Time Machine: Golf at Jones Park
Cedar Rapids course started with 9 holes in 1959
Although efforts to acquire land for a new westside park had been going on for more than a decade, Parks Commissioner Dick Jones was instrumental in the buying 140 acres in southwest Cedar Rapids in May 1955 — land that would become Jones Park and the Jones Golf Course.
He also had overseen the purchase of land for a park in northeast Cedar Rapids in the new Noelridge addition.
One of Jones’ goals for the new west-side park was to establish a second public golf course in Cedar Rapids. Jones had developed the Ellis course, which was seeing long lines of players waiting to tee off.
The park — and the golf course that would be built there — would be named for Jones.
Shortly after land for the westside park was acquired, Jones died of a heart attack Dec. 26, 1955. He would have been 66 on Dec. 29, the day he was buried. His sixth two-year term as parks commissioner would have commenced six days later.
Jones’ successor, Don Gardner, proposed naming the new park the Richard C. Jones Memorial Park at a March 18, 1957, City Council meeting. The council also received the park layout plans from consultants McFadzean, Everly & Associates of Winnetka, Ill., at that meeting.
The city already had a park named for Jones — 2 1/2 acres near 14th Avenue SE that had been developed into a playground and picnic area near a dozen homes nicknamed “Leveeville.” The city had taken over the area after flooding in the 1940s.
The first Jones Park was renamed Osborn Park after Lee Osborn, the city’s playground supervisor, first at Sinclair Park and then at Osborn when it was named for him.
Course opens in 1959
Initially, the golf course at Jones Park — east of Bowling Street and south of Ely Avenue SW above Prairie Creek — had nine holes with plans to expand it to 18 holes after the adjacent landfill closed.
In October 1957, the city bought 5-1/2 acres from the North Western Railroad to eliminate a dogleg in the No. 3 fairway. The tee for No. 4 also was added to that new property.
The course, built by a private contractor at a cost of $80,000, also benefited from a lot of work by greenskeeper Kenny Delaney.
The first nine holes opened May 2, 1959. Gardner, Cedar Rapids Mayor Jim Meaghan and The Gazette’s Gus Schrader teed off for a round of golf at 8:30 that morning, but they weren’t the first to play the course. That honor went to Newell C. Lash and Carl Williams, both of Cedar Rapids, who were there at 5:35 a.m.
Jones’ widow, Henrietta, cut the ribbon on the first tee to officially open the course and later played a round with a friend.
The course’s proximity to Prairie Creek guaranteed the park would be flooded regularly. Only the 1, 2 and 7 greens remained out of the water after the spring flood in 1961, but the water drained off in less than a week due to the installation of 10-inch perforated tile from the first tee to the creek and because the greens were built to drain quickly.
By 1964, the city was preparing to open a new landfill a little bit north on C Street SW and close the landfill east of the Jones Park Golf Course.
The old landfill was covered, with the intent of adding its 94 acres to Jones Park for development of the back nine. That plan, however, was delayed for years because of a persistent fire at the closed landfill.
For the next decade, the city used the old landfill as a place to dispose of trees, especially those killed by Dutch elm disease.
Eventually, though, the land was turned over to the Parks Department and became part of Jones Park.
In 1978, a portion of the old dump along C Street SW was turned into a softball complex that would be named in 1985 for the late Gazette sports writer and WMT sportscaster Tait Cummins. The shifting trash under the surface often made for a rough playing surface until a renovation in 1996 solved that problem.
Back nine opens in 2001
The second nine holes at Jones weren’t developed until 2000-01. Designed by Mike Benkusky of Lohman Golf Designs, the same company that designed Hunters Ridge in Marion, it opened to the public on May 31, 2001 — 42 years after the front nine.
The Flood of 2008 took a horrific toll on the course. Mud and muck — enough to cover a football field 7 inches deep — were removed from the course, plus dead fish, tires and 55-gallon drums.
After nearly a year of rehab, the course reopened on May 22, 2009. According to The Gazette’s Marc Morehouse, who played that day, “I really missed Jones Park after the 2008 flood. The course is always going to battle Prairie Creek on the back nine, but it’s a worthy fight. I’ve written before, and I say it all the time, we should bow to Cedar Rapids’ golfing forefathers. We’re blessed with excellent munis.”
By 2010, the popularity of golf was waning locally and nationally. A proposal surfaced in 2013 to return the Jones course to nine holes, with the other nine converted to a driving range and an instruction center.
The most recent recommendation for the Jones course — unveiled in December 2016 — is to close the course and return the land to Jones Park for other uses.
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