Hindsight is 20/20, but 101 years later things are still looking pretty good.
When the first "unofficial" meeting of a group of Bellingham residents was held in 1911 at Mrs. A.L. Black's house to discuss the possibility of building a country club, the group immediately began to discuss locations.
Their first choice was what has now developed into the Edgemoor neighborhood, but a long-term lease with the owners could not be negotiated. The group instead turned its focus to its second location, a 1421/2 acre area owned by the Bellingham Bay Improvement Company, just west of what is now Meridian Street in Bellingham.
The group was able to negotiate a 10-year lease and built a 9-hole golf course and clubhouse on the site of what is still today the Bellingham Golf and Country Club, and the rest, as they say, is history.
BGCC celebrates its first 100 years of history this weekend with a series of Centennial Celebration events, including a golf tournament on Friday, Aug. 10, a reception and dinner on the ninth fairway on Saturday, Aug. 11, and a champagne brunch the public is invited to on Sunday, Aug. 12.
"What's made the Country Club such a success?" asked Steve Hager, who wrote a book detailing the history of the Country Club while he was a student at Western Washington University in 1980. "I suppose I would have to say location, location, location."
The city of Bellingham has grown around the Country Club, making it centrally located, just outside downtown Bellingham.
But more importantly, the club is built above an old coal mine.
"Because it's built over an old coal mine, it drains really well," Hager said in a phone interview. "We get a lot of rain here in the Northwest, but the Country Club is a true year-round golf course."
Even in Bellingham's traditionally wet winters, players can get out on the course and get a round or two in.
"It's always playable and never muddy," said Rick Weihe, who's been a part of the Country Club for 60 years. "We don't get the harsh Nor'easters like they get at North Bellingham, either. Most every day, it's pretty enjoyable to be out there."
If the Country Club is enjoyable on a soggy or windy day, it's downright paradise when the clouds clear and the sun shines.
"In terms of the condition of it, it's one of the best conditioned courses in the Northwest," said Bill Hager, who served as the club president from 2009 to 2010 after starting at the club as a caddy when he was 14. "I play quite a bit of competitive golf around the area, and the Country Club is one of the best in the area. ... We're obviously blessed with having good soil structure."
The course, which expanded to 18 holes in 1925, also is blessed with the services of Course Superintendent Dave Bocci, who has served at the club since 1998.
"Dave does a tremendous job," BGCC golf professional Mike Montgomery said in a phone interview. "He's a product of Oregon State and their tremendous turf program. I've yet to see a guy come out of that program that didn't know what to do when it came to maintaining a golf course and growing grass in the Northwest."
The members certainly see the results of Bocci's and his staff's hours and hours of labor on the course.
"This is such a beautiful course," said 93-year-old Vic Bradbury, who has been a member at the club for 35 years. "I think it's the most beautiful in Washington. It's excellently kept. Greens keeper Dave Bocci came about (14) years ago, and one of the first things he told me was, 'In a couple of years, you won't even know it's the same golf course.' Boy, was he right. He's made it into a fabulous golf course. ... I think the trees and the condition of the fairways and greens, they're so lush and well mowed. It's just a perfect place to be."
Bocci has worked hard to make it even more perfect, as he's worked to modernize the greens and the course, constantly evaluating if trees need to be removed and planting an average of 40 new trees per year, Montgomery said.
The past year, Bocci and his crew have worked tirelessly to recondition the sand bunkers around the course, peeling them back, restoring them to their original form and bringing them in line with bunkers on more contemporary courses.
"There are a few clubs that have been around for 100 years than I don't like, and they're still around," Montgomery said. "What makes this old course special is we've done a good job of trying to keep it a traditional 100-year-old golf course, but helping to keep it relevant among the contemporary courses. ... It's a golf course that's always evolving so that we can keep up with the contemporary courses and the modern equipment people are using today, but still maintaining many of those elements that make playing an older course special."
One of those many elements are BGCC's smaller greens, which can penalize a player for hitting an approach shot as little as 20 feet off line.
"It's a traditional course," Hager said. "When the greens are smaller, it brings more iron skill into it than you see at the resort-style course, where the greens are so large. It's more of a shot maker's course. You have to be accurate off the tee and with your irons. That's why it's so enjoyable."
Another reason it's so enjoyable for members is BGCC's course layout.
The course is relatively flat, making it walkable for players of all ages, and it's not all that long by today's standards.
Shorter and flatter does not mean easier, though.
"Our course is definitely one of my favorite 100-year-old courses," Montgomery said. "It's just a skitch under 6,600 (yards) and it still plays relatively long for the better players. It's so tight that it's pleasant to use some of today's drivers. Some older courses, it's not as much fun for me as a player, because they're too tight to use modern equipment. I think our course is one of the rare 100-year-old golf courses where guys can still crank it. I think the defining characteristic is that we have the difficult greens of the older country club era on a course that allows you to drive it like you can at the modern resort-style courses."
No wonder the Country Club continually draws big tournaments every year, such as the 2011 WSGA Senior Amateur, 2009 U.S. Senior Open qualifier and 2012 U.S. Women's Open qualifier, as well as numerous local college and high school events.
"It's located in downtown Bellingham in this beautiful setting," said Ray Scott, a BGCC member for the past 42 years. "It's a golf course that is not difficult to play. It's not easy, either, but it's flat. Even at my age (85 this month), I don't have problems getting around. It's very playable, and it's playable year-round. Plus, it's just pristine. In my mind, it's everything you look for in a golf course."
No wonder it's been around for 100 years.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
BGCC CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
? CENTENNIAL GOLF TOURNAMENT
Time: 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 10
Two-person teams will be placed into flights of four teams based on combined handicap. Each team will play three 9-hole matches against each team in the flight, with winners receiving a framed Centennial golf flag.
? CENTENNIAL GOLF DINNER
Time: 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11
The members-only reception with dinner to follow will be held on the ninth fairway and will feature music from the past century, a BGCC history presentation and dancing along with the introduction of some key past and current employees and awards.
? CENTENNIAL CHAMPAGNE BRUNCH
Time: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 12
The public is invited to the dining room for traditional breakfast and lunch entrees, a gourmet salad bar, made-to-order omelets, carved meat selections and decadent desserts. The cost is $19.12 per adult and $12.19 for children ages 3-12.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.