Spencer Potter’s six-hole golf course on Palmer Lane in Waitsfield got its start 18 years ago when Potter and his wife Mary Jane were having dinner on the patio with their neighbors Vince and Dianne Gauthier.
“Vince said, it’d be fun to hit a golf ball over the pond to the knoll on the far side. I was not a golfer. If I’d known what I was getting myself into, I probably wouldn’t have done it,” Potter recalled.
Then next thing he knew, he and Gauthier had wandered around and picked out six locations for holes. They went to Kenyon’s and bought six cedar posts, stuck them in the ground and he started mowing.
“When a good friend says I think you should build a golf course, you put your beer down and go to work,” he added.
STARTED AS A LARK
What started out as a lark and a way to spend time with friends in the warmer months has become a well-visited small backyard golf course that attracts visitors from near and far throughout the season. Families come for reunions, wedding parties come to play on wedding weekends, friends meet up there annually. But it’s more than that, the Woodchuck Golf also hosts fundraisers for local nonprofits. The golf course generates over $11,000 for nonprofits annually.
There are no greens fees to play, but people are asked to bring donations of food or funds for the food shelf. In addition to folks who google ‘golf courses near me,’ and end up at www.woodchuckgolf.com , the Potters regularly host several annual tournaments that benefit local nonprofits including Central Vermont Pioneers, Meals On Wheels and others. The course features four par-3 holes and two par-4 holes and none of them are easy, Potter reported.
The shortest hole is No. 1 (over the pond per Gauthier’s suggestion) at 104 yards and the longest is No. 3 at 290 yards.
Since he started the backyard golf course (the most difficult golf course in Waitsfield, per the website), he’s had a steep learning curve in terms of grass, greens, mowing, and golf.
CONSULTED WITH THE PROS
“The first year, I had a riding mower and I put the deck down as low as I could,” he said. He consulted with the pros at the Sugarbush Golf Course who offered advice and also suggested that he purchase very expensive equipment.
“You can spend an awful lot of money on equipment. Sugarbush has been excellent and helped me out with knowledge. Often the conversation starts with ‘go buy this $30,000 piece of equipment’ and I’ve got to figure out how to do that with something else,” he explained.
His greens-keeping has evolved over the years. He now has a reel mower and uses bent grass seed and created his own underground irrigation system that is on a timer once he realized that to sustain the lower cutm, he needed more water.
“Scar tissue in an excellent teacher. I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years. It’s a good thing this is not somebody’s livelihood,” he added.
Potter has also become a user of his own course.
“I swing, I don’t call myself a golfer. I’ve played a lot of sports in my life, but I’m not an athlete. I now play golf, but not well. I rarely play when I’m alone, but might go out and put or hit pitches for an hour. Sometimes we have people over for dinner and play a round of golf before dinner,” he said.
Potter purposefully does not keep track of how many people play over the course of the season. He said that traffic is steady and most days see two or three parties coming. People have to sign up for a tee time on the website and only one party is allowed at once to avoid people hitting golf balls towards each other as there are two fairways that cross each other.
He enjoys interacting with the people who come to golf and enjoys their delight in his backyard golf course. One time unbeknownst to him, a golf course architect came and played the course.
“He didn’t say anything but he took a lot of pictures,” Potter said.
LAST WEEKEND TOURNAMENT
The course closes this weekend, October 8, with the Lower the Hazard Invitational Tournament that features burning the brush pile that has accumulated since last year which golfers normally have to hit over, through or around. That event is limited to 33 players who tee off in groups of three on the hour starting at 8 a.m. and running through 5 p.m. It is a fundraiser for Central Vermont Pioneers.
But Potter will host a few more Sundays of the Mad River Golf League, founded by Charlie Goodman II who brings 30 kids and parents to divide up and take lessons, each playing at a different hole.
One key facet of this backyard golf course is that people take ownership of things they think need doing. For example, John Reilly decided that a trophy was needed for one of the tournaments and showed up with one. Tom Emory decided the course needed yardage signs and one day the signs showed up. Someone else decided the that hole-in-one flags were needed and those showed up.
“It’s a see something do something kind of a place,” Potter said.
“We call the folks who contribute ‘hats’ because they’re wearing the golf course logo which they’ve received for helping.