Back in 1965, a local man named Dick Russell got to play golf locally for an entire year.
It was his suggestion that the new 18-hole public golf course that opened 50 years ago next month be called “Shelby Oaks.” And as they say, the rest is history.
Shelby Oaks, which is now a 27-hole course, will note its 50th anniversary on Aug. 13 at the annual Area Energy & Electric Outing. Commemorative flags have been flying at the course with the Shelby Oaks logo and the wording “1965 – 2015” and “50 Years.”
The course opened on Aug. 12 to much fanfare, and coverage in The Sidney Daily News that day said a “two-and-a-half year dream came true” with the opening of the facility.
The process began with the Sidney Chamber of Commerce doing a feasibility study to see if this area could support an 18-hole course, and when it was decided it could, the project was turned over to a group of men and stock was sold to the general public.
Robert Hepler, called “one of the driving forces behind the Shelby Oaks Corporation, said he was “delighted to see this day.” And after a brief ceremony which included the executive director of the Chamber, Ken Ellis, mayor Charles Williams, and county commisioners Bill Sandham and Merton Maxwell, Hepler hit the first ball off the tree to officially open the course.
Mayor Williams proclaimed it “Shelby Oaks Week.”
One of the special guests was Dorsey Nevergall, who was a former resident and Sidney businessman. He moved from Sidney to Florida so he could play more golf, and not long after that he won the World Senior Tournament in Colorado Springs. He made a special trip back to Sidney to help open the course, and five days later, on Aug. 17, he defended his Senior tournament title.
That first year, weekday rates were $1.50 and weekend rates were $2.50. The cost was low because of bare spots remaining on the fairways.
The original 165 acres was purchased from local businessman Ralph Stolle in 1964, and work began almost immediately on the new golf course. Up to then, the only course was at the Moose, and it was not a public course.
The original clubhouse was only about 14 feet by 22 feet, and included the pro shop and snack bar. The snack bar existed of a table or two with snacks on display, so it wasn’t too long before the original clubhouse was built, in 1968.
In addition, the original cart count was 20, and they were manufactured by Harley Davidson. Today, the cart fleet is 80 strong. And where tees and grees had to be manually watered, today a sophisticated system irrigates all 27 holes.
In 1988, an additional 95 acres was purchased across Sidney-Freyburg Road, and work began on an additional nine holes. The first round on the new nine was played in 1989.
“What it did was keep Shelby Oaks as the golf course of choice,” said Rob Fridley, a local product who has been the club pro now for 33 years, by far the longest tenure of any of the eight pros the course has had in 50 years. “Sometimes with league play, it was tough for people who get off work at 5 o’clock to to find a spot to play. It always gives everybody a chance to play, and the golfing pressure at the time warranted it.”
After Bob Eilert left as club pro after five years, there was some instability in that position for a while. But Fridley, who was barely out of high school, stepped in and has been there ever since.
“There were three club pros after Bob (Eilert) and I applied for the job each time, even though I was only a sophomore in college,” Fridley recalled. “Finally, the third time, they offered me the job, but I still hadn’t graduated. I went to the dean at Tiffin (University) and told her I had a chance for my dream job, and she made it happen.”
Fridley’s father, Bob, was an original member at Shelby Oaks and signed up his entire family, meaning that Rob Fridley is also an original Oaks member.
In 1994, Shelby Oaks branched out, adding a banquet facility which has become a popular destination for weddings.
“There really wasn’t a place people could go, and ours is big enough to handle most anything,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of outdoor weddings because people can look out over the course. And they know if the weather is bad, we can just move it indoors.”
A year later, an addition was added to the clubhouse, and in 2000, the maintenance building was enlarged to four times the size it was at the time.
Included in Mayor Williams’ proclamation 50 years ago was the line “this eighteen-hole golf course will constitute a very significant addition to our community’s recreation facilities.”
And few would argue that his words were hit their mark.
The writer is the sports editor of the Sidney Daily News. He can be reached at 937-538-4818 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.