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90 Years and Still in Play

By Nick Southwick | Photos by Jessica McCafferty

The North Country Golf Club (NCGC), located in the northeast corner of Clinton County, has been a part of the Town of Champlain for nearly 90 years. I sat down recently with two of the Golf Club’s managers to learn about its history and operations. Joining me were Andy Fisher, the Golf Manager, and Leanne Valenze, its Business Manager who has been with the Club for 22 years. Fisher worked for golf clubs from the age of 15 until he moved on to work in finance at age 27. He spent his leisure time playing a different sport, hockey, and through hockey leagues met the president of North Country Golf Club who asked him to become the manager, a position Fisher has held for the past six years.

Valenze shared the history of the Golf Club as written and told by its past members. NCGC was founded in 1934 when Andy Weston donated 65 acres of land to the Town of Champlain on the condition that it be used for a golf course, otherwise the land would have reverted to the Weston estate. To generate the funds to start the course the town and its villages of Champlain and Rouses Point raised $5,600, which was matched three to one by the federal government. The course started out as nine-holes with a clubhouse located in Rouses Point. That version of the course survived through the hardships of World War II. Development continued and in 1975 the course expanded to 18-holes with a new clubhouse in its current location at the intersection of the Hayford Road and what starts as Prospect Street in Rouses Point but continues into what is known to locals as the Golf Course Road.

The modern North Country Golf Club hasn’t faced a challenge as great as WWII, but it has still been tested by recent economic changes in the area. The biggest of those was the closure of the Pfizer facility in Rouses Point, which led to a reduction in membership from 550 to 150. Thankfully the Club had a few key options to help it recover from the hit. The first was accepting the Canadian dollar at par, which encouraged membership from Canadian golfers. When COVID travel restrictions between the United States and Canada were lifted, Canadian golfers returned in droves.

The second option was its strong word of mouth campaign in Canada, Vermont and the Plattsburgh area. Before COVID, NCGC attracted golfer due to its convenient location and 18-hole course. During COVID, Vermont golfers took advantage of the fact that golf was considered a permitted activity in New York, but not in Vermont. It was those new Vermont golfers that helped keep the Club afloat during the pandemic.

NCGC holds several events designed to attract new people to the game and the Club. Its five-week Swing and Sip course is designed for new women golfers. The Club also works closely with the golf team at Northeastern Clinton Central School.

The Club was incorporated in 1960 and with that change formed a Board of Governors which is responsible for strategic decisions, major purchases and hiring. Fisher runs the day-to-day operation of the clubhouse and its connected bar and restaurant. Currently the Club employs four people in the pro-shop and six in the restaurant. Three of them are cooks. The Club is open from April to October, while the course itself is open from March until winter. Many members take advantage of that availability right up to the first snowfall, with some known to golf on Christmas Eve.

Fisher has two mottos for running the Golf Club. One is “Please be patient with us,” which appears on the front of the Club’s newsletter. To Fisher, patience is the key to managing the Golf Club as it takes time and consistency to resolve challenges. The other is “The future of golf clubs is the junior members,” which NCGC encourages via its tiered memberships. While the Club’s Board of Governors is made up of senior members only, junior, young adult and intermediate memberships are available at a lower cost. Younger members are taught not just the rules of the game of golf, but the etiquette involved in being a member of a golf club – like wearing a golf shirt and letting other members play through. Beyond mottos Fisher also makes it a policy to personally talk to everyone that walks through the doors of the club. There are two main benefits to doing this according to him. One is that a guest or member is greeted and welcomed to the club right away. The other is that by engaging guests in conversation Fisher learns where they are from, which gives him a better idea where the Club should advertise.

Fisher emphasized how helpful the Board is. When the clubhouse needed a new roof, eight senior members with roofing experience replaced it themselves. The current longest serving Board member was a caddy in 1936 and all Board members care for the course and Club like part of a family.

North Country Golf Club is heavily involved in the area community. Not only is it one of the few 18-hole courses in Clinton County, but it is also the only one that can host up to 300 people, which it does regularly with music shows, weddings and Chamber of Commerce events. In addition, it averages 25 tournaments per year. This year the Club is holding its second annual blood drive. Beyond golf, the clubhouse is used for regular bridge and mahjong groups that meet, play and socialize.

Offering a well-groomed course and a well-kept facility, being there for golfers who love the game and offering an individualized experience has been key to the success of the North Country Golf Club for 90 years. Congratulations.

North Country Golf Course 862 Hayford Road Champlain, NY 12919 518 297-2582

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