Golf-filled afternoons are common for Kwiniaska Golf Club members Bill Nestork of Charlotte and Vic Brenner of Shelburne. Both are in their 70s and are some of the most steadfast members of the Spear Street club.
They have played for social reasons for more than three decades, and have already installed marble memorial benches engraved with their names, but they are still going strong. “We will play forever,” Brenner added with a laugh.
Kwiniaska turned 50 in May. About 35,000 rounds are played annually there by about 225 members and the public. The course is long – designed to allow players to use every club in their bag. They are also open to the public for lunch daily.
The club was founded by Brad and May Caldwell, now deceased, of Shelburne. Their life’s work is in their daughter Bonnie Caldwell’s capable hands now. She’s been running the club since 1992.
Bonnie Caldwell said she never aspired to be a golfer. “Growing up here, I played golf all of the time. You would think that I would be better than I am, but I am not,” she said as she stepped on the golf cart pedal to head back to the clubhouse after meeting with Brenner and Nestork on the back nine. “Working here is a challenge at times, but it’s worth it.”
After graduating from the University of Vermont in 1981 with a degree in economics, Caldwell headed to Boston for a time and worked in marketing. “When I graduated from UVM, I just wanted to get out of here,” she said. “I grew up. That attitude changed.”
Caldwell worked beside her father for five years before he passed away. Her mother passed away in 2009.
Tom Havers of Williston knew the Caldwells well. He has been a member of Kwiniaska for 42 years, and remembers Brad Caldwell to be a kind and sincere person. “He strove to make Kwiniaska a profitable entity,” he said.
Today the family legacy sports four sets of tees and yardage ranging from 5,246 to 6,848 and a par of 72, allowing for golfers of all abilities to play. Long timers, college kids, and wee ones, as young as six-years old, enjoy the course.
Tom Olsen was once a young person swinging clubs on the greens there. The 40-something Charlotte native lives in Irvine, Calif. now and visited his hometown last week. He came to Kwiniaska to meet up with the Meunier family of Shelburne to play a few rounds for old times’ sake.
“I have big time fond memories of this place,” Olsen said with a smile. “As a kid I was dropped off early morning here to play and work. I worked at the desk taking care of greens fees.”
Paul Meunier, 44, of South Burlington, is a PGA Professional who grew up playing at Kwiniaska with Olsen. The two met up for some friendly competition. Meunier has been a golf professional for 25 years. “My first job was here at Kwiniaska washing golf carts,” Meunier said.
Kwiniaska has hosted the Vermont Men’s State Amateur twice in the last 20 years, once in 1994 and again in 2009, Meunier said.
Olsen said he noticed a few changes upon his return. “The clubhouse is the same, but there have been course improvements like irrigation, added ponds, and tree lines on the fairways,” he said. “It’s the best track in Vermont. There’s nothing like this anywhere.”
Mary Jarrett of Shelburne, Director of Marketing at Kwiniaska, agreed with Olsen about the uniqueness that keeps people coming back to visit for generations, but she worries where the industry is headed. “Across the country the golf industry is in a decline,” Jarrett said. “There was the Tiger Woods effect that was huge for golf but part of that is over. Kids today are more into technology.”
It’s hard to predict the future of Kwiniaska. “It depends on the industry,” Caldwell said. “People need more time. It takes more than four hours to play a round of golf. That’s why we offer nine holes now.”
Time is not the only thing holding some folks back. Golf has been known for its strict rules and dress codes which are not all that popular, Caldwell said. “We don’t have a dress code here. We prefer people don’t wear jeans, but we don’t enforce that rule.”
Golf was gaining in popularity around the time the Caldwells moved from the Boston area to Shelburne in the 1960s to dairy farm. Brad Caldwell quickly realized owning the golf course was more lucrative than farming. “Dad wasn’t a golfer but he had a great idea at the time,” Bonnie Caldwell said.
An immense scrapbook sits in the barn board clad clubhouse tracing the significant span of time the golf club has served the community. May Caldwell was an avid scrapbooker throughout the years. Back in the day newspaper coverage of golf tournaments was extensive, Caldwell said.
“It’s pretty interesting to go back and see all of the events,” she said. “Some of our older member can flip through and see themselves as young people.”
Paul Meunier’s father, Dick Meunier of Shelburne, joined his son on the course. They spoke of old times and the day ahead. “I love the back nine because it makes you think more,” Dick Meunier said as he headed out with his son and his clubs.
For tournament and event information visit http://www.kwiniaska.com/.