Merchantville Country Club
|Golf Professional||Ethan Pauxtis||(856) 662-7835|
|Tee Sheet||Front 9||Back 9||Course|
When the papers of incorporation were signed on Oct. 13,1892, what is now the Merchantville Country Club was the Merchantville Field Club. John B. Morton was the moving force behind the formation of the Field Club. Working with him in gaining the support of the townsfolk were Frederick W. Klein and John P. Burleigh.
The original clubhouse is today the Merchantville Community Center, and the lawn in front of it, at Greenleigh Court and Somerset Street, was the club’s first playing field. On it were a baseball diamond, a football gridiron, and a cricket pitch. And if there may have been some overlapping of the three, the baseball diamond, complete with a large grandstand and changing rooms for the players, was considered among the finest in South Jersey at that time.
Golf didn’t get its start at Merchantville until 1897, and then, as at Moorestown, it was greeted with apathy. Perhaps the rudimentary nature of the “course”—tin cans sunk in holes at the extreme ends of the field—had something to do with this. But William Craig and William Stelwagon, the town’s first golfers, urged their clubmates to give it a try. Soon the game began to catch on. When additional land was acquired just after the turn of the century and a full nine holes routed over it, golf was on its way to becoming the principal diversion at Merchantville.
The club earned some national attention in 1910, when Philadelphia-born-and-bred Johnny McDermott, Merchantville’s golf professional, came to the fore in the U.S. Open. Very like 50 years later, another professional, Al Besselink, who learned the game on this old nine, would make his mark on the PGA TOUR. It is said that 16 golf professionals, among them two Besselinks and five Midiris, acquired their knowledge of the game and their affection for it while growing up in this tiny township, which covers just one square mile.
Over the years, the course would be improved and toughened. Though generally spoken of as a nine-hole layout, Merchantville actually would come to have 11 greens, and the second time around the course is not a simple repetition of the first. For instance, the 3rd and the 12th are completely different holes. And though the 4th and 13th, both short par 4s, share a common fairway, the approach shots are played to separate greens. Laid out on some 55 acres, the course measures just over 6,000 yards from the regular tees, 6,231 yards from the blue tees; par is 72. Chiefly because of the drainage ditches on every hole, the slope is a stiff 138.
Despite not being permitted to serve alcoholic beverages—Merchantville has remained a dry township—the club managed to hold its own through the difficult days of the Depression and World War II. But after the name had been changed to Merchantville Country Club, in the mid-50s a decision was made to build a new clubhouse and locate it on the other side of the course, in Cherry Hill. Here a liquor license was obtained. Merchantville thus provides what must be a very rare instance of a club changing both its name and its location (or, at the very least, its address) while continuing to play the same golf holes.