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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lost Golf Courses

Created in the early 1960s, Fairlee's 9-hole Bonnie Oakes Country Club operated for about 20 years (photo: Marge Smith).

Dressed for a round of golf in the summer of 1899, this Bradford foursome had a limited number of courses on which to play in the two-state area (photo: Bradford Historical Society).

The former clubhouse for the Wells-Wood Golf Club (now a private residence) is located on Links Road in Wells River. The ninth green was in the foreground.

Journal Opinion

“To circumnavigate the Green Mountain Range, to play golf on course after course in Vermont…is to enjoy a varied and interesting experience that no lover of Golf and Nature can afford to miss”. This statement was included in a 1926 folder from the Vermont State Chamber of Commerce. The United Opinion that spring went on to quote, “Vermont, like Scotland, is a country built for golf. Vermont is the Golfer’s country”

There was golfing in nearby Montreal in the 1850’s and it was introduced into Vermont and New Hampshire later that century. In a 1987 book on golfing in Vermont, authors Bob Labbance and David Cornwell chronicle that history. In 1886, the Dorset Field Club, a nine-hole course was established. By the time the Vermont Golf Association was organized in 1902, there were at least six clubs including the Old Pine Golf Club of St. Johnsbury.

The New Hampshire Golf Association was organized in 1905. By that time there were at least eighteen clubs in that state, including Hanover County Club that opened in 1899 and Sunset Hill in 1900.

Locally, there have been nine golf courses established; some public, others private. Some were closely connected with tourism, others represent community interest. They were both designer courses and just pastures that doubled as links. Of the nine, only Bradford Golf Club, Lake Morey Country Club and Blackmount Country Club still operate. This column will deal only with the six that no longer exist.

It is difficult to determine which area golf course was the first to open. In 1900, the Pike Manufacturing Company established a nine-hole golf course on Pike’s Back Bay Road for its employees. The company was a world-leader in the whetstone industry. The golf course was one of many company-sponsored activities to reflect the interests of company president E. Bertram Pike. Bill Fortier of Pike recalled that the course was little more than a cow pasture without a clubhouse or formal name. The greens were set off with split rail fences. He said that he and a group of other small boys “played” on the course in 1925, about the time the course fell into disrepair.

E. B. Pike’s interests were also reflected in the establishment of the Lake Tarleton Club in 1909 as “a lazyman’s paradise.” Between 1911 and 1916, a nine-hole course was laid out by Donald J. Ross. Ross was “the pre-eminent Scottish golf course architect,” whose legacy of over four hundred courses transformed course design in the United States. In the mid-1930’s Ross added an additional nine holes for a total of over six thousand yards. The course was bisected by Route 25C, with holes on both the open plains and forested shores of Lake Katherine.

Available for the guests of the Lake Tarleton resort, the course was also opened to the public from time to time. Dr. James Barton of Bradford, who played the course, described it as “beautiful with well-maintained greens.” Louis Hobbs of Woodsville, who kept the course in that shape for the last three decades of its existence, recently repeated an earlier personal description of the course, “It was a PGA-type course…the fairways were really wide…some really stiff holes, especially the 11th, which dog-legged the lake.”

Robert Fillion’s booklet Lake Tarleton chronicles the various owners of the property, its periods of success and decline. In 1937, the property was purchased by the Jacobs family, who operated it as a summer resort for “unrestricted clientele.” This meant that most guests were Jewish, as they were often excluded from other resorts. Guests came by plane to Warren, train to the Piermont station in Bradford or Conicut in South Newbury or by auto.

For a time, caddies were also brought in from Boston and housed in the Caddie Camp. One former caddy, reminded of his experience by this article, e-mailed me. He wrote that after hours the caddies would play golf and sometimes would meet bears on the fairways.

The resort closed in the early 70’s. The property was purchased by Boise-Cascade Properties. Their elaborate, but unfulfilled, plans for the property included thousands of vacation houses and a new eighteen-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. Other attempts to revive the property as a resort ended in 1996-7 when it became part of the White Mountain National Forest

Fillion writes that in its last years, “a few local golfers continued to use the course for a while though it lacked the manicured putting greens.” In a 1998 article Kris Russ, sports writer for the Manchester Union Leader, writes of the 70 New Hampshire courses that have disappeared, Lake Tarleton would be atop a list of the best.

While most golf courses in the area could be described as scenic, the Mt. Moosilauke Golf Course on the Carriage Road in Warren was majestic. Established for the guests of the Mt. Moosilauke Inn in the early 1900’s, its nine holes rolled over the mountain’s foothills. It was established at a time when guests arrived in July and stayed until Labor Day, trading the stifle of the city for the fresh air of the mountains. The course, like that at Lake Tarleton, offered unlimited golf access to the guests. Lyle Moody of Warren, who caddied there seventy-three years ago, said that it was called “the St. Andrews of the Mountains.”

Pat McIsaac of Plymouth, whose father maintained the course for forty-five years, described it as a “hilly course.” He, along with Ted Asselin of Haverhill who managed the Inn until 1981, said that the second hole was the most challenging with its narrow 200 yard fairway. The other holes, starting from the first tee in front of the hotel, were between 150 and190 yards and had such names as Hoot Man, Bonnie Lift and Moose Hillock.

In 1953, the old inn burned and was replaced by a smaller building. With the number of guests in decline, the course was opened to the public. However, without professional maintenance, the once immaculate course “went down hill.” In 1982, the property became part of the White Mountain National Forest, and both the inn and the course were closed.

A local news item in the May 29, 1925 edition of in The United Opinion reads, “The golf links are proving very popular and eighteen new members have been added.” What it describes is the first years of the Wells-Wood Golf Club in Wells River. This nine-hole course, of 2,860 yards, was created out of the cow pastures on the David Stevens and William Bolkum farms on Bible Hill. Dorothy Stevens of Newbury said that there was a stile between the two farm pastures to allow golfers to cross the fence. The longest hole measured 475 yards. There were two holes less than 200 yards and one could play for seventy-five cents a day in 1934.

Jack Graham of Woodsville recently described the course as follows: “It was a short, informal course, just pasture land with New England rocks and lots of sand.” He went on to say that there were no real fairways and there were pastured cows. “You got a preferred lie if your ball landed in a cow patty.”

In the summer of 1931, The United Opinion reported an upcoming tournament between the golfers of that club and those of the Bradford course. The article described the Wells River course as “a sporty nine holes and the local golfers will have plenty of straight shooting to do to take the match.” It might have also described greens surrounded by electric fences to keep out the cows. Players with steel clubs had to approach the greens with care, making their way onto them through v-shaped gateways. A later article announced that the Bradford golfers lost the match, “the course having proved somewhat of a ‘hoodoo’.”

At 17, Graham won one of the last tournaments there. He said the course hosted “a great community group, with men’s night attracting up to twenty players, and its clubhouse hosting many parties.” That clubhouse, with a large archway, looked down on the ninth green. In 1946, the course was closed for financial reasons. Today the clubhouse is a private residence on Golf Links Road (see photo). The floors of what was once the “large room” with its stone fireplace and the adjacent porch still show evidence of golf spikes. Other than that, there is little evidence today that a “sporty” course with its beautiful views ever existed.

The course which is probably least well-known was Shanty Shane in Thetford. It was part of a family camp opened in 1911 for parents of children going to other camps on Lake Fairlee. Golf was played in the hills adjacent to the southeast end of the lake, off Robinson Hill Road. Operated by William Clendenin of Yonkers, NY, it was described in an undated camp brochure held by the Thetford Historical Society, as “a practice nine-hole golf course…popular despite the competition of the nearby model eighteen-hole course.”

Information from the Aloha Foundation, current owners of the property, indicates that in the late 40’s the camp was purchased by John Morrissey, also of Yonkers, who opened it as the Lake Fairlee Club. His two sons, both Dartmouth students, managed it and may have opened the course to the public. Although the camp continued to operate under several successive owners, the golf enterprise was not successful and apparently closed in the early 50’s. Deb Williams of the Aloha Foundation says they still notice “reminisces” of the course, having recently found a golf ball among the trees near an abandoned fairway.

The last of the six courses to be established and the last to close, was one at the Bonnie Oaks Resort at the north end of Lake Morey. The resort was owned by Borden and Louise Avery. The Bonnie Oakes Country Club was established in the early 60’s for both the guests of the resort and the general public. Located along the west side of the Maurice Roberts Road, the nine holes ranged from 163 to 250 yards.

In a 1968 brochure kept by Marge Smith of Bradford, who worked at the resort, the following description was included: “Bob [Dexter] is still cutting trees on the golf course to make the fairways wider for all you hookers and slicers…the greens should be in the best of shape…many of the sand traps are being grassed in to cut down on more of the hazards.”

Her son, Dan Smith of Bradford, played the course and described it as follows: “It was a tough little course with narrow, short fairways and small greens. Lots of ball hunting. The sixth hole was straight up a hill, the flag invisible from the tee. But the lake view from that green was beautiful.” In 1977, the resort was sold to Jim and Elizabeth Colligan. Soon after that the course began to fall into disrepair and by 1983 it was closed.

These six courses have now disappeared. Their fairways are barely evident to those who knew of their existence and the greens have reverted to meadow grass, brush or lawns for homes. Young muscles that lugged golf bags for tips or manicured the courses have aged. But what does continue is the passion for the game, the challenge of playing transferred to the courses that still exist. .


  1. Great facts. Thanks for sharing this information, it is very nice to know these stories. The passion for the game will never be gone. Good luck and more power!

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about golf courses that I had seen as a child while traveling to and from the White Mountains as well as a course that resided in my hometown which I did not know existed... Shanty Shane... despite the fact that I recall that my grandparents were friends with the Morriseys It was a bittersweet experience reading about and recalling the sight of the courses as it seems similar to the loss of local ski areas such as Judgement Ridge in Vershire, Oak Hill in Hanover, and Whaleback I Lebanon that offered community members of all ages opportunities to convene and enjoy recreational activities at affordable prices. While resorts are fabulous assets to communities to recruit non-residents to an area, small/local facilities provide rural community members introductions to recreational activities as well as opportunities to create and sustain community experiences that rural community members do not have access without such facilities. Walter Malmquist

  3. Though hardly a golfer, I played on the Moosilaukee Inn golf course from my childhood in the 1930s until the 1960s, at least. The views from the golf course still haunt the reveries of my younger days, and I visit the site every two or three years. My uncle, John Gantz, was an avid golfer and played seriously on the course for many years, growing up alongside Pat McIsaac and many others whom I still dimly remember with fondness. R. S. Field