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Arsenal Golf

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The arrival of Capt. Stanhope Blunt as the commandant of the Rock Island Arsenal on March 7th, 1897, raised hopes for the future of the Arsenal. The ten great manufacturing shops designed by General Thomas Rodman had stood virtually empty since their completion in the 1870s.

"Now," said the Rock Island Argus, "busier days are ahead." They had noticed the captain examining every inch of the island. Capt. Blunt was already well-known as a small arms expert, but not even the Argus knew about his secret weapon.

Why was the captain putting tomato cans in the ground here and there, and marking them with flags flying from the fish poles? The first to find out were the Rock Island area’s movers and shakers whom the captain invited to a formal reception on the Arsenal that June. Here were Charles Deere, Willard Velie, Otto Huber the brewer, Philemon Mitchell the banker, along with Walter Rosenfield, Charles Stephens and William Butterworth.

“You are here,” the Captain informed them, “to learn about Golf,” a game then less than ten years old in the United States. The men were skeptical. What kind of a game consisted in driving a small ball across a pasture with instruments ill-contrived for the purpose, into a tomato can?

Charlie Stephens volunteered to be the first to try. He grabbed a club, swung vigorously, and missed the ball. He missed again, and yet again. "Stephens, you must address the ball," the Captain said. "What?" replied Stephens. "Address the ball," said Blunt. "Oh," said Stephens, lying down on the grass facing the ball. "Now, you blankety-blank little white-painted blankety-blank—Go."

Whether the ball obliged is not known, but within a month the Rock Island Arsenal Golf Club was born, complete with a handicapping committee. By September nine holes had been laid out on the island in time for the first Rock Island golf tournament.

Spectators in carriages followed the players from hole to hole. Among the players, the men wore red coats, and the women players, colorful dresses.

Yes, men and women played together in 1897. That's because the game of golf was brand new. A few of the finer points remained to be worked out.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.