Laura Dean Bennett
The Pocahontas County Country Club began its history in 1956, when a group of county businessmen decided that they were tired of driving to Lewisburg every time they wanted to indulge in their favorite pastime. Going all the way to Greenbrier County for a game of golf could easily take an entire day – and it was expensive.
Local attorney J. E. Buckley was the first to suggest that he and his golfing friends go in together to build and operate a public course here in Pocahontas County. The first board of directors consisted of J. E. Buckley, Dr. J. U. Colley, A. E. Cooper, M. G. Faulknier, C. R. Richardson, H. L. Sheets, J. W. Smith and G. D. Stemple.
A.E. Cooper served as president of the board from the first meeting until his death in 1981. The club was incorporated, issued stock and set about purchasing a 62 acre section of the Glenna B. Hayes farm along Route 219 on Beard Heights, south of Marlinton.
The members brought in a golf course engineer from White Sulphur Springs, Mr. Cosby, who had a hand in the design of the course at The Greenbrier. He mapped out a handy nine-hole course – not too intimidating to the beginner while still plenty challenging for an accomplished golfer.
The course opened in the Spring of 1957, with an initial roster of 20 members and greens fees were $2 and $3 a day.
The struggle to keep the course open despite limited finances has been ongoing ever since its inception. But club directors are proud to point out that no public funds have ever been used to maintain or operate the PCCC. Their love of the game has made it all worthwhile.
And PCCC was more than just a sporting club. For decades, it was a hub of social life in Marlinton, as well. Pamela Dilley Sharpes, retired Pocahontas County High School biology teacher, remembers that when she was in high school the 15-piece Marlinton High School Dance band, under the direction of Sam Brill, played for lots of dances, sponsored by the golf club.
“I played baritone saxophone in the marching band and the dance band,” Sharpes said. “We had such a good time. The PCCC dances were held in the gym at the old high school. They were open to the public and were well-attended. And they were really lovely events.”
Fred Burns, Jr., president of Burns Motor Freight, started playing the PCCC course right out of college. Living in Marlinton, Burns played regularly. Several of his Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers and friends made an annual or biannual trip to visit him and play the course.
“I got out of the army in 1959 and as soon as I came home, I started to play up at PCCC. It was a little rough back then, but we really had fun,” he said with a smile.
It was through those friendships and visits that the Crawdad Invitational came to be.
“I’ll tell you where the title, Crawdad Invitational, comes from,” Burn said.
“Back in the 60s, there were several low-lying areas on the course that stayed pretty wet, and we had quite a thriving population of crawdads.”
“My Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers from WVU started coming here to visit – we’d have these big get-togethers. We’d play golf one day up at Snowshoe and the next down here in Marlinton. We were a big bunch – there were about 26 of us.
“Well, those crawdads would make these mounds that they would crawl out of and they’d always be crawling out while we were golfing. Not only did they have a habit of crossing the course in the middle of play, but every once in a while, a ball would land right in one of these mounds and I can tell you, it was the dickens of a thing to shoot from,” Burns said laughing.
So, Paul Farmer got to calling our golf weekends, the “Crawdad Invitationals.”
A close friend of Reid Mitchell, the two having served together in Korea, Farmer was a lifelong, frequent visitor to Marlinton. He had many connections here, being a WVU alumnus and fraternity brother with Burns, Kenneth Ervine and family friends of the Dr. Roland Sharp family.
Over the years, Farmer came to visit his fraternity brothers in Marlinton quite often.
Another of Farmer’s fraternity brothers, Jim Davis, formerly of Marlinton and now of Bettendorf, Iowa, said Farmer always had trouble with the old barn that used to stand as an unusually large obstacle on the fourth fairway. And he wasn’t the only one to talk about the barn.
Board member Gary Sharp laughed when I ask him about the barn.
“Oh, my, that barn!” he said. “Oh yeah, we had a lot of fun with that barn!
“You know the expression about being such a bad shot, you can’t hit the side of a barn door? Well, there was an old barn that sat right in the middle of the fairway and you needed to be such a good shot that you didn’t hit the side of that barn.
“When a ball would hit the doors of that barn, it made a terrible sound!” Sharp said, laughing. “It got so that we’d just go down there and open the doors and try to shoot straight through. Of course, if your shot fell short and your ball landed inside the barn, that wasn’t good either – it was pretty dark in there and could be tricky getting out.
“Of course, you could always try a bank shot off the doors or a rafter inside the barn, but it would take a real expert player, or a very lucky one, to pull that off.”
Sharp started playing golf when he was 19 years old.
“I was an athlete in high school, you know, I played lots of sports and thought I could do anything,” he said. “When I took up golf, I figured, ‘how hard can this be?’ One day, I was playing alone on the PCCC course. This was when a nice lady named Mrs. Jeb Ervin was running the clubhouse. She came along in a cart and stopped and watched me a minute then asked if I’d like to play for a dime a hole. Well, I didn’t like to take advantage of the lady, I mean, she had to be in her 70s, but I also didn’t want to be rude, so I accepted the bet. Well, I ended up owing her 70 cents that day and I have a feeling she was taking it easy on me. So much for being an athlete – I was snookered by a nice little old lady!”
Apparently, the course has always attracted a lot of high rollers.
“We still play for a dime a hole,” Sharp said. “Oh, yeah, I’ve lost a lot of dimes up there!”
Sharp had a devastating encounter with his table saw a couple of years ago that nearly cost him the use of his hand. He said his first two thoughts were, “Oh no, I’ll never be able to hold a golf club again” and then, “Oh, no, I’ll never play the guitar again either!”
Fortunately, with lots of physical therapy and special ordered custom-fitted clubs, Sharp is still out there swinging.
“It’s a beautiful course,” he said. “I came from Richmond where there are some nice courses, but our little nine- hole course is every bit as nice. We’ve got everybody from school kids, farmers, business people and retirees up there enjoying themselves. Men and women, young and old, good players and beginners – everybody’s welcome! It’s an important resource for our county and we’ve got to appreciate it. That’s why I’ve become a board member. I want to do what I can to help keep it going!”
While there are no crayfish problems these days, the course is still a place for fun and friendship.
“Everybody has fun playing the PCCC course,” Burns said. “It’s just a really relaxing place to be.
“I’ve always found that playing golf has been a great way to mix business and pleasure. A lot of productive meetings take place out on a golf course. Whenever I had business associates come in from out of town, I’d take them out on the Pocahontas County Country Club course. I’ve made a lot of deals out on that course!
“I have brought business associates in here since the sixties and they are always amazed that a small town has a facility this good. It’s rare, you know, for a town our size to have a course this good.
“PCCC, more than any other course I’ve ever played, is all about friendship and companionship. You can walk it or drive it, either way, it’s a nice course. People really should come on out and try it. Don’t worry about being good enough to play. Don’t take it so seriously. Just play and have fun.
“We are operating on a really tight budget. And, except for one paid employee, our course superintendent, Junior Bennett, the course is totally run by our members and volunteers.”
“My wife and I visit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, quite often and I always try to get in a little golf when we’re there.”
“Last year I was talking to someone who was pretty knowledgeable about course maintenance costs and he told me that the average annual operation costs for an eighteen-hole course are about $1.3 million. Now, we have a nine-hole course here, so fifty percent of that eighteen-hole average cost would be about $650,000. And here we are, operating PCCC on an annual budget of a little over $50,000! I think that speaks pretty highly for the hard work our volunteers put in here. We just couldn’t make it without them!”
A golf course up in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia may have more than just financial differences from those in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. For instance, there’s the occasional incursion of livestock and wildlife on our course.
Every once in while a herd of cattle will get out of Jack Gay’s field, which borders the course, and come out across the fairway to create some interesting, mobile obstacles.
Then there are the ever-present Canada geese, small mammals and frequent deer visits – even the occasional bear sighting.
Burns remembers “the day that play came to a halt as we all stood there watching a bear that was across the road in the cornfield next to Dr. Soriano’s place. That bear was in no hurry whatsoever. He was just sitting there on his haunches, grabbing one ear after another, having himself a good old corn feast. Oh yeah, we’ve had some good times on that course!”
Philip Cain, president of the board, has been a member since the 1970s, and has been the course manager for the last three seasons and will once again manage it this year.
“I started playing golf in the yard at home when I was a kid,” Cain said. “But I started playing the PCCC course out of high school, so I guess I’ve been playing that course for about fifty years.”
He said there have been lots of great memories made there.
“Mr. Cooper was president for twenty-five years, and he was a real character,” Cain continued. “He was well-known to have a sometimes adversarial relationship with some of the course regulations. And he’d make so many ‘adjustments’ to his score that he was darned hard to beat. Well, his sworn enemy was the little pond that used to lie just beyond the green at the first hole -now, Hole #9.
“Right, I said there used to be a pond there,” Cain said with a chuckle. “That’s because Mr. Cooper finally lost one ball too many in that pond and he had it drained!
“I became a member of the club when The First National Bank bought my membership. And it turned out that the golf course was really good for the bank’s business and for my career at the bank.
“Whenever a bank regulator or another banker came over from Charleston, we’d head over to the PCCC and take our meeting on the course. A lot of important decision-makers would come to town and we’d get to know each other during a golf game. It’s a great way to do business and to make friends.
“It’s also a good way to assess a person’s character,” Cain said. “If a guy will get mad at a golf ball, he’ll get mad about anything.”
Board member Doug Rider started playing golf at the age of 11 when he had a job working at the produce stand in the old Amoco station beside the course and next to the original PCCC club house.
“I got a job as a caddy – and I was making big money for back then, $1.25 for eighteen holes and they’d buy me a bottle of pop and a candy bar when we stopped at the ninth hole,” Rider remembers. “When I was about thirteen, I was mowing the greens with a push mower. One time, I got in trouble with Slim Ervine for mowing too fast.
“I was on the first Pocahontas County High School golf team, and I made it to the state golf tournament. When I went into the service, I was stationed in Germany and I’d taken my golf clubs with me. It was really nice to be able to play with the guys over there.”
Rider encourages young people to get involved as golf is a good way to meet people and to gain confidence. His son, Justin, also a board member, followed in his father’s footsteps and started playing golf at the PCCC when he was 10 years old.
The Riders are a three-generation golfing family. Justin’s seven year old daughter Erin, who already has her own clubs, has joined the game and they are playing the course together.
“It’s all about fellowship and friendship at the PCCC,” Rider said. “I have a lot of memories from that course.”
PCCC board member John Mutscheller agrees that the PCCC golf course is a wonderful part of the community.
“We’re lucky to have it,” he said. “I’ve been a member for ten years. I started playing there kind of by a fluke. Philip Cain and Bill Gay were short a player during a tournament and asked if I’d fill in.”
“It had been twenty years since I’d played golf. I was rusty, but I really enjoyed it and that really started me back with golf again.”
Mutscheller says that many people don’t realize that PCCC is a public course.
“The words ‘country club’ are misunderstood. That’s just a name. The course is open to anyone. We welcome everyone. This is the friendliest course I’ve ever played. It’s a really relaxing course to play and a beginner can have a good time on it.
“The club is full of friendly people who are happy to answer questions or even play a round with you and give you some tips. You don’t find that just everywhere.”
After A. E. Cooper’s 25 years at the helm, Kenneth Ervine was named president and remained in the position for the next 25 years. He and his wife, Joan, also ran the pro shop for about 16 years. There’s not much about the history of PCCC that Ervine doesn’t know.
He remembers when the first two golf carts arrived on the course.
“It was about 1963 and Dr. Rexrode and Myrl “Slim” Ervine started driving the course in their golf carts,” Ervine said. “It was quite the thing.
“I’ve done about every job there is on this course. It’s a great place to relax and meet people. I’d just like to see a whole lot of new people up here enjoying it. “
Ervine likes to tell a story about a bear that had been spotted climbing up and lounging around in a couple of trees near the woods on the second fairway.
“He seemed partial to a couple of big old trees at the edge of the woods. There was a cherry tree and when the hickory nuts came on in the fall, he’d climb up in that hickory tree and snack on hickory nuts. All the regulars knew to try to catch a glimpse of the bear up in those trees. Well, one Sunday Harry McCloud and Jimmy Cutlip were up there, and Jimmy hit a ball that rolled up into the woods under those trees. While Jimmy was looking for his ball, Harry couldn’t resist, and he let loose with a big old bear growl and he said, Jimmy just froze. He thought that bear was gonna get him!” Ervine laughed.
Longtime member Joann Eddy told me that spring is a good time to see bears around the course.
“Two years ago I got to see a mama bear and her two cubs,” Eddy said. “We were playing over by Jack Gay’s field and you know he usually has Black Angus in that field. I looked over there and something looked different about the cows. I said, ‘Those cows sure have funny ears!’ Well, you know they weren’t cows, it was that mama bear and her cubs.”
Eddy is a passionate golfer who didn’t take up the game until her children reached an age when they no longer needed a babysitter. Her husband, Dick, never really had any interest in golf, that is until he was “ordered” to take it up.
In 1967, Dick Eddy was riding his motorcycle up Ninth Street in Marlinton and was hit by a school bus. He suffered serious and extensive injuries that required a long convalescence and physical therapy. His doctor was Dr. Douglas Bowers, who was the West Virginia University football team’s doctor. He told Dick that he needed to start playing golf if he wanted to get back full use of his shoulder. Dick said, “no way.”
“I don’t chase some stupid little ball around a cow pasture,” he declared.
But he did, and wouldn’t you know it? Golfing did the trick. His shoulder got better and the course made another golf convert.
“Oh, golf is good for everybody,” Eddy exclaimed. “It’s good for kids – learning the etiquette of the game and practicing courtesy and good sportsmanship is just real good for them.”
Her son, David, was introduced to golf at an early age. He even caddied for the famous Adolph Cooper back in the day. “He earned 25 cents for eighteen holes!” she said.
Eddy said Thursday mornings is the time for newcomers to come up to the course when the so-called “Senior League” plays.
“Don’t be shy,” she said. “Just come on up and we’ll fix you up with a partner and some clubs. And you don’t have to be a senior to join us.”
What would Eddy say to someone who might want to learn to play golf, but is afraid of looking stupid?
“I’d say, you mean you’ve never looked stupid before? Aww, you just can’t worry about that. We all started out not knowing how to play. Just keep playing until you get better at it. And no one up at PCCC will give you a hard time. We welcome everyone- we’d be glad to have you! We need some new golfers up there.”
And you don’t have to be a member to play. Norris Long just plays when he can. He got his first set of clubs years ago as a Christmas gift and has loved golf all his life.
He, too, used golf to help himself back from a serious injury from a car accident.
“My doctor didn’t prescribe it, but I knew that golfing would help me get my arm back in shape,” Long said. “And I was right – it did help.”
A member since the 1960s, Harper Nelson has seen a lot of changes up at the PCCC golf course. But with all the rearranging and improvements, one thing has never changed.
“It’s got such a relaxed, friendly atmosphere,” Nelson said. “Everybody up there is just nice and friendly. When you play at PCCC, it’s so leisurely that it’s almost like having your own private course.”
Larry Burns has always been Nelson’s golf partner, and Nelson says he’s a most understanding partner.
“One evening we were playing late and it started to get dark on us,” Nelson recalled. “I hit what I thought was a bad shot and thought the ball probably landed nowhere near the green, so I just dropped another ball and took another shot. Well, we got up on the green and there were three balls sitting there.
“Old Larry just says, ‘Well, would you look at that! Someone up ahead of us must have left a ball!’
For many years, Pocahontas County High School has had a very competitive golf team that is fortunate to be able to use PCCC as its home course. They get valuable experience at PCCC and sometimes on Snowshoe’s Raven course and have been quite successful, making it all the way to the state championships – once taking sixth place in the state.
PCCC even welcomes a group of middle schoolers, organized by Jean Srodes, who, for the last few years, have played the course once or twice a week during the school year.
“Not only are they having a wonderful time and learning the game of golf, these kids are being exposed to something that will stand them in good stead later in life,” Srodes said. “We are so lucky to have the PCCC course right here, so close to the middle school.”
Although Charlie Bubnis is a relatively new member (he and his wife, Michelle moved here a few years ago from Austin, Texas), he has taken to the golf course like a duck to water. He and Michelle became members about three years ago. This year Bubnis is on the board of directors.
He is also in charge of the very active group of volunteers who really run things in the clubhouse.
Burns says that the club couldn’t get along without them.
“We just don’t have the funds to pay staff to do the check-ins in the clubhouse,” Burns said. “Like a lot of the work that it takes to keep the golf course going, it’s got to be done by those who love the course and will donate their time to keeping it going.”
And Bubnis says the course wouldn’t be here today if not for board president Philip Cain.
“We have a beautiful, scenic public course here,” Bubnis said. “And anybody who wants to get to know the golfers just needs to stop by The Dirt Bean any morning. There’s a coffee group that meets every weekday at the Dirt Bean in Marlinton around 9 a.m. Most of them are golfers and some are volunteer at the course. Stop by and make some friends.
“At one of our tournaments,” Bubnis said, “a local car dealer was giving away a new car if someone got a hole in one at the par 3 on #10. The day before the tournament one of our volunteers went to that hole to practice and his first swing produced a hole in one – one day too early!”
Bubnis wants everyone to feel welcome to just come for a visit.
“Come visit anytime to check out the club house,” he said. “ If we’re not busy, you may even be able to take a golf cart out for a tour of the course.”
And he stresses that the greens fees are very reasonable – only $19.00 for 18 holes.
“We have all ages playing, from elementary school to a few ladies and gentleman in there mid-eighties. We also have players of all abilities – from a first time golfer to a local businessman who plays in the West Virginia State amateur championship every year. And we have a lot of visitors from out of town or out of state who play a round of golf at our course and rave about the scenery, the layout of the course and how they really enjoyed playing it.
“This course is a real jewel in the middle of our community and it needs the community’s support to keep it open,” Bubnis said. “We’re looking for people to come out and play, to become members and to volunteer. If you have any questions, please call me at 304-799-0883.”
The PCCC hosts Coach Anderson and his Pocahontas County High School Golf Team all year for free and hosts the team during tournament play against other high schools, as well. Volunteers also help provide food and beverages for the teams.
Burns said the reason he golfs has mostly been for companionship and friendship.
“Bill Gay and I had a solid friendship,” he said. “Bill was a right-handed golfer, but he lost the use of his right hand when he was wounded in Viet Nam. But that didn’t stop him. He learned to golf left-handed, and he became the best left-handed golfer in the country.
“Bill inspired me to play. I miss him, and we talk about him every Sunday when we are playing. He and I would go down south and play in the winter. Some days it was a struggle for him to get going, but we played 18 holes every day.”
In years to come, the high school team will, no doubt, look back and recall the beginnings of lifelong friendships forged on this course.