Still Shooting Its Age: Claremont Country Club Turning 100 Years Old
Jean-Guy Jacques, of Claremont, N.H., concentrates on practicing his drive during the weekly mens league at the Claremont Country Club on July 22, 2014. Jacques says he's been a member "for at least 20 years." (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
A score card from 1928 hangs on the wall of the Claremont Country Club on July 22, 2014. The club will celebrate its 100th anniversary in August. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Dana Allen, of Claremont, N.H., drives his cart to the putting green of the first hole during the weekly mens league at the Claremont Country Club on July 22, 2014. Allen has been a member of the club for "20ish years." (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Tom Rock, of Claremont, N.H., middle, jokes around as guys start to show up to play in the men's league at the Claremont Country Club on July 22, 2014. Rock has been a member of the club for 35 years. The country club will celebrate its 100th anniversary in August. (Valley News - Ariana van den Akker) Purchase photo reprints »
Claremont — One hundred years ago, golfers employed wood-shafted clubs with wooden heads, carrying their own clubs or hiring a caddie. The fairways were littered with stubble, and the ball would bounce when putted across the greens. Fred Flintstone would have thought the conditions perfect.
Now adays, the shafts bend like buggy whips, players move from hole to hole on motorized vehicles, the fairways are green and plush and you could shoot pool on the surface of the greens. How the game has changed in the 100 years that Claremont Country Club has been around, a century the nine-hole course plans to celebrate next month.
Like many clubs throughout the country, the Claremont facility has seen the sport go through the good, the bad and the ugly phases. There was a time when the membership had to be halted at around 400 because the course could handle just so many players. Now the membership is less than 175.
“We also had a waiting list of around 50,” said Al Martin, who felt the sport peaked about 20 years ago when Tiger Woods turned the country’s sporting eyes to golf.
Martin, 74, has done just about everything at the club since he first joined in 1952. Even before being a member, he recalls spending time there as a youth caddying.
“We’d get $1 for nine holes and $2 for 18,” he said. “Sometimes we’d double up and carry two bags. That was pretty good money then, and we’d almost always get a tip.”
Martin especially liked Monday mornings, because that’s when the caddies played for free. “If you got there early enough, you’d get to use what they called the caddy’s clubs, which belonged to the club,” he said. “I’d get there by 6 a.m. to get those clubs. Otherwise, you had to scrounge for clubs.”
Martin, who is left-handed, learned to play right-handed by turning a 2-iron around. “There were very few left-handed clubs then,” Martin explained.
Martin must have made the adjustment pretty well. He was the club champion seven times.
Currently a bartender at the club, Martin — who still plays regularly — was also the manager for a time. While there have been many managers over the years, the only pro golfer at the club came in 1952 in the form of Tony Locke, who later played on the PGA Tour out of Portsmouth, N.H.
The list of managers included Bill McIver in 1950 followed by Bill Miller, Locke, Bob Dale, Hank Leland, Acie Chandler, Bob LeClair, Nat Pintello, Chuck LaRoche and Steve Chaisson.
Dodie Belski also managed the club and was responsible for the starting of the junior golf program that continues today. Belski died this year at 93.
The course has seen much in the way of changes over the years. The current layout is 5,331 yards and par 68 over 18 holes for the men and 4,670 yards and par 72 for the women. There was some talk of making the 446-yard seventh hole a par-5, but with the improvement of the equipment adding to the greater strength of today’s golfer, that’s no longer a great distance for some of today’s long-hitting players, according to Martin.
“It remains a challenging course,” said Martin, who had his handicap down to 3 at one time before his age caught up with him and boosted his handicap to 16.
Martin has also played all the courses in the area and thinks they all have special characteristics that add to their uniqueness. However, he thinks Hooper Golf Club in Walpole, N.H., is the toughest. “They have some nasty holes there,” he said.
Martin’s wife, Doris, 84, is believed to be Claremont’s longest-living member, having joined the club in 1949. Like her husband, Doris remains an active member.
Hank Normandin, who joined the club in 1954, is the oldest-living male member, having belonged for 60 years. “It can’t be that long,” he said, a bit astonished as he did the math.
Official festivities celebrating the 100th anniversary of the club will be held next month. The club will host a clambake and dance on Aug. 16 beginning at 5:30 p.m.; it’s open to Claremont members and guests, but is limited to 100 people.
Members and guests are welcome to return on Aug. 17 for a scramble golf tournament beginning at 1 p.m. The club also plans on selling commemorative golf shirts during the weekend’s festivities, details of which can be found at www.claremontcountryclubnh.com.