Sammons Park Golf Course: Mixing Water With a Little Texas History

By Kyle Dalton, Contributor

TEMPLE, TX - When you play Sammons Park Golf Course in Temple, make sure you bring one of two things - your "A" game or an extra dozen balls. If you don't arrive with the former, you'll definitely need the latter.

At first glance, the Sammons Park layout doesn't seem the least bit intimidating measuring in at a meager 6,016 yards. But that's just what's printed on each scorecard. Upon closer inspection of the scorecard you will also notice the various shapes of blue indicating water on a majority of the holes - 15 to be exact.

Peering out over the landscape from the first tee box provides you with a good indicator of what awaits in the upcoming round. The first hole alone has water in play on every shot until you are on the actual putting surface.

Off the tee of the 392-yard, par-4 first hole, you must clear a creek that crosses in front of the tee box 150 yards out and then runs along the entire right side of the fairway before crossing the fairway again approximately 100 yards from the green.

As you play the beginning hole, you will notice a lake to the left. This is Lake Polk and is featured throughout the course, particularly on the back side. Interestingly, it was never intended to be a lake. The lake, which was named after the former division superintendent of the road, L.J. Polk, was formed in 1892 when the Santa Fe Railroad Company dammed up Bird's Creek to create a supply of water for the company.

After several years, the water became of greater interest to the citizens of Temple because of its central location and its overall pleasing appearance. A group of citizens banded together in an attempt to turn the lake and surrounding property into what the group described as a "pleasure resort." The Lake Polk Association was formed.

One of the first orders of business for the Association was the creation of a private club on the lake that featured boating and included a hunting and fishing club. For more than 20 years the club successfully operated despite several reorganizations of the Association.

In 1921, the new Santa Fe Park Association (under the leadership of Chas. M. Campbell) decided to add a golf and country club that would operate as an auxiliary club of the parent association. The membership to the golf and country club was limited to just 200 members, 55 of which were from the old club and 145 from the newly formed golf and country club.

In December 1922, club president L.S. Williamson officially opened the Lake Polk Golf and Country Club, one of only a few nine-hole courses in the state. The new course and its new clubhouse cost a total of $24,000.

After some lean times, including the Great Depression, which the course and club managed to survive, the club added another nine holes in the 1950s and renamed the new 18 holes and facility the Temple Country Club. The name and general layout remained the same for 30 years.

In the early 1980s, the city of Temple took ownership of the club and managed it for several years. During this time the city also opened the course to the public and changed the name. It was christened Temple Central Park.

The ownership and name - once again - didn't last long. Just years after taking control, the city sold the course in 1986 to Evergreen Alliance Golf Limited, a golf course management company. One of the first orders of business for Evergreen Alliance was to hire a golf architect. The company selected John Sammons. Sammons redesigned the entire course and today's layout is very similar to his design.

Although the course has gone through numerous changes in its 80-year history, the rate of change has slowed considerably since Evergreen took over, according to general manager Kevin Chapman.

However, in April 2000, one of the biggest changes in years occurred when the new clubhouse opened for operation. Located across the lake from the original clubhouse, the new building features a snack area and fully stocked pro shop.

As a result of the clubhouse move, Chapman said the hole numbers were modified. "No. 16 was No. 1 at the old clubhouse. Now the course plays as a continual 18 holes." He said in the summer when temperatures can reach in excess of 100 degrees or more during the peak season, a snack bar or snack cart are ready and waiting after nine holes.

Chapman said besides the nostalgic value of the course, which brings in about 44,000 rounds per year, many come and play the course because it provides a challenge regardless of the skill level.

"Whether you're a 20 or zero handicap, you will have a great time on the course. It may not be that long, but the water keeps you honest."

While there are a few holes on the front side with water in play, it isn't until you step onto the No. 10 tee where you get a full appreciation of "water in play." The 163-yard par 3 is nothing but water as Lake Polk consumes 140 yards by itself. If No. 10 isn't intimidating enough, there's no. 11 - another par 3. No. 11 steps off at 179 yards from the back tees and is equally aquatic in nature. Both holes could easily be considered signature holes on most any course. Chapman said No. 10 is generally recognized as such.

Lake Polk threatens your score on hole Nos. 12, 14, and 15 before you clear the main body of water. Don't get too comfortable, however, as hole Nos. 16 through 18 also feature water in the form of small ponds or tributaries that are fed from the main lake.

As you walk off the No. 18 green with the lake just behind it, you can't help but appreciate the historic nature of the course from the early formation of the lake and private club, to the creation and many modifications and name changes to the course. Sammons Park is an 18-hole journey through Temple's history with a few lost balls along the way.

Heading north or South - when you reach Temple, take exit number 301 or the TX-53 exit heading west toward FM-2305. Turn on to TX-53 W and then go straight on to FM 2305 W. FM 2305 W becomes West Adams. The course entrance is approximately a mile down the road on the left.

Kyle Dalton, Contributor

Since graduating from the University of Texas in 1992 with a degree in journalism, Kyle Dalton has been a writer and editor for a variety of national publications in various fields.

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