Historical look at The Fox in Tryon

Published 3:20 pm Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eighty plus members and guests gathered recently for dinner and a trip down memory lane at Tryons Red Fox Country Club.
The evening was organized by Hal and Sue Mathers, long time residents and members of Red Fox. Guests of honor were charter member Nancy Ernst, whose husband Robert, along with Charles Dooley created what is now Red Fox Country Club; Robert Bilger, a long time resident and member of the club who for years has been considered the clubs historian; and, Lou Hoskyns, who served as the clubs first PGA Club Professional.
In the early 1960s, Charles Dooley, an architect with offices in Chicago, was a frequent visitor to Tryon and guest at The Pine Crest Inn, which at the time was owned by Robert and Nancy Ernst. The Dooleys were part of a group of regular visitors from the Chicago area and prior to moving here to be the innkeepers at The Pine Crest, Robert and Nancy Ernst were part of a group that regularly visited from Michigan.
Ernst convinced Lou Hoskyns, a club pro who worked summers in Michigan and winters in Florida, to come to work at the Tryon Country Club.
Circa 1963 members at the Tryon Country Club (TCC) were asked to vote up or down a proposal to assess each member $500 to expand the nine hole golf course to 18 holes. The membership rejected the proposal. This evidently came as quite a shock to Ernst and Dooley, because it was shortly after that vote was taken that the two went looking for real estate that would accommodate an 18 hole golf course.
They found the John Stephenson Farm, 582 acres in what was then Columbus Township, and after closing on the property the two entrepreneurs hired golf course architect Ellis Maples to design the golf course. At the recent “History Night Dinner,” Nancy Ernst gave high praise to the late John Landrum of the old Tryon Bank and Trust Company for believing in this dream. Mrs. Ernst fondly remembered her daughter and a girl friend riding their bikes from the Pine Crest (via Hunting Country Rd.) out to the golf course to picnic and watch the construction.
The golf course was built between the autumn of 64 and the autumn of 65, and after allowing a year to mature it opened for play in the fall of 1966. It was at this time that Lou Hoskyns, the golf pro at Tryon Country Club, along with the superintendent, C.H. Burns, and some of the members left TCC for Polk Countys new 18 hole golf course. It was also in 1966 that the partners (Ernst and Dooley) registered the surveyed plates and “Declaration of Restrictions” with Polk Countys Register of Deeds Office. They named the development “Red Fox Run.”
By 1970 the membership roster was strong enough to support a members only country club. The membership leased the golf course from Ernst and Dooley, leaving the founding partners to develop the real estate. Slowly the residential lots sold and homes were built. The 1970s were the golden years for Red Fox. Bob Ernst and Lou Hoskyns knew a couple of collegiate golf coaches and convinced them to bring their teams to Red Fox to play their NCAA matches instead of traveling “all the way to Pine Hurst.” This was also the period when entertainer Perry Como, who had a summer home in Saluda, was a member. It was also in the 1970s that on three separate occasions, Golf Digest Magazine named Red Fox as one of the top 100 golf courses in the country, thanks in large part to the care given by Superintendent Harold Burns, and his dad C.H. Burns. Lou Hoskyns told the story about the time that George Herbert Walker Bush visited. “He was a candidate for vice president on the Ronald Reagan ticket,” Hoskyns said. “I dont remember who invited him but I do remember we had to move all the carts out of the cart barn to make room for all the security people to have a base of operation.”
Tony Jackson, operating partner and general manager of Red Fox, presented Hoskyns with a lifetime membership in appreciation for all that he accomplished while serving as golf professional at Red Fox.
Bob Bilger, after presenting a detailed history of the various owner/management groups that have been involved with this Polk County landmark since the early 1980s, compared Red Fox to the mythical bird Phoenix. “I believe, like the Phoenix, Red Fox is about to rise from the ashes.”

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