The new Nesh, founded on old farmland, still thriving

Final installment of a 3-part series on Brandon’s golf courses


BRANDON—After the Brandon Country Club closed in 1944, the town went without a golf course for thirteen years until, in 1957, a group of Brandon golfers started investigating places in town to build a new one. One of the first places they looked was the old Brandon Country Club. The clubhouse was still intact though in disrepair, and the land available for sale. 

According to Skip Jennings, now 92 and one of the original members of the new Neshobe Golf Club: “Dr. Seeley Estabrook, Herb LaRock, myself, and others walked the old course and uncovered the old tee boxes and greens, then looked over the old clubhouse. We made an offer of $5,000 and submitted it through [lawyer] Hanford Davis, but they turned it down because they thought the land would be bought to build a new school.” 

In fact, the town was looking for a spot to build both a new graded school and a new high school at that time. Both the old Graded School building and the Brandon High School building on Seminary Hill were too small, and there was talk of a new Otter Valley Union High School to be built in Brandon but further towards Pittsford, to serve both communities. The Graded School would burn down in 1959 and Otter Valley Union High School would open in 1961.

When their offer fell through, the group moved on to another location only one-and-a-half miles away, farmland owned by Stewart and Ruth Jones along Town Farm Road. This was an ideal spot along its eventual namesake, the Neshobe River, so they took an option to buy it. 

On October 8, 1958, the group, led by Herb LaRock, Bob Naylor Stan English, M. J. LaDuke and Hanford Davis, legally formed the new Neshobe Golf Club, Inc. with $25,000 in capitalization. They sold shares at $50 per share and quickly raised $7,500, with more coming in daily. 

On December 3, 1958, they signed the deed and bought the 45-acre Stewart property for $10,000. The new members had already started cutting trees and brush and rolling the fairways under the supervision of Henry Duskett, who had built the Pittsford course and others. The Neshobe would be completely built by members and volunteers. 

THE DEED FROM the Joneses to the Neshobe Golf Club, 1958. The land that is now NGC was once part of a large farm. Photos provided

In January of 1959, at the first shareholders’ meeting, Herb LaRock was elected President, with Bob Naylor as Vice President, Hanford Davis as Clerk, and Don Wetmore as Treasurer. The first Board of Directors were the four officers along with Dr. Seeley Estabrook. They set the ambitious goal of opening the course on Memorial Day. 

Sure enough, the Neshobe course grand opening was on Memorial Day, Saturday, May 30, 1959. A tournament was held, with a chicken barbecue. Anyone who wished to compete could do so. Despite a few rain showers, many players competed in the flag tournament run by Skip Jennings and Herman Rowe, and 200 were at the barbecue. That night, a benefit dance was held at the Brandon Inn and 50 couples attended.  

A NEWSPAPER CLIPPING announcing the opening of the new golf course in Brandon—the Neshobe Golf Club—on June 5, 1959.

In 1959, Mary Force was the first women’s champion and Bob Naylor was the first for the men. 

In 1960, the same officers were re-elected, and Stan English, Skip Jennings, Emile Racine, Herman Rowe, and Gilbert Casey joined the board along with Dr. Estabrook. The board stepped up the membership drive and formed committees to include local women players, including Dot Rivers, Alta Naylor, and Doris LaRock. 

The membership built the clubhouse themselves with their own equipment. The clubhouse featured a bar, large dining area, and kitchen upstairs with a large porch along the back with great views of the course. Downstairs were locker rooms and toilets for men and women. Today, the layout is the same. 

The course was off and running. I couldn’t find what the exact annual membership fees were at first, but I believe a member had to buy at least one $50 share of Neshobe stock. Greens fees in 1961 for the general public were just $2 on weekdays and $2.50 on the weekend. You could play for $1 if you started after 6:30. 

The first ever hole-in-one on Neshobe was tallied by H. Vaughn Griffin on September 5, 1963 on the 175-yard 4th hole. 

The annual tournaments included the Club Championship, the President’s Cup, the Whalon Open, the Neshobe Invitational, a Member-Member Championship and a Member-Guest.  The names Naylor, Breen, Jennings, Tobey, Rivers, Griffin and LaRock were often among the winners.

By 1976, a membership was $90 and a junior membership $35. In 1979 it was still only $100 and $40. The board tried to keep it affordable, and the members continued to volunteer to maintainin the course though there was a pro, a groundskeeper, and grounds workers. 

By 1991, greens fees were $18 on weekends and $16 on weekdays. 

SKIP JENNINGS, NOW in his 90s, is seen here in his younger years. He was one of the founders of the Neshobe Golf Club.

Golf had become very popular around the country and the Neshobe was no exception, with the parking lot at capacity during peak times. In June of 1988, they had bought 74 acres of farmland over the river and ridge from the River Echo Farm for $95,000, with the idea of expanding to 18 holes. 

The club asked course architect Steve Durkee to look over this land to see if it would work. Durkee gave the go-ahead and in 1992, they hired him to lay out the new holes. They bought another 11 acres from the same farm (owned by Brian and Jean Rivers).

Durkee designed the new holes and the club hired Moulton Construction of West Lebanon, NH in mid-1994 to be the main contractor with a 360-day completion date for the $1.3 million project ($906,158 to Moulton).

In August of 1994, a ceremonial groundbreaking was held and Governor Howard Dean stood for a picture with Club President Stan English with shovels near the new storage pond (required by Act 250) by the planned 18th green. 

The course was designed to be a championship course following the U. S. Golf Association’s strict slope and layout specifications. While construction mostly proceeded smoothly in 1995, there were delays and construction deficiencies and on November 10, the club declared a contract default and sued Moulton for incomplete and defective work along with failure to pay subcontractors. 

While the suit went on, the membership stepped forward once again and finished the course in the spring of 1996. On Thursday, May 16, 1996, the new course was opened with outgoing Club President English, incoming President Peter Breen, club professional Paul Politano, and Dr. George Fjeld playing first. Regrettably, we don’t have a record of their scores!

The grand opening was held on Saturday, May 25, Memorial Day weekend, almost exactly thirty-seven years after the Neshobe first opened on Memorial Day 1959. 

(L to R) OUTGOING CLUB PRESIDENT Stan English, club pro Paul Politano, Dr. George Fjeld, and incoming club president Peter Breen play on the newly expanded 18-hole course in 1996.

The expansion was a huge success, with rave reviews by all playing the beautiful new course. Bob Fredette, the Rutland Herald’s golf scribe, amongst others, played the course and wrote a glowing review: “a visit to Neshobe is a must, take my word. They’ve got themselves a winner.” 

The club had taken a large bank loan to pay for the expansion and was forced into raising greens and membership fees. In 1996, memberships went for $400 plus the purchase of one $50 share for men and $5 less for women (what a deal, ladies!) 

As the century turned, the club kept going despite increasing financial difficulties, thanks to the dedication and volunteer work of the officers and membership.

In 2001, the club decided to raise much needed cash by selling lifetime memberships in two categories- a Gold Membership for $10,000, which included lifetime membership plus additional guest and cart privileges, and a Silver for $3,000, with just lifetime membership.  This worked for several years but wasn’t a permanent solution. 

The weather didn’t cooperate, particularly in 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on the course, with extensive damage. Once again, the membership rallied as “Neshobe Strong” and righted the ship. 

Finally, the financial situation came to a head with the banks on the verge of foreclosure and things looked dim. The officers valiantly scrambled to come up with a solution and decided in 2018-19 to seek a buyer. 

The Club President, Jeff Wallin, wrote a letter to the Vermont Golf Association saying they had been foreclosed upon and needed a buyer so the club wouldn’t go to auction and the land be developed. 

Just in the nick of time, a knight in shining armor appeared in the form of Jon Milne, a longtime golf management professional and Vermont native. Milne Golf, LLC made an offer and the club and bank approved it. The deal closed on January 7, 2020 and the Nesh was saved!

Since then, the Milnes have done a superlative job of maintaining the course while retaining all the traditions, including its reputation as the last to close in the fall and the first to open in the spring. 

The new Nesh will celebrate its 65-year anniversary on Memorial Day this year. That’s 63 years more than the first Neshobe (1900-1902) and 45 more than the Brandon Country Club (1927-1944).  

It’s time to congratulate the Milnes and all those members and club officers who love the course and kept it running so far. In particular, be sure to congratulate the longest-time members: Skip Jennings, Bruce Blanch, Peter Breen, Rob Naylor, Bob Beauregard, Ross Nagy and Tom Soderbergh (apologies if I missed anyone!).

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