Woodrow Wilson was the president. Women were gaining the right to vote. The League of Nations was being formed.
And in Lebanon County, a group of prominent local citizens looking to establish a country club acquired 135 acres of North Cornwall farm land. The property was situated along a Hershey Electric Railway line which was, importantly, the only mode of public transportation at the time.
The development of the site was authorized on March 31, 1920. Three months later, around Independence Day, Lebanon Country Club was officially established.
“What I know is that that some community people got together with the idea of starting a country club,” said current president Pete Gebhard. “But the driving purpose of it was probably golf.”
Alexander Findlay, a well-known golf architect from Scotland, built the first nine holes. The course was expanded 10 years later, and the original first nine became the back nine.
“What’s the driving range now used to be a track for horses,” Gebhard recalled. “They turned a barn into a pro shop. Originally, the golf pro lived in the pro shop-barn.”
Over the last century, the Lebanon Country Club has evolved to reflect changes in society and the ever-growing needs of its membership: A pool was built, tennis courts were constructed, the golf pro shop was relocated and numerous other renovations transformed the property.
On the golf side, the par-72 course grew up, and into one of the most challenging tests of the game in central Pennsylvania.
“A lot of golf courses don’t last that long,” added Gebhard. “This is a part of the community, and it’s been a part of the Lebanon community for a hundred years. I think that has a lot to do with the longevity. We are just good people who are a part of the community.”
Today, the Lebanon Country Club remains a pillar of the community, a place for people to gather, to socialize and to dine. It has seen its share of ups and downs, and membership has ebbed and flowed, but the mission has remained the same.
“We’re celebrating its endurance,” said Gebhard, who’s been a member for 54 years. “We have a large number of social members who come here to dine, for the social events and to use the pool and tennis courts.”
There are a lot of things for people to do at the club besides golf, according to Gebhard, but everything comes back to socialization. As much is captured by the club’s mantra: “a community within a community.”
“It’s been a big part of my life,” Gebhard said. “I learned to play golf when I was a youth. A father passes the game on to his son. I got into competitive golf and this was a great place to play. I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends over the years.”
The Lebanon Country Club draws members from all over the central Pennsylvania region, from Ephrata to Lititz to Reading. But the majority of its membership originates from Lebanon County.
“I like the laid-back ambiance of this place,” said Gebhard. “We’re friendly. These people are nice to be around.”
Members pay annual dues and fees for the right to enjoy all of the country club’s amenities. Currently, membership is split equally between two designations: social members golf members.
“The state of golf is reflected in country clubs,” Gebhard continued. “The state of golf right now is that the percentage of people playing it has decreased. In the 80s, golf was on fire. That has affected the size of our membership.”
Gebhard said some members have invested in the club, putting operations back on “sound financial footing” for the next 100 years ahead. Lebanon Country Club’s place in the history of Lebanon County golf is secure.
Over the years, Lebanon Country Club has hosted the influential Lebanon County junior golf program, free or at a low cost to all local youth interested in learning to play the game. The country club has also produced many of Lebanon County’s finest players, some of whom have gone on to play professionally. Lebanon Valley College golf coach Mike Swisher, recognized as one of the top golf teachers in central Pennsylvania, is one such example.
Every August for the last 74 years, Lebanon Country Club has hosted the prestigious W.B. Sullivan Better-Ball-of-Partners tournament. The course is a popular choice for state amateur events and regional qualifying tournaments.
“It’s known for its small greens, which lends to its difficulty. But it’s a fair golf course. It’ll lend itself to scoring, if you hit the right shots,” Gebhard said. “It’s not that long. If you ask anybody who’s ever played the Lebanon Country Club, they might say, ‘Is that the place where
they have that 11th hole?’”
The country club is also a popular venue for weddings, parties, meetings and outings to raise money. It sees a lot of use from people who aren’t members.
“From that perspective, we add a lot to the community,” Gebhard said.
The Lebanon Country Club will be conducting a number of events throughout the year commemorating its 100th anniversary. Those events will culminate the weekend of July 3-5, when a hickory-shafted golf outing, a roarin’ twenties-style band and the annual fireworks display are planned.
“I hope we’ll continue to provide the things we’ve provided throughout our history,” said Gebhard. “I don’t know why that needs to change. I can’t forecast the future, but we fulfill an important need and I don’t see that necessarily changing. We’re more casual than we used to be. We’ve adapted to societal changes.
“I think it’s true that younger families have interests that draw them in different directions,” concluded Gebhard. “We hope to be a fabric of their lives. We’d like to be a part of it.”
Perhaps the first hundred years will be easier than the second.
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