The unbelievable story behind why a course made its logo a Titanic lifeboat

The best golf-course logos, you and Luke Donah know, tell a story. They’re stitched proudly onto your polo or cap, and passerbys request: Tell me more. Why this animal? Why that plant? What’s the meaning of it all?

Done right, they become a point of pride. You want to answer those questions.

“If you have the opportunity to tell a story with a logo, why wouldn’t you take it?” Donah says. “I want people to ask, hey, what’s that logo on your shirt? And it’s not just, oh, that’s my members-only logo shirt because that just sounds kind of stuffy.

“I wanted it to be more of an opportunity for them to tell the story because I think it’s a great story to tell, and I don’t know anyone that’s going to hear that story and say, why did you just waste two minutes of my life telling you that? ”

He’s right. My goodness, does Cedar Rapids Country Club and its members and its town have a story.

After all, their logo is a Titanic lifeboat.

Cedar Rapids Country Club.

Vaughn Halyard

It’s a story, though, that needs to be told starting with today and ending with that luxury-ship crash 110 years ago. You see, both Donah’s adopted hometown and golf club have seen some days this past decade plus. In 2008, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the eastern part of the Hawkeye State, on the Cedar River, was hit with a historical flood. In 2020, a violent storm.

Donah is the new CRCC head pro. He and his wife, Kendra, both originally from upstate New York, have lived in Cedar Rapids since 2015, and they recently gave birth to a son, Beaux. As you listen to Donah’s description of the city’s recovery, don’t forget about the logo.

“The flood in 2008, the golf course didn’t necessarily receive – we flood several times a year, typically, so the club didn’t necessarily receive any damage during that, but a lot of the members’ businesses did downtown, and so downtown Cedar Rapids essentially had to reinvent itself after the flood, ”he said. “I wasn’t here at that time, but from what I heard, downtown Cedar Rapids has built back much better since that time.

“Then in 2020, we had just done an 18-hole course restoration, starting in 2011 and we finished that in 2015. And so the golf course, we went from kind of an obscure, random, private club in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to ranked 67th in Golfweek’s Top 100 Classics, and Golf Magazine ranked us as one of the top restoration projects of the past decade. Our golf course has gotten a ton of acclaim for the changes that we made and everyone was enjoying the golf course; it was in such good shape. 2019, we hosted our first USGA event; we had the US Senior Women’s Am.

Cedar Rapids Country Club during the 2019 US Senior Women Amateur.

Vaughn Halyard

“And then 2020, in August, we’re just getting going after Covid earlier in the year, and we get 160-mph wind for an hour straight. And it absolutely obliterates the golf course. We lost over 800 trees. And the trees that we had left on the golf course were, they were the trees that we intentionally left out there because we took out a lot of trees in the restoration. It took us a while to get back open. We’re really beat up. Even right now, we’re in the middle of putting together the plan with our architect about what we’re going to start this fall in getting the golf course back to what we hope it can be. We have a great opportunity now. There’s hardly any trees in the middle of the golf course, and it’s a great property, great piece of land. So now it’s just figuring out how we can use that land.

“Every single home in Cedar Rapids received damage in the right. And so everyone’s home was damaged, but yet there were still members out here helping the staff clean up the golf course every day in the immediate aftermath of the storm. Members were helping other members clean up their homes. Everyone needed help. It’s not like at that time you could just hire somebody because every home in Cedar Rapids had been damaged so there was no one to hire. Our infrastructure was kind of wiped out for a few days. We didn’t have access to gas or electricity or any of that in the immediate aftermath of the storm so people just kind of banded together and helped one another out. Here, it’s just the nature of people. Everyone helped everyone. And Cedar Rapids really cleaned itself up. And CRCC cleaned itself up. ”

To Donah, all of it sounded a lot like Walter Douglas.

Here, it’s just the nature of people. Everyone helped everyone. And Cedar Rapids really cleaned itself up. And CRCC cleaned itself up.

Luke Donah

Douglas and his two brothers, George and Will, were the sons of George Douglas and Margaret Boyd, and, according to various reports, the patriarch was an oatmeal manufacturer whose business eventually merged with others to form the Quaker Oats Company. You’ve probably seen their product in your grocery store. Small world. Let’s continue. After George and Walter visited Scotland, the three brothers organized Cedar Rapids Country Club in 1904.

Eight years later, Walter, his wife, Mahala, and their maid, Berthe Leroy, boarded a luxury ship.

One-hundred-and-10 years later to the day, the following note went out to the members of Walter’s former club. Multiple reports have told the same story. (A special thanks to the Society of Golf Historians for helping share the note on its Twitter account.)

“CRCC members,” the note begins, “Today we are excited to introduce to you the brand new Cedar Rapids Country Club Members Only logo! On this date 110 years ago, CRCC Founding-Member Walter Douglas, tragically perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. On the night of the sinking, Mr. and Mrs. Douglas had been in their cabin at the time of the collision, the shock of which was so slight that they paid little heed to it. Receiving no instructions to go topside, the couple waited in their cabin, Walter reassuring his wife that there was no danger. Only the sight of other passengers gathering in the corridors dressed in lifebelts prompted to couple to do the same and they dressed and headed to the boat deck where they waited for some time.

“Mr. Douglas saw his wife and maid off in lifeboat 2 but refused to go himself until all women and children were accounted for… stating “No, I must be a gentleman.” According to later reports, Walter Douglas, dressed in his finest, helped lower the last lifeboat of survivors off the Titanic. ”

Donah, a self-described history geek, had heard the story while touring the Cedar Rapids mansion where George used to live, the Brucemore, then relayed it to Ryan Gabel of Alternate Golf Logos, who designed the logo.

“What’s been neat is there’s been a lot of members that have been members here their entire life – like their parents were members here, been around this club for a long time and been in the community for a long time – and didn’t even know that story, ”Donah said. “… I just thought that, as I took over as head pro, that’s a story about our history or our heritage of the club that nobody knew”

I wanted it to tie into what I think of the club, of Iowans, of selfless people who look out for one another.

Luke Donah

He’s right. My goodness, does Cedar Rapids Country Club and its members and its town have a story.

After all, the logo is of a Titanic lifeboat.

“It wasn’t necessarily about having a members-only logo or having a logo that related to one moment in history, but how I wanted it to tie into what I think of the club, of Iowans, of selfless people who look out for one another, ”Donah said. “That was what I really felt like was the thing that tied it all together for me. It’s a great story. It’s a story that a lot of people didn’t know who were members of the club. But then it does tie into now what we’ve gone through as a community and as a club, how everyone looks out for one another. Even though Walter paid the biggest price – he gave his life ultimately – we still look out for one another in our own ways. ”

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Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics – his stories, his game or his beers – at nick.piastowski@golf.com.

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