Polishing past for future: Improvements at Carlowden sharpen member-owned club

Sarah L. Brotherton, manager of Carlowden Country Club’s bar and restaurant, sits in the newly renovated bar at the club on Carlowden Road outside Carthage. Justin Sorensen/ NNY Business

At Carlowden Country Club in Carthage, some recent updates are adding a new chapter to the club’s rich and storied history.

Over the past several years, the member-owned club has seen changes in course conditioning and grounds-keeping as well as an organizational reconfiguration that allows shareholding members to become regular public members. This winter, it also saw a complete renovation of its bar and kitchen, including new ceilings, windows and walls.

“For the past six years, there’ve been substantial changes to Carlowden. There have been significant changes in the course, significant changes in the clubhouse. It’s just an ongoing evolution,” said Robert Taylor, president of Carlowden’s board of directors. “We’re happy with the renovations. I’m pleased with the direction we’re going in.”

In the clubhouse kitchen, renovations included installation of a new stove and dishwasher as well as new plumbing, flooring and sinks. In the barroom, a bathroom and unused hallway were converted into open space, increasing seating by about 200 square feet.

The barroom also underwent changes to its décor: Outdated drop ceilings and rough-cut cherry walls were removed in favor of high cathedral ceilings and pine wainscoting, and a new, expanded bar was faced with the same cherry wood that was removed from the walls. Café-style tables made of the same leftover material also have been commissioned, giving the clubhouse a rustic atmosphere reminiscent of its early origins in the 1920s.

“We just organized it so it was a little more functional,” said Sarah L. Brotherton, manager of Carlowden’s bar and restaurant. She added that the club has received positive feedback as well as an increased number of event bookings since the renovations. “The view is spectacular, and the new windows make it look even better.”

The renovations, which began in October and were finished in April, were completed with the help of club members who donated materials and time. About 90 percent of the work was completed on a volunteer basis by several club members or family of club members, and materials were supplied locally by Johnson Lumber in Carthage, Farney’s Home and Building Center in Carthage, T.F. Wright & Sons Granite Foundry in Carthage and Riverside Rustics in Lowville.

The renovations also allowed for operations in the bar, restaurant and pro shop to be consolidated for greater efficiency. While these areas operated separately in the past, visitors can now pay for greens fees, rent clubs, buy balls and get food and beverages all in the same place.

“It’s all now orchestrated from one physical location,” Mr. Taylor said. “That’s helped us reduce our operating costs in terms of payroll, and it’s made it more efficient because it’s all done in one place.”

The recent renovation is only one of many projects in Carlowden’s storied history; the clubhouse has also undergone several expansions and renovations, including a $35,000 refurbishment in 1961, the addition of a large porch in 1984 and other minor repairs and updates. In 1989, with the help of many volunteers, the golf course was increased by nine holes to become the 18-hole course it is today.

Carlowden dates back to July 1925, when about 50 people met in the Denmark Grange Hall to discuss forming a country club. After evaluating local properties, the golf enthusiasts settled on an approximately 181-acre farm known as the Austin place.

“Words fail me when it comes to describing the property which we have under consideration,” founding club member George McAllister Gilbert wrote in a historical overview that is published on Carlowden’s website. “It is ideal and affords a more magnificent view of our beloved Black River Valley and the Adirondacks than any place I have ever seen in Northern New York. I have seen some of the finest courses in New York and New England but I have never seen any more magnificent setting for a country club than is afforded on the Austin farm.”

Before settling on “Carlowden,” a combination of the first three letters of Carthage, Lowville and Denmark, the 31 initial stockholders discussed many possible names for the new country club — everything from “Stony Brook” and “Kahuahgo” (an Indian name for the Black River) to “Lowcarden” and “Denlowcar.”

The Austin property was purchased in July 1925 for $3,250 (less than $20 per acre), and nine holes were constructed the same year for a total of $8,500. A $15,000 clubhouse with “one large room for dancing,” modern “shower baths” and a “room for the caretaker” opened in June 1927.

Since, the golf course has weathered the Great Depression, World War II, a pumphouse fire, the 1995 microburst and significant problems with the club’s water supply. Today, it faces a new challenge: maintaining its membership in a difficult economic climate. With the help of the updated bar space as well as happy hours, Friday fish fries and daily specials, the club hopes to increase its lunch and dinner crowds and see more bookings for weddings, reunions and banquets.

The club, which is open to the public, also offers a buy-one-get-one promotion on all new memberships this season, a deal that has seen membership rise from 170 to 210 in less than a year. In time, Carlowden’s efforts — to have a membership of 250, a bustling bar and restaurant and an influx of young new golfers — may even make its motto, “Northern New York’s Best Kept Secret,” a thing of the past.

Gabrielle Hovendon is a former Watertown Daily Times reporter and freelance writer. Contact her at ghovendon@gmail.com.