November 4 1931 – July 26, 2018 ANNAPOLIS, MD – Gerald G. Barton, golf real estate developer whose courses hosted major U.S. tournaments in the 1980s and 1990s, died July 26 following a 12-year battle with melanoma. He was 86.
Barton, whose boom and bust career lasted 60 years, headed Landmark Land Company whose orange tree logo was emblazoned on tournament golf course resort and residential developments, including Oak Tree Golf Club, Kiawah Island Ocean Course, Palm Beach Polo & Country Club, PGA West, Mission Hills Country Club, La Quinta Resort & Club, Carmel Valley Ranch and Belle Terre Country Club.
His courses hosted the PGA Championship, the 1992 Ryder Cup, the U.S. Amateur, the Skins Game, and other major tournaments.
Barton was born in Oklahoma City and grew up in Stroud, the son of schoolteachers turned motion picture theater owners. He was educated at The University of Oklahoma, University of Chicago, Oxford University (England) and the University of California Los Angeles. He married Jo Clough in 1953, and they both graduated from The University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1955. After serving in the Judge Advocate General’s office in Washington, DC, Barton returned to Oklahoma City in 1958 to turn his family’s theater holdings into a real estate development company.
Early developments included the United Founders Tower (now Founders Tower) and the Hilton Hotel in Oklahoma City, and the Continental Theaters in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Denver. Long interested in politics, Barton served on the National Democratic Finance Committee in the mid-1970s and worked for Governor David Hall of Oklahoma. He continued to support Democratic Party causes and candidates throughout his life.
In 1971, Barton took over Landmark Land Company, formerly Godchaux Sugar Company, with land holdings between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. He joined Oklahoma City golf pros Joe Walser and Ernie Vossler and golf designer Pete Dye to build Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond and then launched a golf empire that would span the country. 1980s golf legends such as Freddy Couples, Craig Stadler, and Gil Morgan all wore the company’s famous tree logo.
In 1982, Barton contracted with the federal government to bail out Dixie Savings & Loan, the largest insolvent thrift in Louisiana. In 1989, the government changed the rules for funding S&Ls, leading to government takeover of companies and the fire sale of assets. Barton sued the government for breach of contract and won his case in 2002, with the Federal Circuit Court returning his original investment of $21 million – a fraction of the value of the company the government had seized. Barton went on to reform the company and develop golf course resorts and communities in Texas, Maryland, California and Mississippi, and internationally, including Doonbeg in Ireland, Apes Hill in Barbados and Arcos Gardens in Spain.
A dedicated family man, Barton once asked former President Bill Clinton to reschedule a meeting to have dinner with his grandchildren’s middle school civics teacher. Barton is survived by his three children, Joann Barton Vaughan and Douglas Barton, of Maryland; and Martha Barton Doherty, of Los Angeles; 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The family is holding a private service. In lieu of flowers, gifts should be made to the Oklahoma Democratic Party, 3700 N Classen Blvd, Ste 100, Oklahoma City, 73118.
Published in The Oklahoman on July 28, 2018