WPGA125: Foxburg preservation an attempt to honor history
By Josh Rowntree, Director of Communications  • June 6, 2024

The first time that Ted Marron played a hole of golf, it took him 127 strokes to go from tee to green on a 179-yard Par 3.

In Marron’s defense, he was a mere two years old at the time, and was playing with a plastic golf club purchased by a remarkably patient father.

Years later, Marron sits at a pizza shop in his hometown of Foxburg, Pennsylvania. The restaurant is one of the very few in the tiny yet charming Clarion County town that has dealt with a common plight in small town America: population decrease.

Marron has seen firsthand how that dilemma has stretched to a place he loves dearly, Foxburg Country Club, a historic nine-hole public course that has sat high above the banks of the Allegheny River since 1887 — making the Club the United States’ oldest golf course in continuous use.

The second hole — located just beyond Marron’s backyard — is where he first learned the game, on a course where many more in the region have done the same over the last 137 years.

“It can be easy to take for granted,” says Marron, who played golf at Washington & Jefferson after graduating in 2006 from Allegheny-Clarion Valley High School.

“But when I sit back and think about it, it’s really special to think about the amount of history that’s there. You’re standing on the same grounds where guys stood shortly after the game was invented, playing the same game all these years later.”

Participation at the Club has dwindled in recent years and the ability to keep the course properly maintained has become an issue. The staff and those connected to the course work hard to ready it to an appropriate level but admit there have been shortcomings in certain areas.

Because of that, a group of individuals who love the history and meaning of Foxburg Country Club are making efforts to attract more to the course by way of a preservation project.

Andy Rapp is a local helping spearhead the restoration efforts with The 1887 Project, a plan to create a unique Victorian golf experience through restoration and preservation.

“I read an article from Golf Club Atlas and it kind of punched me in the gut a little,” says Rapp, who sits across from Marron at Foxburg Pizza. “They loved the course, but the article said, ‘you can still see the bare bones of the place.’ I was like, wow, we really have to do something about this.

“I started getting some guys involved. Gary Van Sickle, Dan Johnston, Chuck Nettles. They were like, ‘yeah, we’re in.’ These are golf historian freaks. We registered, we incorporated… we kicked it off in 2020 and started raising money.”

Chief among the initiative is bettering the playing level of the course’s layout, in order to provide golfers a more competitive experience on what is already a challenging course that has plenty of callbacks to the early years of the game.

On Par 3’s, for instance, there are original, sand golf tee boxes that feature pits filled with sand and water to be mixed together and formed into mounds for the ball to rest.

A charming clubhouse, shaped by weathered wood and wrapped with an inviting porch, has stood since 1904. The inside contains a pro shop, dining area and, uniquely, the American Golf Hall of Fame, a free exhibit which contains two floors of golf relics dating back to the 1800s.

On the outside sits the course’s trademark lamp, a gift from one of the game’s great venues, St. Andrew’s Links, years ago.

An initial donation to the The 1887 Project — which hopes to ultimately raise around $2.5 million — was made from Gary Whittington, a distance member from Texas with family ties to the area, who pledged $100,000 as a match donation. It took a couple of years to raise those funds, but the first $200,000 got the ball rolling in the fundraising.

After that, Foxburg Country Club won a development grant from the state of Pennsylvania, good for $500,000 and with the purpose of historical restoration and preservation. The group also has an application in for a state grant which coincides with Pennsylvania’s upcoming 250th anniversary and could provide around $2 million.

Still, more is needed to get the course to the level Rapp and his cohorts’ desire.

“I think it’s a social responsibility,” he says. “It’s a national historic site that needs some capital put into it to preserve it. It’s a national preservation effort, not only for the local market, but also for the game of golf.”

Foxburg’s population has dipped sharply over the last several decades and currently sits under 200 people. Still, the town sees an influx of visitors in the summer months, with outdoor activities like hiking, biking and kayaking bountiful through the picturesque hillsides.

Rapp hopes that the summertime guests take advantage of the golf course while in town, too.

“The legacy here is that the course has never ceased to operate in 137 years,” he says. “That’s a tribute to its membership in the 1920s, 1930s, the 40s, 50s, 60s.

“Since the 60s and 70s, the population has declined from five to eight percent each year. But people are looking to travel somewhere. And people are coming to Foxburg. It’s important that golf is an option.”

In recent years, there have been talks of mass development in the area, including the RiverStone Estate, a sprawling mansion on 1,200 acres that many locals hope could be turned into a Nemacolin-type resort in the future.

Until then, however, recognition needs to come to Foxburg Country Club through other avenues, including a fundraising golf competition in June featuring 93.7 The Fan radio hosts Jim Colony, Joe Starkey and others.

“It allows us to create awareness,” says Rapp, who moved out of the state for several years before finding his way home. “We want it to be a good experience, and it’s drawn in over 40 golfers who don’t typically play Foxburg or have never heard of it.”

For Marron, seeing a major part of his childhood and now adult life get the recognition he feels it deserves is refreshing.

“I can’t thank Andy and the preservation group enough,” Marron says. “There were times recently when I was seriously worried that the place was going to close down. It was really struggling financially.

“I’ve spent a lot of 12 or 14-hour days there, playing with my friends. It just really means a lot for the preservation group to step in and make a concerted effort to make sure it doesn’t cease to operate. It would’ve hit me hard just because of all the history that I have there.”

Ultimately, the two men and the other locals connected to the course simply want one thing: a great experience for anyone looking to swing the sticks for a couple of hours while in Clarion County.

“Nobody’s trying to make it Oakmont,” Rapp says, with a laugh. “That’s not the point of this. It’s simply, can we build a course where golfers come off and go, ‘that was fun.’ That’s all we want to be said.”

To learn more about The 1887 project, click here.

For media inquiries, please contact WPGA Director of Communications Josh Rowntree.

About the WPGA
Founded in 1899, the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association is the steward of amateur golf in the region. Started by five Member Clubs, the association now has nearly 200 Member Clubs and nearly 37,000 members. The WPGA conducts 14 individual competitions and 10 team events, and administers the WPGA Scholarship Fund and Western Pennsylvania Golf Hall of Fame.