BELLINGHAM - Only an estimated one in 4,000 Americans reaches the age of 100, according to the 2010 census.
The odds of a business celebrating a century are little bit better, but still, it's a pretty long shot. Of the nearly 3,000 incorporations filed in 1912, only about 1 percent - 33 - still exist today, according to Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed.
Bellingham Golf and Country Club is one of those 33 still alive and thriving, as it prepares to host a centennial this weekend with a golf tournament on Friday, Aug. 10, a members' dinner and banquet on the ninth fairway on Saturday, Aug. 11, and a champagne brunch on Sunday, Aug. 12. General Manager Trent McAllister said the brunch is open to the public.
"It's a big deal for any club to last for 100 years," current club president Don Van Andel said in a phone interview. "They started this thing with only nine holes, and it grew from there. Many years later, it's pretty cool that it's still around. It's a really big deal because of the location it's at. There are not many courses like this one. We're basically downtown, and the city kind of grew up around us."
In many ways, the Country Club and Bellingham have had a unique relationship over the past 100 years.
Though the club is now known for its pristine fairways and greens, not every event over the past 100 years has been a 300-yard drive right down the middle.
But the hardships the club has endured over the years and many of the colorful characters in its past have helped build the Country Club into what it is today.
In addition to providing what many members consider a golf experience second to none in the Pacific Northwest, BGCC provides fine dining, swimming lessons and numerous social opportunities throughout the year.
The club also hosts numerous charity tournaments to benefit such agencies as Habitat for Humanity and the YMCA, and the course makes room for the Western Washington University and area high school golf programs to practice and host tournaments on its links.
"What the Country Club provides to this community is not typical from what you see from a lot of other country clubs," McAllister said. "There is a stereotype about country clubs, that they snooty and exclusive, and that's not what we're about here. In fact, we're the exact opposite. We're a very community-oriented club. Our employees and membership have long supported this community."
Perhaps, in part, that is because the Country Club also has had support from the community, helping it to reach this 100-year anniversary.
The first "unofficial" meeting to build the Country Club took place in 1911, according to a book detailing the history of the club that Steve Hager wrote as an honors project when he was at Western Washington University in 1980.
The Country Club was officially incorporated on June 7, 1912, according to a letter from Reed.
"Although I do not know the individual circumstances of your particular group, incorporations were at the time primarily delivered by horseback," Reed wrote in his letter to McAllister. "Because few owned cars, and the roads outside Olympia were virtually impassible, incorporating a business was quite an adventure."
It was also in 1912 that the Country Club agreed to a 10-year lease with the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company for 1421/2 acres for the purpose of constructing a golf course and clubhouse on the site that the Country Club currently sits on.
Eleven members made up the club's "Founding Fathers." They quickly hired the club's first head professional and selected John Ball Sr. to build what was then a nine-hole course at an approximate cost of $3,300. Local architect F.S. Piper designed the original clubhouse, which was built for $5,000 more, according to Hager's book.
But shortly after bonds were sold in 1919 to help the Country Club purchase the land from the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company for $40,000, the Great Depression hit, and the club struggled to financially stay afloat and sometimes maintain members for much of the next four decades.
"My folks told me a lot of interesting history about the club," said Rick Wiehe, who started as a caddie at the club and has been a part of it for 60 years. "When it started, it used to be a white-collar gang of bankers and doctors. When they ran into trouble back in the 1950s, they put up $200 shares for sale, and a lot of people came from the old Lakeway Golf Course and some of the other public golf courses in the area. That's how a number of members joined the country club, and you saw the membership become a little more blue-collar. A lot of the members started coming from the old paper mill and various other places, and it changed the membership at the course."
The resulting money from that change, along with a club president McKinley Ellis' 1948 negotiations with the bond holders to reduce the debt by nearly $15,000 and rewrite it as a real estate contract, played a big part in saving the course from financial ruin, as well.
By 1956, the real estate contract was paid off - two years ahead of schedule.
Since then, the Country Club, which expanded to 18 holes in 1925, added a swimming pool in 1961 and opened a new, expanded clubhouse in 2005. It's also withstood a fire that damaged the original clubhouse in 1986 and a severe windstorm in the 1990s that knocked down 170 trees lining the course.
"There is a lot of history out there on that course," Van Andel said. "Some of those trees out there are over 100 years old. You can see some of those same trees in old photos. They may have been saplings then, but they're huge now."
The club may have been able to put most of its troubles behind it, but it never lost its blue-collar, everybody-is-welcome atmosphere or returned to the stuffy, overly sophisticated stereotypes associated with other country clubs.
Many club members and staff believe the attitude at Bellingham Golf and Country Club today is a reflection of the community in which it resides.
"It's a little different at a club like this in a small town like this," BGCC head golf professional Mike Montgomery said in a phone interview. "The one thing that is apparent to me is the membership has always rolled up its sleeves and gotten things done that needed to get done. It's those little extra things that you don't see at some the big city clubs I've worked at. We still see work groups every morning, with members getting their hands dirty doing things that need to be done around here.
"It's a tribute to how this club got here. They're still taking place today. There is a sense of community and pride at this place, and I think it is that attitude that is going to keep this place around for another 100 years."
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.