Logo of Tamarack Golf Club in Oswego NY

Course History

Photo of John Lawton mowing #18 fairway

Written by John Lawton

As kids, Jeff LaBouef and I often dreamed of building a golf course. We started fulfilling that dream in 1995 when we purchased land on County Route 1 in the Town of Scriba. My brother Joe Lawton and I began mapping out the initial nine-hole layout. Perhaps the most rewarding and toughest task is to walk into fifty acres of thick woods and wetland, and design a layout that will have character enough to satisfy golfers with varying skill levels. Joe and I took particular care in placement of tees and greens, using the natural terrain, and keeping as many trees as possible. Because the layout was somewhat short and tight, most of the greens were placed into side hills and banks to challenge players. The words used most often concerning the Tamarack layout are “challenging” and “shot-making.” At the same time we were planning the layout, Tim Carroll from Granby and Barb Renter from Syracuse mapped out a plan to satisfy the environmental requirements for the project. This took about one and a half years, and involved many meetings with different agencies in Syracuse and Buffalo prior to obtaining our environmental permit. Jeff's father Dick Labouef had come on board to help us financially and continue with the project.

In the spring of 1996, my brother Joe and I, my wife Debbie and our two kids at the time, Casey and Kyle, began clearing in front of the first tee. Realizing we were going nowhere fast, I started lining up the professionals.

The initial tree removal began in 1996 by Jim Chmieleski and his son Johnny from Palermo. They removed most of the hardwood in the fairways, and left any marked trees off the sides and roughs. Monroe Tree Service out of Rochester was hired to perform the major clearing, using a skidder, feller-buncher, chipper, and hydro-ax. This crew could clear about eighty yards on a good day. When they were done, we hauled thirty-five tractor-trailer loads of chips to a pulp plant up north. We kept (10) ten-wheeler loads of chips to use down behind #4 green around newly planted trees.

Once the trees were out of the way, Brian Manley Construction out of Syracuse was brought in to begin grubbing and excavating. Unless you had seen the topography at this point in development, you would never believe how many large hills and deep valleys existed. There was a large thirty-yard wide by ten-foot deep trench that stretched from #9 fairway through #1, #6, and ended on #4 fairway. The hill located thirty yards in front of #1 green was lowered about ten feet. A hill in front of #9 women’s tee was also lowered about ten feet.

The hill in front of #6 women’s tee was taken down about thirty feet and the hill at the 150 yard mark on #6 was taken down about forty feet. All these hills on site were taken down in an attempt to gain line of sight for players. The hill and stone wall at the 150 yard mark on #3 fairway, was lowered and rolled over. One of the largest projects at this point was establishing the landing area on #4 fairway. Manley brought in an extra D-8 dozer along with his D-6 and (2) two-yard excavators to lower this hill about thirty feet by one hundred yards long. The initial plan was to take this hill completely out, but I liked the tiered affect which rewarded players who could hook a ball down the hill left to the one hundred yard mark. These were just a few of the major areas that we tackled that summer.

As a side note, Brian Manley called me up during that following winter because he knew I followed NASCAR racing. He was asked to move to North Carolina and do the hauling for one of the race teams. He didn’t know the first thing about NASCAR and wondered what he should do!

Once the major excavating was complete, we continued cleaning up the fairways throughout the summer and fall with our smaller equipment. During the winter of 1996 and 1997, Ed Jones, a local equipment operator, came in and dug the main irrigation pond between #1 and #9 to nineteen feet. The dirt was used to fill that long trench from #9 fairway to #4 fairway. Ed also dug the pond in front of #6 tee. We had a couple of springs in that location which always sank out of sight in that area. The dirt was used to build #5 green and #6 tee. Jim Parkhurst from Lycoming came in and helped dig ponds, build the bases for the greens, and perform general excavating. The only reason the pond was dug in front of #6 green was because we needed the material to build the green base.

The year of 1997 was very busy. Fred Zimmerman came to work for us, helping with construction and keeping our equipment running. Gibby Thompson and Buddy Wilson were building our equipment Pole Barn and the irrigation pump house. In 1999, we converted the pole barn into our clubhouse and added the bar area on the front. We had a special USGA sand mix delivered from RMS Gravel out of southern New York. Watching those tractor trailer loads wheel in via caravan was exciting. Joe and I worked on greens construction. Jeff, Dick, Minnie, and Debbie continued grooming fairways. Bill Davies, Debbie’s father, came in and dug approximately 10,000 feet of irrigation trench. He also dug and moved about three hundred yards of dirt and top soil up around #2 and #7 green. This area had rocks in it about the size of my truck, so Bill decided to cover this area rather than tackle the boulders. My brother Jim Lawton came in and spent most of the summer wiring in our irrigation in the trenches. Our irrigation specialists from S.V. Moffit out of Rochester commended Jim on such a clean and professional job. Bruce Rugles of Gartner equipment in Syracuse along with John Hughes designed the pump house and electrical system.

We began seeding greens, tees, fairways, and roughs in the fall of 1997. Unfortunately, we experienced numerous down pours and fought wash outs everywhere on our hilly terrain. The worst hit area was #6 green where one third of the whole green ended up in the pond in front. We had hoped to open up by the end of 1998, but the wash outs took their toll. We continued to rock and fine tune areas throughout 1998 and opened in 1999. Pat Pelkey put the finishing touch on the course by making the hole-layout signs, and tee markers. Basically anything made of wood at the course has been constructed by Pat Pelkey. He has been a tremendous help throughout the project and continues to help us every day. We were also fortunate enough to have Jack and Gibby Thompson come on board to run the bar and food. They have done an excellent job of cooking for our tournaments through the years. For the next three years, we continued to clean out wooded areas throughout the course, something we should have done during construction. We made sure that we cleaned all interior areas during back-nine construction.

In 2000 and 2001, I realized that some of our tee areas were taking a beating because they were too small. We expanded #1, #5, #6, #8, and #9 by at least fifty percent. The expanded tee size allowed us to move the tee markers around to help save the turf. It was in 2002 that we completed clearing out the interior areas on the course, most notably between #2 and #8, and #2 and #6 fairways.

Dick LaBouef, after years of providing guidance and financial support to the project, decided to sell his portion of the course so he could enjoy his retirement. I bought Dick’s share in the corporation and decided to tackle the back-nine. We spent most of 2003 fine tuning the front side, procuring land for the back and planning the layout.

In the winter of 2003, Bill “Bulldog” Baldwin, Joe Burke, Ed Davis, John Watson, Dirk Forbes, Joe Lawton, and I started hand cutting in what would be #11 green. Because the back-nine wasn’t quite as heavily wooded, we thought we could do most of the clearing by hand and remove the stumps later. Just like the front, we quickly realized that we needed some help and expertise. In stepped Harry Perrine, a local career equipment operator, who helped us clear the entire back-nine in exactly thirty days. I spent every single day marking trees and guiding Harry through the layout. Harry had valuable input, especially with drainage.

Once the trees were removed, we began the same process again – rough-grading, grooming, constructing tees and greens, laying irrigation, wiring, and drainage. Jeff, Joe, Debbie, Casey, Kyle, Craig, David Cliff Jr., Myles Maxon, and I went at it. This time we had help from Brian Simoneau, Bret “Herb” Simoneau, and Harry Perrine running the bull dozer. Probably the most help came from Ed Albright Sr. who was with us every day grooming fairways and roughs in preparation for seeding. Ed gave us a lot of guidance, especially on drainage. We learned many things after completing the front side that would help us to complete the back side more efficiently and in less time. The greens’ sand mix was placed directly on each green by tractor trailer, the tees were built much larger, and the interior areas were cleared as we went along.

We seeded in the latter half of 2006 and opened the back-nine just to members at the end of 2007. Once again, Pat Pelkey put the finishing touches on the course by constructing all the hole-layout signs, tee markers, bridges, and direction signs. My nephew Greg Lawton did a tremendous job keeping all our heavy equipment going through the years.

In 2008, we started to see some improvement in the turf when we up-graded our equipment and established a fertilizer program. We continued to fine tune and clean up areas, and work drainage throughout the summer. At the end of 2008, Jeff LaBouef decided to leave the corporation. He was set to retire from the Oswego City Fire Department and wanted to spend more time coaching athletics in the Mexico School District. With his leaving, I became the sole owner of Tamarack Golf Club in 2008.

For the last ten years, it was very difficult for Jeff and I building Tamarack while working full-time jobs. The golf course project has truly been a learning experience working with the DEC, Army Corps of Engineers, construction companies, seed and fertilizer companies, equipment venders, and our golf cart companies. We’ve had a lot of fun along the way, learned a lot, and met and worked with many great people. A special thanks to Brian Gover who helps with the course paperwork, and my golf partner John Woods who listens to all my ideas and lets me vent a little. We would like to sincerely thank the numerous people who have helped either at the course, or behind the scenes in helping to make Tamarack Golf Club a success, with a special thank you from the support of our families, especially my wife Debbie.