by Jim Riggs
August 21, 1993
He Arrived Just In Time
There have been many changes at Chautauqua Golf Club in the past years. In 1987 a third nine holes was opened and next spring a fourth nine will open to make Chautauqua Golf Club the only 36-hole layout between Cleveland and Rochester. So as the course heads towards the 21st century, it is on a roll. However, about 25 years ago it was in the doldrums.
I became a member at Chautauqua Golf Club in 1966 and the pro then was a friendly, but rather elderly man who actually lived with his wife in rather modest, to put it kindly, accommodations right next to the old pro shop. Time passed by the old pro who still did things his way, even though they were the ways of the 1930s and 1940s.
I can recall one year, the greens were only watered once—in August! His theory was that you damage a green with too much water. After a round in which I was disgusted at seeing my shots to the greens ricochet like they had hit concrete. I asked the elderly pro when he planned to water the greens. He said the course didn’t have any water. Then I pointed to Chautauqua Lake and asked what that was.
The golf course was a large money-maker for Chautauqua Institution, but the bulk of money went across the street to the Institution and not much was put back into the course. The elderly pro wouldn’t fight for the course, so conditions deteriorated badly by the late 1960s. That is when a large group of members picked up and went to Jackson Valley Country Club.
For a very short time in the early 1970s, a man was hired to work on the course and within a couple of weeks it was in the best shape ever. But a couple of weeks later he was fired by the elderly pro who didn’t agree with some of the new man’s modern ways. He took his modern ways to Peek ‘n Peak Golf Course, then a new layout, and soon it was benefitting from his experience.
Meanwhile, Chautauqua Golf Club, one of the finest public courses in the area, was back in decline. Then something positive happened—Stan Marshaus was hired as the new pro.
This fall will mark the start of his 20th year at Chautauqua Golf Club and what has happened in that period is astounding.
There is a lot of politics involved in being a golf pro, particularly at a private course. Chautauqua Golf Club is public, but during July and August it can be like a private club because many influential people play at the course while spending their summers across the street at the Institution. Marshaus got to know the right people and had some join the board of directors. However, he also included regular year-round members and thing began to roll. The Cleveland, Ohio, native, also got financial support for his golf course and soon money was going back into the Institution’s now largest money-maker.
There are no longer problems about water. An underground watering system was installed so all the greens and tees could be watered and later it was expanded to include the fairways. When it was being installed, often the operator of the automated ditch digger for the system was Marshaus.
Even though the course requires water in the summer, there is too much of it left over in the spring after the winter thaw. It was not unusual to see the golf season at Chautauqua delayed until the middle of May because the course was too wet to play. After the arrival of Marshaus, miles of drainage was put in which is why we can now play in early March and into late November.
I recall in 1972 when Hurricane Agnes dumped plenty of water on the area in August and we just gave up playing for quite awhile because the course was too wet. Now that would be no problem.
Last year I had six rounds of golf in at Chautauqua during a freak warm spell during first week in March. However, a friend, who was a member at a private course, hadn’t even played yet. His course was still closed because it was too wet.
Back in the 1960s numerous trees at Chautauqua were lost, mainly elms to Dutch elm disease. None were replaced and that made things even more wide open. In the years Marshaus has been there, more than 4,000 trees have been planted.
Those new trees along with rough, help separate the holes. Before Marshaus arrived, Chautauqua Gold Club was full of wide open spaces and you could spray the ball all over because there never was much rough. And the board members back then liked it that way because it made scoring easier.
In the early years when I was a member, the same gang mowers were used to cut everything except the greens. You would see an employee on a tractor pulling gang mowers to cut everything because there was nothing to distinguish fairway from rough. You would even see them drive over the tees to cut them at the same time.
I can recall between old No. 13 and No. 14 and No. 8 on the White Course, the only thing between the two adjoining fairways was a strip of rough about six feet wide. We used to call it the Gaza Strip and to land in it was an embarrassment. Now dividing those fairways is about 50 yards or rough filled with nearly 50 trees.
Those were some of the big improvements, but there were plenty of little ones such as 150 and 100-yard markers, expanded practice facilities, more traps, etc. A few of the changes might have come about without the arrival of Marshaus, but who knows when it would have happened.
Back in the early 1970s Chautauqua Golf Club was straddling a fence and the future looked dim. Now 20 years, and a new 18 holes later, things are glowing under the direction of Marshaus.