The story of Gouverneur Country Club part 1
Editor's note: This story tells the history of the Gouverneur Country Club. It is being split into two parts due to its length. Part two will be posted Sunday.
BY DAN CARUSO
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.
A little bit about the Wranesh Boys
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 descendents 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.
Gouverneur Country Club – A little history
B. O. 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 were 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.
A day in the life of caddies
Although the first golfers didn't arrive until 9 a.m. 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 4 a.m.) 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.