DEVELOPING A GEM — WYOMING VALLEY COUNTRY CLUB

Excerpted from Wyoming Valley Country Club 1896-1984, by E. Ted Patton







ORIGINAL CLUB HOUSE, CIRCA 1896

The Wyoming Valley Country Club was officially chartered on June 16, 1896 and is the fifth oldest golf club in Pennsylvania and forty-fifth in the United States, according to records of the United States Golf Association. Pennsylvania golf clubs formed prior to 1896 include the Foxburg Club (1887), Philadelphia Cricket Club (1854 for the club; golf course built in 1895), Philadelphia Country Club (1890), and Allegheny Country Club, (1895). Although St. Andrews Golf Club on the Hudson was organized in 1888, its charter was not drafted until 1895. To Shinnecock Hills Golf Club of Southampton, Long Island, incorporated in 1891, belongs the distinction of being the first incorporated golf club in the United States. Closely following St. Andrews and Shinnecock are the Chicago Golf Club, Country Club of Brookline, MA, and Newport, R.I. Golf Club. On December 22, 1894, these five clubs formed the Amateur Golf Association of the United States, which later became the United States Golf Association.

The wisdom and dedication of Andrew Derr and John Conyngham were key factors to the establishment and construction of the Wyoming Valley Country Club. The Club’s site was selected chiefly for its scenic beauty and its easy accessibility to Wilkes-Barre. The Wilkes-Barre Railway trolley line passed the entrance to the Club, and the property could be easily reached by horse and carriage on good dirt roads.

The original Wyoming Valley Country Club golf course consisted of nine holes, and was 2,821 yards long. The land was leased from the Glen Alden Coal Company, and until 1957 the Club paid only the taxes on the land as fee of the lease agreement.

In 1922 a committee was formed to investigate the possibility of moving the Club to another location, or that of remaining at the present site and building a new eighteen hole course. The committee submitted a comprehensive report to the Board, which named six possible locations. After two meetings the General Committee recommended that they build eighteen holes, but did not pick a location. In October, 1923, when C. F. Huber became president, it was decided it would be best to remain where they were, and a new twenty-five year lease was signed with both the Glen Alden and Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Coal Companies for approximately 250 acres of land. On March 3, 1924, a special meeting of the Club was called to take definite action on the proposed improvements to the Clubhouse and the new golf course. At this meeting the entire proposition was approved. The president, appointed a committee to supervise layout and construction, chaired by L. F. Mitten, with A. C. Williams as vice chairman. A. W. Tillinghast was hired as architect, and he supplied the services of Mr. Dave Honeyman to supervise the work at $25.00 per day, plus expenses. The choice of Tillinghast, who later became a world-renowned golf course architect, showed the determination of the membership of the Wyoming Valley Country Club to sponsor a facility of exceptional quality.

The original route of the Tillinghast course started at the old clubhouse and is somewhat different than that played today. Although the holes are the same, the numbers are different because the course started and finished at the present #6 and #5 tees adjacent to the clubhouse. The original route went as follows: 6 as 1, 7 as 2, 8 as 3, 9 as 4, 10 as 5, 11 as 6, 15 as 7, 16 as 8, 17 as 9, 18 as 10, 14 as 11, 12 as 12, 13 as 13, 1 as 14, 2 as 15, 3 as 16, 4 as 17, and 5 as 18.








ORIGINAL CONCEPT SKETCH

The General Committee made some changes to the design during construction, most of these being yardage changes on specific holes. The original plans called for a par 72 course, however it was agreed a par 71 course would be more suitable to the natural terrain. Actual pictures taken of construction in progress give an indication of the backbreaking labor involved. The enormous task of creating fifteen new holes in just one year, of clearing vast tree-covered woods without the use of modern machinery, showed the dedication and hard work of the crew and committee. Natural springs and streams added difficulties during construction on the present holes 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 18. After these problems were overcome, a water supply for the golf course was achieved by hooking up to Spring Brooks' water service line to the #21 Lehigh and Wilkes-Barre Collery.






CLEARING OF STUMPS ON NUMBER 17 IN 1924

Work began on the course March 24, 1924, with fairways and greens seeded late that summer. Shortly after this heavy rains washed away many of the seeded areas, requiring new seeding and a delay until July 4, 1925, for the official opening of play. Fifteen new holes had been constructed and three holes on the original layout of 1901 were reconstructed, tennis courts were renovated, improvements were made to the clubhouse and a fence was constructed.

To finance the project, sixty-seven life memberships were sold at $1500 each. To the dismay of the members, though, it soon became apparent that filling the club with paid life memberships had stopped needed cash flow for operating expenses and a new dues structure was established.

The year 1935 was a disastrous one from the point of view of the club's property. On the night of October 31st a fire broke out in the clubhouse, and while nearby fire companies responded promptly all that remained was the locker room and bowling alley, which had been turned into a pro shop. The Club membership had several meetings and deliberated on what should be done. It was finally decided to move the clubhouse to its present location. Records and recollections indicated that the most pressing reason for moving the clubhouse was to facilitate a plan for three new holes directly behind, and to the left of the present #2 tee and to the left of #17 tee. With this in mind, the Club used the winter to clear away obstructing pine trees and obtained an estimate of $8,500 for completion of the holes. There is no documentation to indicate the reason for constructing these new holes. One plausible theory is that continuous activity by residents close to the present holes #4, #5, and #6 was a constant annoyance for the golfers. Also, additional costs were incurred each year due to vandalism on these readily accessible greens. Whatever the member's motives, World War 11 and an extremely costly outbreak of beetles forced the Club to put the plan on hold. Just to prove that old issues never die, they just linger unresolved ...talk is still heard today among members on the virtues and drawbacks of building the three new holes.








ORIGINAL ROUTING WITH PROPOSED NEW HOLES

To return to Wyoming Valley Country Club's need for a new clubhouse, construction on the edifice began March 18, 1936. The new clubhouse was a shining milestone in the Club's history, and another tribute to its members' dedication and talent. In order to pay for the clubhouse, the Board of Governors and members paid an assessment of $125 per member, and new members were required to pay an initiation fee of $100. Records from that time show that the assessment, initiation fee, and dues all combined to take the Club totally out of debt, and this financial posture was maintained until the early 1950's.







THE 1936 CLUBHOUSE

1957 was a year of sweeping change for the Club, profoundly benefiting today's members. That was the year in which all members of the Wyoming Valley Country Club became owners of the Club and its property, with equity as prescribed by the current by-laws. The man responsible for that innovation was Judge Michael Sheridan, at the time a practicing attorney and member of Wyoming Valley Country Club who did business with the Glen Alden Coal Corporation. It is important to remember that in 1957 the Club was controlled, by virtue of the leased land agreement, by the coal companies. This was the shaky prospect faced by the Club when William Everett, Vice President and General Manager of Glen Alden, decided to sell the company homes and other coal company property because of deep coal mining's dramatic decline in the area. Good fortune intervened when Sheridan one day saw Mr. Everett on the corner of Market and Franklin Streets in Wilkes-Barre. Mr. Everett had with him the blueprints needed to appraise Glen Alden's "for sale" properties. Sheridan asked Everett his destination, and the Glen Alden executive replied by explaining his firm's intentions. Sheridan responded by asking if Everett would have the Wyoming Valley Country Club appraised as unimproved land. Thanks to the warmth of their past relationship, Everett agreed. Thus, the land was appraised at $150,000, instead of at the much higher value that would have been set if the land had been categorized as "improved." The Board then went before the Club and told the members what had transpired and what they must do to avoid losing the property to another buyer. Despite Sheridan's enthusiasm, the members opposed his plea for them to secure the land, because the economy of the region was weak and they had never considered paying for the land in all the Club's history. At this point, rather than lose the land to an unknown, Sheridan picked up an option on the land himself, refusing all offers from specific members and non-members to buy it from him. His response to such offers was, "the Club belongs to all the membership." Finally, after several meetings, the membership agreed to borrow the money from The Wyoming National Bank and make the Club their own. A $150,000 mortgage was obtained, and acquisition of the Club occurred on January 28, 1958. Judge Peter Paul Olszewski handled the legal details as a service to the Club. In order to pay for the acquisition, each member of the Club was asked to purchase a bond of $750. The first bond was sold to Leo Corgan on December 10, 1957, and the last in 1960. The total raised was $68,000, the remaining debt becoming part of the Club's operating expenses. Those current members of the Club who did purchase bonds are due a debt of gratitude. Their interest and generosity has provided a basis for years of continued enjoyment by all Club members. Since 1958 many changes have occurred to both the clubhouse and golf course. Overall the vast majority of changes have been for the better although heated discussions of past years continue today in the grillroom over alterations to the course and clubhouse.

One of the most ambitious projects undertaken was begun in 1969, and was completed in early 1971. A watering system was installed for the tees, fairways and greens. Perhaps only those involved can appreciate the comprehensive design and logistical problems in a project this size. First, a well was dug in the area to the left of #3 fairway and #7 green, since the known quality and quantity of the water there made it a perfect site. Subsequently, a holding pond with pumps was constructed in front of #5 green. This method was affective for two reasons: first, the area in question was marshy and unsightly, and the quality of holes #4 and #5 needed upgrading; second, it is the highest point on the course that allowed adequate pressure in the lines. One happy outcome of the massive undertaking was the cost of doing it; the Club's own crew installed the lines, keeping the price tag for the work far lower than it would have been otherwise.

Another major project was the installation of cart paths throughout the course. In the earliest phase of construction shale was used for some paths (1969), with the eventual completion of all blacktop coming in 1978. This expensive project was generally felt to have paid for itself through the expansion of the season when cart usage was possible.

Other changes and improvements to the golf course have been made since the early years, but primarily they have been to lengthen the course. Tees were made longer and/or wider on holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 16. Pine trees were planted along #1 and #13 in 1945. The pond on #15 was enlarged in 1979. A new green was put in on #4 in 1971, and a pond in front of #14 tee was added in 1983.

As with any history, people are the real story in the distinguished chronicle of Wyoming Valley Country Club’s development. A few key figures in the Club’s development have been cited, but golfers who make and inherit the legends and stories, which haunt and enrich every great golf course must not be forgotten. Wyoming Valley certainly has its share of great golfers, unbelievable performances, suspenseful tournaments, and striking dignitaries. Golf luminaries who have played and praised the quality of the course include Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Julios Boros, Art Wall, Ted Kroll and Mike Souchak. The competitive course record is held by Steve Chanecka, who shot a 65 in tournament play; but the course record is an amazing 62, shot by Ted Tryba in 1983. Both Mr. Tillinghast and Wyoming Valley Country Club have stood the test of time.








TRIP TO PINEHURST — 1931