Meadowbrook plays to history

Rooted in segregation, it's in a revival

Staff WriterNovember 20, 2009 

— During the years of segregation, the surest way for blacks to spend time on a golf course was to carry clubs for white golfers.

Fifty years ago, a group of local black businessmen wanted to change that.

So they asked friends to chip in $100 to buy an old tobacco farm near Garner and founded the Meadowbrook Country Club in 1959. Even as the civil rights movement gained momentum and challenged the separate-but-equal barriers of Jim Crow, the Meadowbrook founders charged ahead throughout the '60s, building a nine-hole course, a driving range, a swimming pool, a miniature golf course and a clubhouse.

The group faced resistance, even from some blacks, said M. Grant Batey, one of Meadowbrook's founding members. Some complained the site east of Raleigh was too far away, while others said many blacks didn't know anything about golf, he said.

"So many people said it wouldn't work," said Batey, who is now 89. "People get on your case, and you want to prove them wrong."

On Thursday, Meadowbrook celebrated its 50th anniversary. Speakers and guests reflected on the club's roots, its sometimes rocky history and its revival after years of decline.

The country club and golf course are a testament to some black residents who "took the position of, 'We don't have to beg; we can create our own,'" said Dr. Dianne Boardley Suber, president of St. Augustine's College.

During the club's infancy, Batey said he and other founding members had trouble convincing people to pay $100. But membership bloomed throughout the 1960s. By 1971, the club had 186 members, according to a report from a consultant who researched the history of the club.

The civil rights movement improved the lives of Meadowbrook members, but it changed the role of a black country club. Membership at Meadowbrook dipped as club members opted for fancier 18-hole courses that once barred them.

Eventually, Meadowbrook could no longer support all of its amenities. The pool and tennis courts closed years ago. Until St. Augustine's bought the club in 2007, the golf course was full of weeds. As the volunteer manager of the course, IBM retiree Andre Tiller is leading efforts to bring the course back to life.

On Thursday, the college unveiled plaques honoring the club's recent placement on the National Register of Historic Places. The college also dedicated the clubhouse to J.J. Sansom Jr., a founding member who died in 1989. Sansom's wife, Vivian, is a retired physical education teacher and coach at Shaw University.

The couple played golf at Meadowbrook, said their son, Joseph Sansom.

Tiller and his family donated $10,000 to St. Augustine's. Money is tight at Meadowbrook, although its cheap prices have attracted more golfers, while pricier courses are suffering.

Only a handful of the 45 Meadowbrook founding members are still alive, Batey said. After the ceremony, his gaze shifted to the course, where golfers were teeing off.

"It turned out," he said. "I'm just as proud as I can be." or 919-829-4758

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