Greens at North Hills
aka: Sylvan Hills Country Club Golf Course
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, the Greens at North Hills in Sherwood (Pulaski County) was originally named Sylvan Hills Country Club and was built in the Sylvan Hills community along the North Heights Highway (also known at times as the Ark-Mo Highway, AR Highway 5, and AR Highway 107) in 1926. The country club was envisioned and built by real estate developer Justin Matthews Sr. to provide recreational opportunities for residents living in his new Park Hill subdivision in North Little Rock (Pulaski County), as well as residents of his planned community of Sylvan Hills, located at present-day Loop, Kellogg, Johnson, and Miller roads.
In 1927, Justin Matthews Sr. and his wife, Agnes, transferred their ownership of the Sylvan Hills Country Club to the newly formed Sylvan Hills Improvement Corporation. A 1927 advertisement mentions that the Sylvan Hills Country Club boasted of a “magnificent field stone clubhouse, a swimming pool, four other buildings, and an 18-hole golf course, which has been pronounced as one of the finest in the state.” The swimming pool was the first public pool to be opened in Arkansas, though when the City of Sherwood purchased the country club in 2008, the pool was closed and filled in with concrete.
Sylvan Hills Country Club was very successful up until the early 1930s, when America entered the Great Depression. People had less disposable income for recreational and entertainment activities, and the country club closed. Milk cows from Salyer’s Dairy Farm on East Lee Avenue were herded to the golf course to graze the fields during the summer of 1936. From 1941 to 1945, R. J. Ratcliff operated a quail-hunting business on the land of the Sylvan Hills Country Club.
After the end of World War II, several original members of Sylvan Hills Country Club returned home, reorganized the country club, and repurchased the land. A new clubhouse was built around 1946 on the original clubhouse’s foundation. Unlike the original two-story building, the new clubhouse was only one story. The greens were also rehabilitated following many years of neglect and misuse.
As finances were still tight after World War II, the management purchased slot machines (which were illegal) to generate funds. Club members paid a hefty joining fee, but it was offset by the fact that there were no monthly dues. The slot machines were successful, in that they made enough money to cover the club’s expenses as well as turn a modest profit. However, when Governor Sid McMath began a campaign to end illegal gambling in his hometown of Hot Springs (Garland County), club officials feared that state law enforcement authorities would soon be sent to destroy the machines at Sylvan Hills. Club officials took the slot machines to a wooded area near the golf course at night and buried them, but the machines were found and destroyed. Legend holds that a few slot machines survived the raid and were hidden in the clubhouse basement. When the second clubhouse burned, however, those machines were destroyed as well.
Starting in July 1950, Metropolitan Trust Company (owned by the heirs of Justin Matthews Sr.) began selling residential lots alongside Sylvan Hills Country Club to the Sylvan Hills Development Corporation. As Sherwood grew, a huge demand was created for new homes in the area. In 1956, Sylvan Hills Country Club was renamed North Hills Country Club.
The club’s second clubhouse caught fire and burned on May 15, 1961. Almost immediately, the leaders of the new North Hills Country Club made plans to rebuild. With money from their insurance claim, the club built a small “teen building” behind the swimming pool and also used this as a clubhouse while a new clubhouse was being built. The new clubhouse was designed by North Little Rock architect Raymond Branton, and N. P. Alessi, Inc., was contracted to build it. Construction on the new structure began in October 1962 and was finished in December 1963 at a cost of approximately $300,000. In 1977, one of the world’s leading golf course architects, Robert Trent Jones Sr., was brought in to redesign the outdated 1920s golf course. The total cost to remodel the greens was around $800,000. This is the only course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the state of Arkansas.
No longer financially profitable, North Hills Country Club officially closed in May 2007. An offer was presented to the owners to purchase the land for use as a new residential development. This caused a major uproar among many of the citizens of Sherwood, especially those who frequented the links and owned homes alongside the golf course. After much debate, the City of Sherwood settled all claims against the property and purchased it with city funds. Called the Greens at North Hills, the golf course is a public course owned by the City of Sherwood.
Duran, Ailene. The Signs Say Sherwood. Sherwood, AR: Heritage Press, 1976.
Duran, Ron, Cheryl Ferguson, Marvelle Harmon, Sarah Henson, Amy Sanders, and Becki Vassar. The Signs Still Say Sherwood: The Next 25 Years. Sherwood, AR: Arrow Printing, 2002.
Sherwood, Arkansas. http://www.ci.sherwood.ar.us/ (accessed March 13, 2013).
“Sylvan Hills Country Club.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. On file at Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PU8500.nr.pdf (accessed May 21, 2015).
Darrell W. Brown
Sherwood History and Heritage Commission
Last Updated: 05/21/2015