Youngstown Country Club Golf Course turns 100 years old.
"Golf is a developer and builder of character without peer.
“It cultivates patience and endurance under adversity and yet keeps alive the fires of hope.”
Those words are not mine.
They are from Walter Travis.
And 100 years ago, the legendary golfer constructed a Mahoning Valley test of golf that is as valid to today’s golfers as it’s been over the years to golf greats such as Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon, to name a few.
This fall will be the 100th anniversary of golf at Youngstown Country Club.
Its lush fairways and tall trees wrap around more than 100 acres with a vista crowned by magnificent clubhouse — captivating in size and in style, inside and out.
Bill Motsinger is president of YCC, and looks out over the porch with a frequent thought.
“I just imagine them 100 years ago with this view. And you look out over No. 18, No. 9, No. 10. It’s special. You don’t have to be a golfer to enjoy this place,” he said.
That’s a unique point for YCC and other such clubs. Are they built for golf or built for galas? At YCC, it’s been both.
Scott Sundstrom has been the head golf professional since 2000, and he said the magic that is YCC is best told by the guests from other places.
“We have players who come here from some of the top clubs in Pittsburgh,” said Sundstrom. “They can’t believe this is Youngstown, Ohio.”
Bob Albert is a 46-year YCC member and its resident historian. He points to the impact YCC has had on the Valley in many ways.
“It’s just such a valuable asset. We have a unique scholarship program for staff here that has generated more than $1 million in tuition over the years. We are the host for so many charitable functions on the course and in the hall. And we’ve had solid junior programs for young golfers.”
YCC’s history pre-dates the golf course, actually. Joseph E. Gurley catalogued YCC in “100 Years of Golfing and Assorted History.” It beautifully recounts the confluence of class and competition. It includes this information:
The YCC started as The Mahoning Golf Club in 1898 with about 80 people chipping in $5 each to maintain land just off of Wick Park around North Heights Avenue.
As the city grew, so did the club. It moved in 1905 to larger quarters, and then onto its present site off Logan Way. While golf began in 1911, the clubhouse opened in 1912.
Greatness on the course has included visits from legends such as Hagen, Armour and Vardon. It hosted the 25th Western Open in 1925, tagged as one of the biggest golf events of its day. Many Ohio golf events have been staged as well.
Its lowest member score is a 65 shot in 1970 by Jack Collier. Larry Manski carded a 60 in 1999 for the best pro score. Christy Deibel set the men’s standard for club titles with 15 in the early 1900s. Tiki Fiffick is a 17-time ladies champion.
Greatness inside the grand English Tudor hall has been just as significant, from dinners to weddings to charitable functions.
As it is a place where class and competition mesh, two events embody that role.
When the U.S. entered World War I and area families sent their sons off to war, the club had a role, and Gurley’s book offers these words from member Rebecca Fordyce Gayton:
“Frequent farewell dances for our boys were held on canvas stretched taut over the practice putting green. The boys came and went. The next summer, 1918, we didn’t even have dances. The boys were all gone. Some, we remember, never came back.”
In 1928, Bethlehem Steel and Youngstown Sheet & Tube were inching toward a merger while fledgling Republic Steel contested the plan. As a high-stakes battle played out in court, another battle happened at YCC as the top executives of Bethlehem and Youngstown squared off in a match.
High stakes continue this week. The Vindicator and Farmers National Bank are grateful to have the oldest active club in the region join the Greatest Golfer of the Valley family. The legendary course will add another chapter in its impact on Valley golf by helping host 190 golfers next weekend in the second annual three-day amateur golf tournament.
Josh Zarlenga is a YCC member since 2008, and was in the final group in last year’s inaugural Greatest. He’s glad to call YCC home. His junior golf and collegiate golf career at Youngstown State University have taken him to 15 states and Canada for competition.
“I live five minutes from two other clubs, but this is worth the 25-minute drive for me,” Zarlenga said. “I’ve never had any playing partner who’s never loved the layout and the difficulty the course brings.”
Zarlenga, 28, has this advice to the Greatest players headed to his course: Keep the driver in the bag and get below the hole.
“The greens are very difficult. Up and down is tough. It’s tough rough. I play better when my driver stays in my bag.”
But it’s everyday golf that sustains YCC — the continuous chance for personal fulfillment.
Albert’s best place at YCC is to watch players come to the No. 9 hole in pursuit of golf’s top personal feat — a hole-in-one. He and his wife both enjoy a No. 9 ace. He remembers his.
“After the hole-in-one, I was lured by the voice of the grape to call me in to have a little celebration,” Albert recounts with a sly grin.
“When I appeared back to my home, it was apparent to my wife that I had had something unusual happen to me that day.”
That feat is among the good that is golf, and sustains the words of YCC’s creator, Travis:
Character, patience, endurance, adversity and hope.