“We joined the Country Club of Jackson sixteen years ago, and it is a very central part of our family life,” says Dawn Gnam. “In fact, when we came to Jackson for my husband’s residency, the first thing we did was join the country club. My husband and our seventh grade son are obsessive golfers, and they are at the club all the time. They love it, and my daughter and I do, too.”
More than three generations of Jacksonians have said the same thing and have relied on the club as a place to meet friends, hone golf skills, take swimming and tennis lessons and play host at a daughter’s wedding reception.
Next year, the Country Club of Jackson will celebrate its centennial year. The club was formed on August 5, 1914 by a small group of businessmen who purchased 100 acres off Clinton Boulevard, then five miles west of town. The founders were W. H. Pullen, C. A. Alexander, S. L. Burwell and W. Calvin Wells.
Few Jacksonians owned automobiles at the time, and Air Jordan DMP because the club was so far out of town, a horse drawn surrey would be sent out to pick up members. The original clubhouse was a large old house on the property that burned in 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression. There was no clubhouse again until after World War II. To increase membership, a new clubhouse was built an attractive wood framed building that featured an all purpose room, ballrooms, a small bar and even a ladies’ locker room in the attic. The dues for members were $6.00 a month.
After moving into the new building, the membership doubled, but tragedy struck again when a second fire burned down the new clubhouse. The membership moved into a temporary building until a new, fireproof clubhouse could be built in Northeast Jackson on property purchased in the 1950s, where County Line Road meets Old Canton Road.
From its previous location in South Jackson, the club moved to its present location in the 1960s, into a clubhouse decorated by Marshall Field and Company of Chicago. It was the height of fashion. The clubhouse featured a fountain in the lobby, terrazzo floors and large picture windows overlooking the golf course. Again, the membership grew as the many social functions held there made it Jackson’s center of activity.
“It had a real ’60’s vibe when I first started working here,” said Larry Marquez, clubhouse manager. “It was really nice, but a little dated.” Marquez started working at the club in 1987 after working at the Hattiesburg Country Club, where he began his career. “It’s been amazing to see how this club has evolved into such a beautiful place over the years. I believe it has to be one of the nicest country clubs in the Southeast.”
John Lang, immediate past president of the CCJ, said he practically grew up at Northwood Country Club in Meridian. “In the summers, my dad would drop me off at the club on his way to work and pick me up in the afternoon. I swam in the pool and learned to play tennis, but I ultimately ended up playing golf. I feel like the club had a big hand in raising me. I love our club’s environment it’s so much of who I am.”
Family FriendlyLang is pleased with how the CCJ has evolved, especially in the last decade. “It’s become more of a family oriented club, and that’s a good thing,” Lang said. “The membership make up of the club is much different than it was 40 years ago. It used to be a place where businessmen played golf and it still is but now it’s so much more than that. We have a fitness center, there’s a babysitting service so the ladies can participate in activities here, and we have a youth lounge for kids to have a safe place to hang out. The dynamics of families have changed so much. When I was a kid, we gathered around the table every evening for dinner. Today, families are more scattered, but if they come to the club, there’s something for everyone to do, and they can still eat dinner together at the club.”
With a real drive in the last several years to be more accessible to families, the club is now seeing more couples, who are in their 30s and 40s, joining. “There was a stigma that existed,” said Lang, “that this was an old, stuffy place to be. Many country clubs have that stigma, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is a vibrant club. The fact that we have such a dynamic general manager in Patrick Joyce bodes well for us over the next decade or so. As long as we can stay young at heart, and evolve with the culture and our environment, we’ll be fine.”
Joyce has been the GM of the CCJ for four years now. “The thing that impressed me the most when I arrived here was what a welcoming atmosphere it is,” Joyce said. “The members are the salt of the Earth, and they really wanted to get to know me and my family.”
Under Joyce’s leadership, the club has experienced a real “youth movement” with a new youth lounge, nursery and excellent programs for children, including tennis, swimming and golf. The youth lounge features Apple iMacs that can be used for homework, as well as game stations.
There are more family oriented events and activities club wide than ever before. Marquez mentioned movie nights and family nights at the pool, and large family events like the Fourth of July, crawfish boils, low country boils, and the regular Thursday night family down home buffet filled with foods youngsters love to eat, including the famous CCJ fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans and macaroni and cheese.
Russell Smith serves as the assistant clubhouse manager and membership director. “When I talk to potential members, I really stress the fact that this is very much a family oriented club. It’s appealing to people to know they can load the family up into one car, drive to the club and park. The dad can play golf; the mom can play tennis or go to the spa; the kids can swim or Nike LeBron 11 hang out in the youth lounge, then all of them can meet up for dinner. They haven’t had to drive around town in more than one car, or coordinate schedules. They are all in the same place, doing things they each enjoy. Because of that alone, the Country Club of Jackson is one of the best hidden jewels in the state!”
GolfThe Country Club of Jackson features 27 championship holes. John Fought redesigned 18 holes in 2008. A twelve and one half acre practice area is one of the most active areas at the club, with between 12,000 and 20,000 Nike practice balls hit per day. The front tee supports 30 golfers while the back tee supports 20 players at any one time. The teeing area is rotated daily to provide members a fresh teeing ground.
The CCJ’s golf professional is Jason Prendergast, who thinks it’s “pretty cool to be a part of a club that’s turning one hundred.” Prendergast has been with the club since September 2004. “I was attracted to this club because it is such a family oriented facility,” he said. “To me, it’s a very unassuming place, driving in. Then you go through the doors of the clubhouse and it’s so elegant, then you look out the big windows over the golf course, and there’s a real ‘wow’ factor that’s just amazing.”
Prendergast admits his experience in the golf industry has not been with “family” clubs. “I’ve worked in more golf clubs than country clubs,” Air Jordan 5s said the Mississippi State graduate. “Being in this environment is great. I just really love sharing the passion I have for the game with others, whether it’s a six year old or someone like Warner Wells, who is well into his 90s. I gave him a golf lesson not long ago.”
Hired by the club two years ago, Starkville native Jon Howell’s position has “morphed” into that of director of junior golf development. “It started with two kids,” said Howell. “They were from two different families, and their parents wanted to know if they could do lessons together once a week. That turned into four, and the club took notice when they saw me teaching a group of kids. They asked if I could develop a program for juniors.”
Today that program has over 100 kids, beginning at age four. “Our Crocs program is for kids aged four to ten,” explained Howell. “In that group, we teach function and how to use their bodies to create power. I’ve done extensive research on how the body progresses through childhood, and based on that research, we do drills that involve running, jumping, throwing, etc. We encourage them to move any way they can, including riding bikes, playing basketball or anything else that has their bodies up and moving. Kids who play video games all the time develop dysfunction in the body. If they don’t learn to move their bodies at an early age, then they’ll get frustrated Air Jordan 2s when they do try to do a sport, and more often than not, they’ll quit.”
Howell’s game plan is to develop the younger kids so that they’ll be ready to play in tournaments and move up to the Gators ages 11 to 16. “In that group, we have very targeted and specific workouts,” Howell said. “We hold a boot camp from January 1 to March 1 to prep for the high school tournament season. I take them into the yoga room, and we’ll work out in front of the mirrors using medicine balls and platforms in order for them to strengthen their core and build power.”
Beginning March 1, the kids move outdoors two days a week and work on mechanics and applications based on the golf course. Each program builds on the previous one so that it’s possible to grow a golfer from age four or five up to high school and beyond. “All the while, the kids are learning life lessons, as well,” Howell said. “In January, I have them write down their goals, and then we look at those goals and figure out what they need to do to accomplish them.”
On Sundays, Howell holds girls only clinics. “I work to create something where the girls can feel special. I want them to equate golf with fun so that when their parents say ‘let’s go to the golf course,’ they’ll want to go because they know they’ll have fun.”
When Howell began the junior golf program at the CCJ, Mississippi ranked 31st in the nation in junior golf. After the first nine months of the program, the state ranked 28th. “We’ve got nine kids ranked in the top 75 in the state, and they are ranked nationally, as well. I don’t really look at the numbers. I look at form, function and how their minds work. But when I see those numbers, it’s a good affirmation that what we’re doing is working.”
Dawn Gnam loves what Howell has done with the Junior Golf Program. “We have been thrilled. Jon Howell has been fabulous and calls or texts Jack [her son] after he plays a round to see how he did.”
Something everyone at the club is excited about is playing host to the Southern Junior Amateur golf tournament in June 2014. “That’s a big coup for us,” said Howell. “We’re looking forward to hosting such a prestigious tournament. Our kids will be exposed to some of the best golfers in the South.”
The golf operation at CCJ also features a 2,000+ square foot pro shop with a complete line of merchandise from Fairway Greene, Bobby Jones, Adidas, Nike, Under Armour, Zero Restriction and FootJoy. The PGA professionals there are certified custom club fitters with Titleist, Cobra and Callaway, with fitting systems on site.
TennisAnyone in the Jackson tennis world knows the husband and wife duo Robert and Bry Russell, who have run the tennis operation at the JCC for nearly twenty years. Bry serves as the tennis director, and Robert is the tennis professional. “When we came here, there were two hard courts that were not in good shape and eight clay courts,” Robert said. “The lighting wasn’t good, and we needed a new maintenance shed and equipment. Over the next four years, we got four more hard courts, and the clay courts were resurfaced. They are now hydro courts, which is a more modern version of clay courts. Right now, we probably have the best courts in the state.”
The Russells expanded the tennis program, especially youth tennis, as well. “When we started here, there were only four or five kids playing tennis,” Robert said. “Today, we have 150 kids playing. The new wave of young members we have is really energizing the club. Kids really make the club, so it’s great to see them.”
Bry said that from the beginning, she liked that the CCJ was such a family oriented club. “The juniors get the parents involved, and the parents get their kids involved. We are very strong with beginners now.” Sessions for children are held every spring, summer and fall, and Bry said there are at least 20 youngsters in each session. The “Future Stars” is for ages three to five; the “Spinners” is for ages 6 to 8, and the “Rallyers” is for those who are nine and up. “Our top juniors come in and work the sessions, helping to feed balls and such,” Bry said. “It’s very community oriented, with Air Jordan 19s everyone being supportive of the program.”