In 1928, Mentor Headlands Country Club — known today as Black Brook Golf Course — was expanded to feature 18 holes.
A tournament was held to determine the premier golfer among its membership.
The winner was a local man in his first tournament for real stakes who didn’t live far from the course — and he had a pedigree, all right.
Although in this case, it wasn’t just any weekend warrior with time on his hands.
Mentor’s 1928 golfing champion was Nap Lajoie.
Yes, that Nap Lajoie.
Arguably the greatest second baseman in the history of baseball — and one of its best all-around players, one who became a Cleveland icon in the first half of the 20th century — had found another sport to occupy his time as he neared his golden years .
As a part-time Lake County resident, no less.
First, some context…
Lajoie was a little more than a decade removed from his 21-year Hall of Fame career in the majors, 13 of those seasons spent in Cleveland. A .338 lifetime hitter and three-time batting champion, who never struck out more than 28 times in a season, Cleveland’s newly minted American League franchise was named in his honor as the Naps. Such was Lajoie’s enormous popularity in Northeast Ohio as a star player, as well as manager for five seasons.
Captured in David L. Fleitz’s 2013 biography on Lajoie, titled “King of Ballplayers,” it’s difficult to capture the extent of goodwill Lajoie had accumulated in Cleveland.
Lajoie played here from 1902-14. He returned to Philadelphia, where he had begun his MLB career playing six years for the Phillies and Athletics, to end his major-league career with the A’s in 1915 and 1916.
For much of his time in Cleveland, Lajoie and his wife Myrtle lived on a farm on South Green Road in South Euclid.
By the 1920s, though, Lajoie maintained seasonal residences.
He spent winters in Florida, where he and Myrtle would retire for good in 1943 and he would live out his final days until his death in 1959 in Daytona Beach.
For roughly 20 years, though, Lajoie had a summer home in Mentor-on-the-Lake on Salida Road.
Seemingly because the Lajoies were summer occupants, they were a supplementary addition to the 1930 United States census. The home was valued on the 1930 census at $25,000 — nearly $450,000 with today’s adjustment.
According to reports of the era, Lajoie’s yard measured an acre and a half surrounding his home adjacent to the water. He still mowed it himself well into his 60s.
Lajoie turned 54 years old Sept. 5, 1928.
Golf had been prevalent in Lajoie’s free time. He appeared in Cleveland Athletic Club outings, including in 1925 when he carded a 180 over 36 holes at Mayfield Country Club, good for a tie for ninth.
Competitive golf representing his home club and playing for serious stakes did not come along, however, until that summer of 1928.
Mentor Headlands was laid out by Mayfield resident Bertie Way, a renowned golf architect. Way’s layout ran 6,310 yards with two par-fives and three par-threes, with an “informal” opening in 1928.
When the course was constructed, clearing the property’s woods to start, foreman Howard Hanks said he found 87 arrowheads while forging the fairways. The land had been frequented more than a century prior by Indian tribes.
With The Country Club and Willowick planning to move courses further inland in 1928, Mentor Headlands was about to be the only course in Greater Cleveland on the lakeshore.
Greenkeeper Ralph Wiedenkopf later built back seven tees to add yardage in time for its 1929 second unveiling.
One of Cleveland’s most respected golf pros of the day, Wiedenkopf had high praise of Lajoie’s game.
“Lajoie hits a golf ball just like he does a baseball,” he said. “And how that ball does travel. His drives are tremendous, and although his short game isn’t anything extra, he scores mighty well.
“We’ve never had much success getting him into tournaments, but I’m pretty sure he’ll play on our team.”
He was right.
As the Cleveland District Golf Association assembled its eastern division qualifier among member clubs in May, it was stated Lajoie may be part of the group representing Mentor Headlands later in the year.
His first foray into competitive golf at Mentor Headlands came in the Raymond C. Snell Cup on Aug. 19. Lajoie shot a 79, including 37 on the front nine. With his 12 handicap, he had a net of 67, good for a one-shot win over WE Munn and Otto Aul.
September 9, in the second round of the Mentor Headlands club championship tournament, Lajoie defeated defending champion Tom Reese, two and one, to advance.
“Larry has a perfect tournament temperament,” Wiedenkopf said, using Lajoie’s nickname given to him in Philadelphia when a rookie once inexplicably couldn’t pronounce Napoleon and called him Larry instead.
“Where others strain and tighten up in a close match, Lajoie goes along easily as if he didn’t care what happened. That helps a lot.”
Lajoie tuned up for the Headlands championship final by playing a Scotch foursome tournament at Acacia on Sept. 13, teaming with KE Weigle.
Ten days later on Sept. 23, Lajoie went about reigning supreme among the Mentor Headlands Country Club circuit. He won a 36-hole playoff over GW Walden, four and two, for those plaudits.
Lajoie was four-up after seven holes, with a birdie on the first hole. Walden responded by pulling even by the 12th. The Hall of Famer on the diamond shot an 80 on his first 18 holes to be two-up on Walden heading into an 18-hole afternoon session.
One-up on the 12th in that second round of the day, Lajoie won three of the next four holes to prevail in the match. He carded a 39 on the front nine in that round.
“More golf matches are lost on the fairway than in the rough,” Lajoie said after the round. “When you’re out in the open, you think you’ve got it won and are careless, when in the rough you concentrate.”
Lajoie was one of 22 club champions crowned across Greater Cleveland that summer.
Although he qualified for it with his club title, Lajoie did not participate in the CDGA championship tournament at Canterbury later in September. Showing his respect for the local game, though, he was chosen as an honorary vice president for the CDGA eastern division the following year.
By 1929, after Wiedenkopf’s craftsmanship, the course was ready to host the CDGA eastern division interclub competition, with Lajoie as its champion.
Lajoie continued to play what was later renamed Black Brook well into the 1930s and 1940s before retiring to Florida for good.
The Hall of Famer. The Cleveland icon.
And for a summer, Mentor’s best golfer.
“Guess I’m pretty good,” Lajoie said after that championship round in September 1928 at Mentor Headlands. “Maybe I ought to go back to baseball and get some of the money they’re paying these youngsters. I can still hit ’em.”