It’s hard to believe 50 years have passed since a group of 40 or so far-sighted area residents barn-stormed the idea of building a golf course in Placerville.
The hopeful golfers discussed the risks of financing, locating a suitable site and finding perspective members willing to buy into a dream for $350 before the course was a reality. Two hundred memberships was the number the group set as a goal.
Saturday the current members of Cold Springs Golf and Country Club are celebrating the golden anniversary with a gala party — and they owe it all to the hard work, dedication and creative financing of those dreamers.
The group included names familiar to anyone who has lived in Placerville any length of time — Bill Crow, Al and Virginia Briggs, John Sarlo, Claude Markle, Stanley Barker, Martin Baer, Jack and Clara Graves, Jim Hoffner and Bob and Jean West.
Money was tight but those at the meeting that night contributed $500 to prepare Articles of Incorporation for a nine-hole golf course. The search for a site led to property owned by Jerry and Lois Brown off Cold Springs Road.
The one-time mecca of gold seekers, who abandoned the site after using it up, lay along Weber Creek and was overgrown with brush and fallen trees — and full of rocks that members later removed during many legendary “rock parties.”
After exploring the land and deciding it was just the right spot, an agreement was made with the Browns — not on a formal, notarized document, but on a handshake.
Cold Springs Golf and Country Club was christened Sept. 26, 1960. Bob West was elected its president and remained in office until 1968 when another tireless worker, Russ Grove, took over. He served until 1975 and was re-elected in 1980-82. Barker was the vice-president of that first board, Markle was secretary-treasurer and Al Briggs, Hoffner, Jack Graves and Shannon were directors.
Sarlo replaced Markle as secretary-treasurer within a few months and served in that capacity until the late 1990s. No matter how new a member was, Sarlo, who lived next to the course and spent much time there, greeted everyone by name.
It was — and still is — that kind of place. It was not really a country club but somewhere to golf and spend time with friends. Many potluck get-togethers were held in the small clubhouse inside the rickety equipment shed.
Financing was a problem but Mother Lode Bank had faith in the project and agreed to loan $45,000. But as work continued, debts quickly piled up and that’s when creative financing came in. Three members, West, Stan Zirbel and Ray Gier, purchased five memberships each to keep the debt collectors happy and West borrowed money on a personal note “to be paid back sometime.”
Members started paying monthly dues without complaint but still had not swung a club. Instead they installed an irrigation system, picked up rocks by hand and put in greens and fairways. As the summer of 1961 came to a close, Mother Lode Bank renewed its original loan, guaranteed by Leila West, Bob and Jean West, the Browns and Ray and Billie Gier.
When the going got tough, the members became more steadfast in their support of the project, determined to prove the naysayers wrong. Their faith and dogged determination overcame every obstacle, solved problems and weathered crises.
But after a long, hot summer working on the course the members started grumbling — they wanted to play golf. The board met and decided to hold opening day Nov. 5, 1961 — approximately one year and four months after the idea of building a golf course was born.
More than 100 members and guests as well as club professional Bud Fisher took part in that first tournament on an unusually warm autumn day. Reaction was positive, including a Mountain Democrat writer who penned, “Terrific! A little short, but very tricky. In another year it will be one of the best.”
Projects and new ideas continued to dominate the board’s attention through the club’s first decade, including successful membership drives. The original goal of signing up 200 dues-paying members was reached. The driving range was constructed by the members in 1965 with the donation of heavy equipment and machinery from Joe Vicini.
The first clubhouse was a 12-by-12 trailer and later relocated into part of the equipment shed. With pledges from members, another loan from Mother Lode Bank, material donated by Placerville Lumber and the sweat equity of the members, a new clubhouse, designed by Al Briggs, opened its doors June 13, 1964.
Harley Weir’s idea of hosting an invitational came to fruition in 1969 with the first Hangtown Open. It was one of the many great events at Cold Springs. Popular social activities included the annual fashion show, the children’s Christmas party, the Easter Egg hunt, New Year’s Eve potlucks and dances, the anniversary dinner dance, and one of the most popular — the luau, complete with a pig roasted in the ground between the first and second fairways.
When time came to expand to an 18-hole course, 70 acres were purchased and Bert Stamps was selected as the course designer. Again the members answered the call and showed up for endless work parties. Bill Irwin and Worth Clarke headed up recruits who installed pumps, laid wire and pipe and put in control timers for the water system.
The grass came in, the finishing touches were made and despite a drenching rain, the golfers made the turn to the 10th tee for the first time July 21, 1979.
Through the years Cold Springs’ members have continued to support and pay for improvements — the clubhouse was enlarged and remodeled, a new computerized irrigation system was installed and the old crumbling asphalt cart paths were replaced with concrete paths — projects spearheaded and carried through by Hal Martin and his fairways and greens committee.
Some charter members who still belong and enjoy the efforts of all their hard work include Russ and Helen Grove, Darla and Richard Brown, Jean West, Mike and Sheri Arnold and Emerald and Barbara Luther.
Barbara Luther, a former board president and the longtime parlimentarian, has entertained readers of the monthly newsletter, The Mulligan, in the months leading up to this anniversary with anecdotes of the club’s history.
Cold Springs has managed to retain its comfortable, welcoming, family atmosphere. Work parties still meet to carry out tasks.
Most everyone who belongs knows they are part of something special. Big developers didn’t build Cold Springs — the course is not the cornerstone of a community envisioned by high dollar planners and money men.
Instead, “The best kept secret in the foothills,” is a testament to men and women who loved the foothills, Placerville and the surrounding area, and wanted to make their little corner of the world a little better.
Happy Birthday Cold Springs!