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A 'Small Gem' of a Course

By John Emerson
LIBERTY July 7, 2000 -- It wasnt the first golf course in Sullivan County but it is the oldest existing course still in operation.
And in the boom-boom, go-go atmosphere of modern golf, where professionals routinely bomb the ball more than 300 yards from the tee and golf courses are rated based on their length, it would be easy to overlook Sullivan County Golf and Country Club.
That would be a mistake. On July 1 the little course on the outskirts of Liberty celebrated its 75th anniversary of confounding golfers and duffers alike with its demanding shot placements, side hill lies and treacherous breaking putts that roll true but require careful thought and execution.
The club was organized in February 1925 when a group of businessmen purchased a farm of a little more than 180 acres along what is now Route 52 in the hills to the west of Liberty.
Members, anxious for the opportunity to play, opened the course in July while it was still under construction. Over the years the golf course, which is owned by the members but open to the public, has seen few changes.
The original 9-hole layout remains substantially unchanged since it was laid out in 1925. The course, which plays to a little more than 6,000 yards at par 72, uses alternate sets of tee boxes to provide 18 holes of play.
Although the entire circuit is well maintained, the emphasis for the four-member ground crew has always been placed on the greens.
Were well known for the way we keep our greens, said club president Stacey Benton. We always have the best greens in the county.
The course record, a magnificent 10-under-par 62, which included three eagles, is held by Jack Coughlin, who started caddying at the course in 1928, its third year of operation. Now 85, Coughlin ruled the fairways and greens during his playing days, winning more club championships than anyone in the clubs history.
He remains a frequent visitor to the course and dines regularly at Bogeys, the clubhouse restaurant. It is Coughlin who is given a strong measure of credit for the emphasis the club places on its putting greens.
A golfer will forgive poor tees and poor fairways but not poor putting greens, Coughlin is reputed to have said.
He has established such a presence at the club that in 1997 the members initiated a 54-hole medal play event in his honor.
Open to any resident of Sullivan County, the Sullivan County Amateur for the Coughlin Trophy, which is played in October, is rapidly becoming one of the premier end-of-the-season tournaments in the area. Unfortunately as the club has aged so has the membership.
Benton said she is actively pursuing new members, both as owner-members and seasonal golfing-only members. She is also trying to make the public aware that the course is open to anyone, not just members.
I think the name, Sullivan County Golf and Country Club, scares people away, Benton said. I have a feeling that people think its a members only course. Actually were open to anyone and one of the things were trying to develop is to encourage kids to take up the game.
Discussions are also underway within the membership over whether to seek an outside partner to develop the rest of the property and add another nine holes to bring the course to a full 18-hole layout.

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