Clarence Saunders was a golf enthusiast. When he made his first fortune by founding the Piggly Wiggly self-service grocery store, Saunders joined the Memphis Country Club. He would bet on games and tip his caddies well. Part of the plans for his palatial Cla-Le-Clare (Pink Palace) estate included an eighteen-hole golf course with a curving lake. One of the holes was to be on an island that required players to take a boat across the water. Of course, Saunders lost the property in his battle with Wall Street speculators which left him bankrupt. His golf course eventually became Chickasaw Gardens subdivision with the lake as a public park.
Never one to be out for long, Saunders made a second fortune with his “Clarence Saunders, Sole Owner of My Name” grocery stores. With his new money in hand, he set out to build a second millionaire’s playground. He purchased three hundred acres of land outside of Memphis near Germantown in 1928 and named the estate Woodland Country Club. Hubert T. McGhee, the architect of the Pink Palace, designed a 7,000 square foot log cabin for the property. In addition to a 20 acre lake, swimming pool, boat house with observation deck and servants quarters, Saunders built another 18-hole golf course on the land where St. Francis Hospital currently sits. The par 75 course was 7,200 yards in length making it the longest one in the world at the time of its construction. Saunders opened the course for public play in 1931 and shortened the course to 7,011 yards while making it a par 72. He closed the course to women on Saturday and Sunday mornings “to oblige the men.” Three holes on the course played over the lake. The fourth hole was a par five, which stretched 610 yards along Park Avenue. Saunders often paid golf pros to play with him and give him advice. While he was not a particularly good golfer, often scoring in the mid to high 80s, he was passionate about the game.
Saunders, falling victim to the Great Depression, lost his second fortune and Woodland in 1938. Baseball star “Memphis Bill” Terry bought the property and converted the golf course into pasture for his dairy cows. Ultimately, 65 acres of the former playground became Lichterman Nature Center.
Information from articles “Clarence Saunders Opens Golf Course” and “The Clarence Saunders Legacy,” Jeff Glasgow, Mid-South Golfer, March 1995.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and she enjoys digging through the museum’s archives.