Story and Photos by Bill Sterling
Special to the Eastern Shore Post
Almost a year after a fire destroyed the clubhouse at the Eastern Shore Yacht and Country Club three days before Christmas 2017, a groundbreaking was held Saturday, Dec. 1, to mark the beginning of construction of the new clubhouse and a sports shop. Approximately 100 club members and dignitaries participated in the groundbreaking and attended the ceremony at the site of one of two new buildings to be built.
Steve McClaskey, who assumed the presidency of the ESY&CC just weeks after the fire, told the crowd that plans include a clubhouse to be built on the site of the old clubhouse and a sports center that will include the pro shop, a fitness center, lockers, showers, and access to the swimming pool. It also will serve the tennis courts and will be located directly in front of where the swimming pool is now.
The new clubhouse will be approximately 7,000 square feet with the sports center adding another 2,000. The old clubhouse was 11,000 square feet.
McClaskey thanked the membership for their support and patience during the past year, noting that although he has only 12 years’ experience with the club, many members have lifelong memories associated with the clubhouse, including weddings, holiday events, and many other special occasions.
Peter Turlington, vice president of the ESY&CC board and chairman of the building committee for the new facilities, told the crowd that while the fire was a devastating setback to the membership, it also provided an opportunity to build a clubhouse that will include amenities not available before.
Turlington said the new clubhouse will include a members’ lounge, a larger bar area with casual dining, a separate more formal dining area, a card room, a kids’ zone where youngsters can play games and relax, and a covered porch and outside patio. It also will include a large catering kitchen near the pool to better serve that area. In addition, the Boathouse Grill was expanded following the fire to host small gatherings and include outdoor entertainment.
David Grebe, incoming ESY&CC president, also thanked the club membership for its dedication and support, noting the club membership is looking forward to more fun times at the club following a year of planning and hard work to arrive at the groundbreaking ceremony. Board members first met the day after Christmas in 2017 to start the planning process and gathered input from club members in finalizing plans.
McClaskey introduced Jason Lumberton of Gateway Builders and Eric Catelliler of AWB Engineers, who will be involved in the building phase.
The sports center should be completed in the summer of 2019 with the clubhouse slated to be finished in the fall of 2019.
Other groundbreaking dignitaries included ESY&CC past president Eric Dodge, Sen. Lynwood Lewis, Del. Robert Bloxom, Accomack County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Donald Hart, Northampton Supervisor Spencer Murray, and ESY&CC staff Tricia Hare, Theresa Fahy, Vicki Baxter, and James Jones.
Founding ESY&CC President
Talks of Early Years
George McMath, founding president of the club, spoke about its formation and noted similarities between then and now. In 1959, when he was only 26, McMath was selling advertisements for the Eastern Shore News, the paper he and Ben Byrd had recently purchased, when Saul Glick of Glick’s and Son in Onancock, said to him, “If you want to do something for the Eastern Shore, build a golf course.”
After publishing some newspaper articles to determine interest, McMath became the head of a committee to build a golf course that quickly expanded to a family facility that included a pool, tennis courts, a dock, and a clubhouse for social activities.
The pool at the new club opened in August of 1960 with interest so high that 236 out of 300 members used the pool in the first month with a total of 2,902 persons taking a swim in the first 29 days. However, two weeks later, Hurricane Donna hit the bayside and dumped salt water on the newly planted grass on the golf course, destroyed the dock, and deposited numerous crab pots and several boats, including a large sailboat, on the property.
McMath said there were considerable challenges facing the board members then, just as the current board has endured challenging times following the fire that destroyed the clubhouse a year ago.
McMath recalled a meeting in the early months during which it was suggested that a hat be passed around the room to start the funding. He knew that would not make a dent in the amount they needed to build a club, but he didn’t want to suppress the enthusiasm and so an actual hat was circulated. With 65 men in the room, a little over $64 was collected.
But if money was tight in those times, prices were great bargains compared to today, noted McMath. The group was able to buy 125 acres on Pungoteague Creek for $20,000, the cost of a golf membership was $10 a month following a $300 initiation fee, and when a formal opening of the club was held in September of 1961, a dinner that included lobster stuffed with crab meat and shrimp cost $4.50 per person.
McMath was the first president of the club and, given his relatively young age at the time, the only member of the first board still living.
But there are younger generations enjoying the fruits of the club. Bill Chandler, whose father and uncle were involved in the formation of the club, was among the Saturday’s attendees who more than filled the seats in the tent erected for the occasion. Chandler recalled playing golf on the new nine-hole course as a teenager and has been involved in various activities at the club throughout his life.
Michael Murphy, also a teenager at the time the club opened, said recently that Arnold Palmer was quite the rage at the time the club opened, and many families went from spending weekends on the water to taking up golf on the new course. According to a book written by McMath about the formative years of the club, during the first four months after the course opened in September of 1961, more than 2,000 rounds were played. Two months later, Paul Watson won the first golf tournament, defeating James Douglas, 3 and 2, while shooting a 77. A day later, Dr. J. Conway Smith made the club’s first hole-in-one on the par 3,153-yard ninth hole.
In 1965 the second nine was opened at the club, and two years later the Virgina State Open was held at ESY&CC with many leading state golf professionals playing, including Tom Strange, Chandler Harper, Claude King, and Herb Hooper. Former PGA champion Chandler Harper won the tournament.
The course record is held by long-time member Jeff Shield with a 63 on the par 70 layout.
A Year After Catastrophic Fire, Country Club Breaks Ground on New Clubhouse
Story and Photos by Bill Sterling