The working man’s country club celebrates its 90th

 

By Gary Band

Area residents have known about it for years. And if you’ve driven Route 103, you’ve likely noticed the large oval sign in green, black and white  standing in the clearing across from the Vermont Country Store in Rockingham. Yet it still classifies as one of Vermont’s best-kept secrets.

The 1955 Bellows Falls Golf Club tournament champs. Clockwise from rear left are Chick Cheever, Art Wissell, Mickey Tolaro, Henry Davis, Floyd Chaffe,  Cash Wilson, Chris Breslend, Norma Buskey, Anna-Mae Kelly, Regis Massucco and Claire Cheever. Photo courtesy the Bellows Falls Country Club.

The 1955 Bellows Falls Golf Club tournament champs. Clockwise from rear left are Chick Cheever, Art Wissell, Mickey Tolaro, Henry Davis, Floyd Chaffe, Cash Wilson, Chris Breslend, Norma Buskey, Anna-Mae Kelly, Regis Massucco and Claire Cheever. Photo courtesy the Bellows Falls Country Club. Click photo to enlarge.

Welcome to the Bellows Falls Country Club, the 90-year-old, nine-hole gem on 53 rolling acres that offers open tee times and prides itself on inexpensive membership and greens fees and golf cart rates for members and non-members alike. It also boasts a bar, restaurant and pro-shop during its season, which runs April through Oct. 31.

The country club has 133 voting members who pay $635 a year and 30-plus junior members who pay $50 annually. (Corporate and college rates are also available.) Greens fees range from $16 for nine holes to $33 for 18 with golf cart rental ranging from $10 to $18 per person. And no tee times are required.

“We’re trying to make it affordable,” says board member Don Brophy of Rockingham. “We offer a deal that allows people to pay installments over the winter and be paid up by April or May.” It’s a steal of a deal,” says longtime member Ed Peterson.

In a tourist area dotted with a number of high-end golf courses, Bellows Falls Country Club can offer a refreshing break from those confusing pricing and reservation structures.

During the season, this intimate, unpretentious country club is open seven days a week for anyone wishing to shoot a few rounds and have a couple of drinks. It also has a  full-time cook preparing food for golfers and area working men and women on their lunch breaks. In business since 1923 — when 400 shares were sold for $25 each to get the project going — the club continues to be a good spot for small weddings, reunions and business and retirement parties.

It’s a tough market drawing from a small area and competing against Crown Point, Tater Hill and Okemo, but we’ve survived.
Ed Peterson
member
Bellows Falls Country Club

“It’s a tough market drawing from a small area and competing against Crown Point, Tater Hill and Okemo, but we’ve survived,” says Peterson. Club manager Sharon Slattery of Cavendish says the club was recently discovered by a New York couple on a trek through town. They were heading up to Killington, as they have done countless times over the past five years. Only this time, “they came in and fell in love with it,” says Slattery.

“The camaraderie is the best part,” says Brophy. “I joined five years, brought my son over to expose him to golf, and one round was all it took – he was hooked.  From the twilight league to ladies’ night, tournaments, casual play, inexpensive bar drinks, a full menu for lunch and dinner, and a great view from the porch, the people are wonderful and there’s always something going on.  We have everything the big courses have at half the price.”

Peterson agrees: “Everybody knows everybody. Before you even get out of the parking lot, there’s someone asking if you want to play. It’s really a phenomenal atmosphere.”

Go for the good greens

The fifth hole at the nine-hole Bellows Falls Country Club. Photo by Gary Band.

The fifth hole at the nine-hole Bellows Falls Country Club. Photo by Gary Band.

“If you like golf, these greens are as good as any in the area,” Peterson adds. He, Brophy and Slattery,  gathered around a table one recent day, all credit head groundskeeper Mark Shepherd with doing a “superb job” keeping the place looking perfect. “He’s always working,” Brophy says.

Along with the members and staff, golf lovers also donate their time to keep the club looking good. “We would not be able to do what we do without volunteers,” Brophy says.

Bill O’Connor of Bellows Falls, now 80, says he’s been playing golf for 68 years and dates his history with the country club to 1945, when he began working as a caddie. He moved up to assistant groundskeeper and finally head groundskeeper, leaving after 34 years — in 1979 —  to work at the  Hooper Golf Course in Walpole.

O’Connor laments how many golf courses are closing across the country compared to the number of those opening. According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2012, 154.5 golf courses closed and 13.5 opened (The fraction accounts for 18-hole equivalents.) “As in recent years, closures were disproportionately lower priced public facilities (68% of total closures),” said the NGF. Since 2006, 500 courses out of 16,000 have closed.

“Nine-hole courses struggle more,” says O’Connor. “… it’s tough for anybody to get along these days. But this course has held up quite well.”

After nearly 55 years, Gloria Cass of Springfield said she may be the longest-standing member. “It’s a great place for families,” she says, “and I hold my own on the course.” Her friend Ginny Baker has been a member for 27 years and describes her play as “not bad for an old lady.” As for the club, she says, “I love it here. Everybody is so friendly and the course is in great shape all year.”

For more information,  visit the club’s website at www.bellowsfallscountryclub.com.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeFeaturedIn the Community

About the Author: Gary Band has worked as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Florida, Massachusetts and Vermont.

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  1. DavidW says:

    I worked at the Bellows Falls Country Club during high school summer vacation from 1979 to 1981 and in the spring of 1982, when I graduated and went on to a full-time job.

    I never really became a golfer, though I did try my hand while I was there and ended up on the BFUHS golf team in my senior year. But I’ve never played a round since I left.

    Still, I have very fond memories of my time at the country club. I appreciate the call to mind and wish them the best as they move on to what will no doubt be a grand 100th.

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