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June 11, 2013

Oneonta Country Club celebrates 100 years

By Mark Simonson Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Thirty-eight foursomes took part in the Centennial Golf Day on a recent Saturday at the Oneonta Country Club, not just to commemorate some of the club’s history, but also to enjoy a bargain that included greens fees, cart and a lunch for $19.13 per foursome.

One hundred years ago this month, the Oneonta Country Club was only in the discussion phase of its history, but the club is celebrating that formation this Friday and Saturday with a cocktail party and dinner dance. George B. Baird and Kendall E. Morgan headed a committee to see if Oneonta was interested in such an organization, and sought out memberships.

The Oneonta Herald in August 1913 reported that the membership numbers had reached 84 and were growing quickly. “Country Club Seems Assured” was the headline over an article, as $15,000 worth of memberships was necessary to make the club a reality.

Sure enough, the goal was reached, and the articles of incorporation were taken out on Saturday, Sept. 6. In that short month, a site had been chosen and purchased, the J.S. Bull farm on what was then called the Oneonta Plains.

Country Club membership in 1913 meant you had a prominent name and finances in the community. Names such as Bugbee, Dewar, Elmore, Ford, Fairchild and Keyes were members and directors of the newly formed club. It was very exclusive, all men and there were always waiting lists to get in.

Today’s Oneonta Country Club is anything but exclusive. The economy and demographics have changed the way Oneonta or any country club operates in the 21st century. Bruce Milavec is today’s club manager, and said while the club is still member owned, it is a public organization. The club has about 185 members today and new members are welcomed. The golf course has a public league and members of the general public can play a certain number of games per year on the course.

Memberships have declined in recent years, and is not just a trend for Oneonta, according to Milavec.

“Home life has changed. The men are more involved in raising their children and don’t have the time to devote to golf. It’s tough to find younger men to become members. With the last few years the economy has certainly been a factor. Golf is a time and money luxury, and when times get hard, golf gets reduced. We’ve expanded our membership options to try to be more flexible and affordable to play on a nice course.”

Tony Drago is the oldest playing member of the Oneonta Country Club, having joined in 1946. Drago noted the game has changed a lot during his years, from a technology standpoint.

“The clubs today can let you hit the ball a lot farther,” he said. Drago recalls how the rules to become members have changed, and there was a waiting list when he joined.

Sam Nader remains a member, ever since 1945, although he doesn’t play golf these days. As a youngster at Oneonta Junior High School, Nader was a caddy for the local businessmen on the course, and vividly recalls his first year was when the course was set to change from from nine to 18 holes in 1928. James Simpson was the club’s pro.

“Everybody who played had to take a caddy. There were no carts,” Nader said. “We made 25-cents for nine holes. When it became 18 holes, we made 50-cents.” That was as a beginner or a “B class” caddy, but as your age and “rank” increased, you made more per game, and within a couple of years, Nader had progressed to an “A class” caddy.

For those interested in commemorative postal cancellations, the Oneonta Post Office will offer Oneonta Country Club centennial cancellation envelopes with stamps on Friday, June 14.