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Watertown Golf Club offers history, charm

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WATERTOWN — Upon entering the foyer of the Watertown Golf Club’s clubhouse, the rich history of numerous, old-time pictures hanging on the walls magnetizes your eyeballs.

On the right of the main entrance, there’s an image of the First Ladies Whoofing Match from Sept. 12, 1935.

Over to the left, there’s a much bigger vision of Moe, Larry and Curly striking a pompous pose in their stylish 1930s golfing garb from The Three Stooges’ “Three Little Beers” short shot in California.

Still going strong since its 1926 inception, Watertown Golf Club has grown over the years, proving unique and sometimes spectacular views of the city perched atop Thompson Park.

Golf Digest magazine has called WGC one of the finest golf courses in northern New York. Along with Ives Hill Country Club on the city’s west side, residents have two premier facilities within city limits.

WGC and Ives Hill CC also are alternating sites for the men’s City Championship. WGC hosts this year’s event the first two weekends in July.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have two great golfing treasures in the city,” Mayor Jeffrey Graham said. “It’s a tough, short season because of the weather, but people have the chance to play golf on two fine city courses.”

Watertown resident Ken Baker appreciates his association with WGC. The 88-year-old former probation officer, who still plays about nine holes once or twice a week, remains active, being on WGC’s Board of Directors for around 40 years.

“It has been a great course for myself and my family,” said Baker, a 55-year WGC member. “It’s a course where you can learn the game. It’s not severely long, but there are very good holes.”

Chris Bigenho, WGC’s pro since April 2012, estimates membership hovers near “200 for the last three seasons,” and attributes that to “exceptional course conditioning.”

“The Watertown Golf Club has the history of being a ‘Working Man’s Club,’ ” Bigenho said. “I find this trait admirable and worth noting. It continues today so that folks have a place to enjoy their free time, which as we know is becoming more and more limited in today’s ‘right now’ world. It is a testament to the foundations of the Watertown Golf Club that hard-working folks choose to spend their time and precious resources here at the club.”

A group of nine men, led by sportsman William Jones who would become the first president, helped the formation of WGC in the mid-’20s. Jones owned Jones Sports Shop on Public Square. WGC saw modest growth during the depression and the war years — from 1943-52, the club was known the Kamargo Country Club — and improvements were made not only on the course, but to the expansion of the facilities.

Baker acknowledged two pros — Bernard Quinn (1954-68) and Stu Jamieson (1971-2004) — spurred the club’s growth later in the 20th century.

“Bernard or more commonly known as ‘Bun’ was not only the pro but also the superintendent,” said Baker, a 1947 Immaculate Heart Academy graduate. “Stu loved the game of golf, people and especially the little ones. They were both dynamic personalities and both were key figures around the club.”

Baker, who scored consistently in the 70s during his younger playing days, never broke through for a men’s City Championship title. “I ran into too many good golfers,” he laughed.

Holes No. 2, 5 and 12 feature unique layouts, while Nos. 16, 17 and 18 provide challenges while heading back to the clubhouse.

“There are several short par-4s at WGC, which tempt players into attempting to drive the green,” Bigenho said. “No. 12 is the most unique of this group. The hole is blind off the tee, meaning you cannot see the green from the tee. The green is uniquely contoured to accept running shots. Hole No. 2 is another short par-4 (that) plays uphill. The green is severely contoured from right to left and guarded by several bunkers.”

Bigenho described WGC’s layout as “Classic Northeast.”

“There is a close proximity from green to the tee area of the next hole,” he said. “This is because there was no such thing as golf carts during the early days of golf in North America. Also, the putting surface are generally small and contoured for surface drainage at older clubs in the Northeast. This requires precision in short iron and wedge play. Distance off the tee is not necessarily required, but accuracy is highly rewarded.”

“You can learn all aspects of the game, from driving, chipping and putting,” Baker said. “It’s great place to take the family for a day of golf.”

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