fish had devoted 45 years to the development of Excelsior Springs.
In 1936, the City of Excelsior Springs leased the golf course. In 1949, the city bought the golf course properties, 285 acres, for $85,000, and built an airport on the back 18-holes.
In 1969, a new clubhouse with an English-style architecture was built around the cabin. The loft and lean-to kitchen had not withstood the test of time, but the cabin itself was jacked up and placed on a concrete foundation. Now completely enclosed by the clubhouse, it remains protected from the elements and open to the public. There are doors in the middle of the west and east walls, the fireplace on the north wall with a door to its right, and a main floor window and the loft window above it on the south wall. Electricity has been added to the cabin and a tin chandelier with electric bulbs that look like candles has been added. The cabin is listed on the Clay County Register of Historic Places.
In 1992, the late Excelsior Springs journalist Edna Swafford recorded an interview with Clarence Snyder, who was golf pro at the club from 1958 to 1978, in regards to Major Bells last visit to the Excelsior Springs club:
Snyder and his wife, Jessie, had taken Bell and his wife for a tour of the entire course in golf carts. After the returned to the clubhouse, Snyder went inside to get cold drinks while the Bells sat on the porch overlooking the course.
When Snyder returned, Bell had tears in his eyes. Snyder asked, Is something wrong, Mr. Bell? He replied, No, I was wishing my father could see this course. Its just as he would have wanted it to be.
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