Gouverneur Country Club
Beginnings – A Short History by Dan Caruso
NOTE: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 - 3:03 pm. Michael Wranesh, 94, passed away Monday at Country Manor Nursing Home in Carthage.
As I was investigating the history of Gouverneur Country Club, I learned that a current Hailesboro resident, Mike Wranesh, was there when it first began in 1930. Mike and his wife, Jane, sat down for coffee with Nancy and I and reminisced about those early days – it was delightful. During the conversation, Mike indicated that his brother John had participated in a writing class and had written an article about those early days.
What follows are excerpts from my conversation with Mike and Jane and e-mails from John. In addition, the article written by John is presented in its entirety. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I enjoyed putting it together.
The Wranesh boys were born and raised in Hailesboro during the depression years. They were caddies (in the days when members employed caddies). They "learned the trade" at the country club and learned a whole lot about people, golf etiquette, and even learned the game along with the members.
Mike was born in 1918 and was 12 when he started working at the course - initially picking weeds and then later as a caddie. He then left Hailesboro in 1936 to work as a sheet metal worker out of town for $1.00/hour which it those days was very good money. He also recalled working on the first addition of the Dolan Annex (part of the current high school) for a fellow from Vermont who had the contract.
When the Army called, he dutifully served which resulted in a cut in pay at $21. dollars a month. After the Army, he returned to Gouverneur for a job at the Borden’s milk plant where he remained for 28 years. He fondly remembers working with Bob Dygert and together they “ran the place. ” Mike claims Bob was the better golfer while he concentrated more on business of the day.
John Wranesh who lives in Ann Arbor is 6 years younger then Mike. Currently he spends some time volunteering at the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare Center and assisting with some historical aspects of his old bomb group--The 457th Bomb Group Association.
In 1999, he was a member of a “geriatric” writing group associated with the University of Michigan that met every Friday for a couple of hours. As his weekly "assignment” John chose to write about the early day of Gouverneur Country Club as his topic of choice. That writing can be read in its entirety later in this article.
He commented that he had a lot of fun visualizing the scene and the wonderful characters (and hopefully any of the descendants of the characters will be understanding). Today he still enjoys the game of golf while playing with lightweight flexible graphite shaft clubs and once in a while gets a 225-yard drive and occasionally sinks a long putt. Both Mike and John remember older brother Joe from Richville as being the “great golfer.” He and Ray Cassidy from Edwards were always partners. The record shows that together they were a formidable pair.
History of the Gouverneur Country Club
by Dan Caruso
Kinney as a representative of the newly formed Gouverneur Country Club finalized the purchase of the Manning farm at Hailesboro on 6-25-30. He loaned the club $2,500 for the initial purchase of the 100 acres located about 3 miles from downtown Gouverneur. Sherrill Sherman, golf architect from Utica, was immediately engaged “to get the grounds ready for golf purposes. ” Although some play was noticed during the fall of 1930, the club did not officially open until 1931.
Fred Manning had owned the farm and was part of the first crew involved in the construction of the golf course. His home stood where the ninth green is currently located. With the absence of tractors, horses were used to pull a scoop to move large amounts of dirt to build the greens and sand traps (There is a picture of this in the restaurant). The whole area was a meadow with ditches running through the low parts of the course. Although still known for its rolling greens, in their early years the greens had more and larger mounds – you were doing a lot of “up and down putting.” Through the years some of the mounds were removed.
Ken Price who lived across the street and George Burge were the two men who initially worked the course. For mowing the fairways, the “boys” found an old Chevrolet chassis with a motor and built a seat on it to pull a five-gang mower. After a while they also built a garage for their “ tractor.” The greens were mowed by hand. It was very hard work because of the heavy dew on the grass and the close mowing required. It took both men all morning to mow the greens.
Mike Wranesh along with other young boys of Hailesboro was employed for 15 cents an hour to weed the greens. This involved using a knife to dig them out. These were long tough hours – one or two hours was enough to tire a person, even a strong young boy.
Originally the club had planned on building a new modern clubhouse but changed plans due to the expense and the economic downturn in the country. The current clubhouse, which is the original farm barn, was remodeled and officially opened on June 22, 1932. At purchase, the cows were down stairs and the hay was still in the haymow on the second floor. On the first floor, they took the stanchions out and used it for storage until they built the locker rooms, lounge and pro shop. The second floor remained vacant but since has had two major renovations which included building a restaurant, kitchen and dance floor.
It was traditional for the club to open on Memorial Day weekend with a dinner dance and close the season on Labor Day weekend. This was the typical season until World War II, when the club closed down due to the rationing of gasoline which limited the amount of optional automobile trips.
The Golf Course Remains - The Players Have Changed
by John Wranesh 3-5-99
The nine-hole golf course was developed from pastureland just west of Hailesboro, New York by a small group of moneyed people in Gouverneur, New York. They called it the Gouverneur Country Club. The old cow barn on the property was cleared of stanchions on the bottom floor, thoroughly cleaned and whitewashed and became the members locker rooms, golf pro shop, game room and bar, even housing a few one-armed bandits.
The upper portion of the barn, the haymow, was later converted into a huge kitchen, dining room and dance area. Many windows were added to provide a wonderful view of the golf course and surrounding farmland and creek. A perfect setting for a golf course and the founders are to be commended, for it hasn't changed much to this day.
A golf course requires untold amounts of water. Luckily, to the north of the land an unlimited quantity of water was available from Mattoon Creek. A two- inch water line was installed from the pump house at the creek to the distribution system on the course. This system was pretty well planned and virtually trouble free. The golfers and the caddies learned the game together on a course maintained by workers who also had to learn how to develop good greens and fairways and keep the whole course free of weeds.
The first golf pro was Bill Graegle, a single young man and sort of playboy who got things started and lasted a season or so. This was in the very early thirties when a decent job was hard to come by.
Bill was succeeded by Bill Burton, a family man who was a bit more stable and knowledgeable about running a golf course. He was a likeable trusting character even to the point of letting the older caddies drive his car to take his children to a nearby lake during the swimming season. Bill stayed on until the mid-thirties, bringing the club along to a respectable status among the various other country clubs in the North Country. He was a good organizer and there were many golf matches in the Adirondack region. He even organized caddy matches in the region. Bill left in the mid thirties for a position at a golf club on the outskirts of Syracuse, New York. It was like going home for him and afforded a better opportunity.
Bill’s successor at the country club was John Monahan, right out of New York City. He had an accent right out of Brooklyn. He was a freckled face redhead, his wife Maureen was redheaded, and the two little girls were redheaded. John didn't even have a car and couldn't drive. He maintained an apartment near the main road and he depended upon the members to give him a ride to and from the golf course.
His wooden shafted golf clubs right away made one wonder “this guy is a golf pro?" John turned out to be a better businessman than a golf pro; the greatest portion of his income was derived from the bar business in the back room. However, he had an understanding of the game and was very thorough whenever giving lessons to members.. He was quite strict with the caddies and maintained an equitable caddy house system. Caddies were allowed into the pro shop only for assigned work details or to buy pop, candy bars or to play the candy punchboard. John was very “careful” with money. On occasion the caddies would become a bit wild and maybe throw and break an empty pop bottle. In his New York accent he would say “yuzz guys are gonna break me up. Cripe all mighty those pop bottelz cost two cents apiece and here you are breaking them up, there goes my profit!"
John had sort of a stiff or clubfoot and had an awkward walk and played very little golf - although he could shoot a respectable game. Whenever he did play the caddies would all watch as he started out and murmured "he is actually going to play, wonder how he is going to do?"
John was quite efficient in handling the club handicap system, organizing matches for intra and inter-club play, interpreting the rules, supervising the grounds crew and generally maintaining a good golf club. The caddy matches between surrounding clubs became a thing of the past with John’s arrival.
During the winter months John served as manager of the “Citizens Club” which in fact was a glorified name for a poker club made up of many of the country club members. This was a good source of income for him and in the current vernacular a ”fringe benefit.” John stayed on for many years. He eventually bought a car so his wife could drive him back and forth to the club and he finally retired.
With the advent of the motorized golf carts, discount marketing of golfing equipment, and changing lifestyles, a golf pro could hardly exist in a rather small club. The pro position was reduced to a managerial position, mainly one of maintaining the clubhouse and keeping the course in shape. However, the golf course remains much the same to this day and a beautiful challenge to all who play her!
Some Stories Along The Way
by Dan Caruso
The basic golf club has always had a club head, shaft and grip area. There was a time when the woods were referred to as the driver, brassie, and spoon - the difference being the degree of loft and a very small difference in the length of the club with the driver being the longest.
The nomenclature of irons was not standard among the various manufacturers. The longer irons were labeled as driving irons, midirons, numbered one, two, and three. The shorter range irons were referred to as the mashies, ranging from the number four iron on through the six iron. The six iron was often referred to as the spade mashie. The deeper irons fell into the niblick classification, ranging from the seven iron through the nine iron. The transition to solely numbers only began in the thirties and gradually the terms “brassie, spoon, mid-iron, mashie, spade mashie, mashie niblick and niblick’ faded away.
An interesting twosome comes to mind. The owner of the town’s sole movie theatre, the Graylyn, was a Greek person by the name of Jim. He and his wife Delphinia were charter members of the club and weather permitting played golf everyday. They arrived at the club a little after nine and it was every caddy’s desire to caddy for these people because there was a dime tip and a free pass to the movies involved. The caddy master maintained a list and the one on top of the list was “first out. ” Another provision for this twosome was they wanted only one caddy to carry double (carry two bags).
Del was a very small woman, almost five feet in height. She always hit the ball straight, but not very far, so it was easy to watch her ball. By contrast, Jim was a big man and a bit erratic with his swing at times and required vigilance. The interesting part of the game was the constant banter between the two. He always praised her shots while she interjected the more critical aspects such, as it should be a little more left, or a little more right. It was always amusing to hear Jim in his Greek accent such as “young man, give me the brrrassie, or the sppuun, or the maashie, or the neeblick.
They were very polite people, thanking you at the end of the game as you placed their clubs in the trunk of their brightly colored Hudson automobile. It seems that all they owned was brightly colored and well coordinated, their clothes, their yellow house and the color keyed appointments in the theatre.
Doc Mills was a charter member of the club. He was probably in his sixties, tall and slender and a chain smoker, lighting one cigarette off another. He even swung with a cigarette in his mouth. Doc was a bit shaky at times and one would wonder how he could ever hit the ball. Nevertheless, he was club champion on a few occasions. His clubs had limber buggy whip-like shafts and he always took an exaggerated swing so the flexing shaft gave him more power although sometimes causing a slice, which was embarrassing to him.
Doc was a good tipper and he even allowed certain caddies to use his clubs when caddies were allowed to play on Monday morning and at twilight. Doc was a good-hearted and caring individual, especially to the caddies. Whenever one was troubled with poison ivy, cuts, bruises, or other ailments it was just a matter of stopping in to his office and he would take care of you at no charge. But in those days one seldom went to the doctor unless there was a real serious health problem.
Doc Tremlett was a charter member of the club and a veterinarian in his late forties or early fifties. He was a huge jovial man with a belly laugh and most of the time was chewing on a cigar. Many times he substituted for a member of the Casino Gang. Doc had a huge heavy leather bag and carried a pint of scotch whiskey in it at all times. Doc’s schedule was less flexible than most members, because he might be out in the farm country helping the cows and mares deliver their young at any time of the day or night. He finally married a nurse from the local hospital who was much the same in character, but less inclined to alcohol. It was a pleasure to caddy for Doc, because he was a good tipper and there were many laughs all the way around.
Every once in a while he would dig into the bag and take a snort out of the bottle. He would kid the other members of the foursome and was ready to make a bet on any kind of shot or putt. By the same token, the members knew his weaknesses and would try to take advantage of him at opportune times. On occasion he would get an urgent call on the golf course, one of the caddies might bicycle out on the course to deliver a message that his assistance was needed out in the country. The trunk of his car contained the proper instruments and he was on his way. Doc was truly a dedicated veterinarian.
There was a fine group of women golfers in the club; for the most part they were the wives of merchants, bankers, and professional men. There were always a few mid-morning foursomes and it was a fun time watching them go through their antics as they set up for a shot. They were easy to caddy for because they were not long ball hitters and for the most part stayed on the fairways. They played much slower than men and very seldom did they tip, a nickel or a dime at most; however, a caddy soon realized that you can’t expect a tip every time, and there are a lot of different people in this world!
The “Edwards Gang” was made up of professional people from the village about twelve miles from the golf club. They played irregularly, but they were respectable golfers. Ray Cassidy had been a caddy in early life and had a beautiful golf swing and on a few occasions was a finalist for the club championship. Heinz Brodauff was an engineer at the mines and was addicted to golf in such a manner that to him every shot must be as precise as he could make it. He practiced and practiced and employed a caddy only during club matches. With all the effort he put into the game he felt that he never realized his full potential. Other members of the gang were “ordinary” golfers and got a good deal of pleasure from the game. It was a pleasure to caddy for them.
The Gouverneur Business Group was made up of bankers, merchants, and professional people and were fairly steady daily players. There was Nate “two Iron Nate” who was formerly a farmer who then went into real estate. He had a good eye, probably from hammering fence posts or otherwise swinging a hammer. His game was respectable, but he could never hit his woods. In addition, he enjoyed being out in the air where he could comfortably chew his tobacco and spit anywhere.
There was Dick Trerise, an executive of the small Oswegatchie Power Company that supplied electrical power to the area. Dick could strike the ball pretty well, but there was fidgeting before every shot, especially when his hemorrhoids were acting up. As a little side story on Dick, when electrical distribution was being made to the rural area there was one woman who lived alone. Dick introduced himself as Dick Trerise and suggested that she might like to have electricity installed. She replied, “I don’t care if your name is Trerise, Christ, or Jesus Christ, you ain't going to put any electric in here.
Bill Foster, an executive with the Borden Company was a steady player, he could hit the ball a mile. It was amusing to watch his setup for his drive; his facial expression was something else. Andy Laidlaw, the Savings and Loan Banker had an unorthodox swing, but he was steady and scored pretty well.
Of all the players, Joe MacAllister, the feed mill owner had a swing that resembled no other; He could take practice swings and look like a golfer but when it came time to take his shot he chopped with the club and rotated his lower body and somehow he struck the ball. We caddies tried to imitate the swing, as we awaited assignments, but could not hit the ball squarely.
Adam Schuler was superintendent at the local lace mill. He wore glasses fully a half inch thick. He didn't hit the ball very far and was easy to caddy for. Many times he played with J. O. Sheldon, the old bank president of the Bank of Gouverneur. J.O. was left-handed and used only five clubs, the spoon, mid-iron, mashie, niblick and putter, all with wooden shafts. He couldn't hit the ball far so it was easy to caddy for him. Besides the small canvas bag was extremely light in comparison to other bags.
Charley Ruderman owned Ruderman Machinery Exchange. He had been in an accident in early life and had a hunched back, but enjoyed the game. His swing was a lot like Joe McAllister's, but this was out of necessity. When caddying for Charley he expected that you would give him a “preferred lie.” (i. e. indiscreetly move the ball with your foot to improve the lie). There was always a good tip involved. Roy Randall was a banker and could play the game either handed, but did best right-handed. He practiced a lot like Heinz Broddaut but was much less intense.
Bobby Caten was the son of a W. H. Loomis Talc Company Executive. He was about the same age as some of the older caddies. During and after college he developed into a real good golfer and won the club championship several times. He could reach the 545-yard number five-hole in two shots with regularity. Mark Graves the son of the local Chevrolet dealer was a slightly built man. But he could really nail the ball, especially when Wayne Ritchie caddied for him. Wayne had the reputation for being able to disguise his actions to the extent that Mark always had a beautiful lie, allowing him to get a good clean shot every time.
The caddies at the club were made up of boys whose parents couldn’t provide much of an allowance, if at all, during the depression. This afforded an opportunity to see what the real world was like as well as a small source of income. The caddy master maintained a list and as a caddy was assigned he was crossed out and placed at the bottom of the list. If there was a “no show” the name went to the bottom of the list. Whenever the golf pro gave lessons, the caddy shagged balls at a set rate per bag and was paid by the golf pro. This was the same as having a turn at caddying.
The caddies hung out in back of the equipment shed and most of the time there was a penny ante poker game going on among the older caddies. The younger ones just watched and learned the game. The work force was quite stable with the older guys leaving for a better paying job and younger guys coming along with a desire to learn. There were cliques and a few fights that required arbitration by the golf pro.
There were ways to earn extra golf time such as cleaning golf clubs in the pro shop prior to storage for the next round, cleaning the various areas such as the locker rooms and rest rooms, weeding greens, and sometimes helping the maintenance men.
The pro shop maintained a good inventory of candy bars, along with a candy punchboard where the caddies always tried to beat the board Many times several caddies would pool their resources (which usually amounted to very little) figuring that they could win a bunch, but usually the board was the winner.
The Life Of Caddies
by Dan Caruso
Although the first golfers didn't arrive until 9AM when the dew was off the grass, the boys of Hailesboro always wanted to be the first kid on the job. The fellow that got up (usually about 4AM) and missed his breakfast usually got the first bag and could look forward to earning 25 cents. It was a job though and the earlier you started gave you a better chance to carry another bag later in the day. You carried one bag and watched the ball for the player. Those who were fleet of foot, were quick to get to the ball and were known to sometimes improve its lie – the quickest of foot usually earned the largest tip.
After a while the older fellows who had cars and were without jobs would drive up from Gouverneur and became the competition for the Hailesboro boys. Rube Jones, a middle-aged man, and Mel Lasher who lived around Yellow Lake had a car and were two that would make the trip - all to earn 25 cents a round. Two other fellows, Bill Lumley and Bob Lansing, had a model “T” Ford and with some of the money they earned went to the Worlds Fair in Chicago. When a policeman saw their car, he advised the boys not to drive it too far - but they did.
The caddies could play on certain days and evenings when they weren't busy. They would also go out and look for golf balls and come back and sell them for a quarter to earn a little extra money. This wasn’t very popular with the pro who was selling new balls for a dollar. Those caddies with golfing prowess especially enjoyed their home and home golf match with the caddies from Carlowden.