A Club Out in the Country
By Gloria Vaquera, Photos by ACC & Damacio Bernal
It would be unorthodox for a farmer –outfitted in dirty jeans, dusty boots and all– to wander in to an ordinary country club to play some golf. The Anthony Country Club, however, is no ordinary club. Here, it is commonplace for local farmers to take a break from their labor and play nine holes; after all, that is essentially the story of those who founded it.
Legend has it that somewhere around the late 1930s a group of farmers, who took up golf as a way to kill time while their fields were irrigated, conspired to create an actual golf course. For some time, they had been playing golf out in the middle of the desert just north of what is today Anthony Elementary in New Mexico. Not that this ever stopped them, but there were many obvious challenges in golfing in the desert.
An old history document obtained from the Anthony Country Club describes the desert golf course like this: “The original greens were sand greens which were oiled. Later these sand greens were coated with cottonseed meal. These cottonseed meal greens putted well and true only after being rolled. Golfers were permitted to roll a path between their ball marker and the hole, with a small portable roller provided at each hole. There were no sand traps, however, sand dunes on the course provided for many interesting shots.”
Constructing their new golf course would involve much negotiation and planning as they contemplated an area along the Rio Grande that had recently been channeled and equipped with river levees. This translated into enough water for beautiful green grass, but it also meant that they would need to lease the property from the U.S. government. A gentleman by the name of Clark Rischaberger spearheaded the negotiations and secured a 100-year lease on the property. Construction began soon after.
Two local farmers, Horace Nesbit and Gail Hensing, are recognized as major players in the realization of the golf course. These two men, with the help of many others who worked tirelessly to bring the idea to fruition, are credited with leveling the land, planting trees and building the greens and tee boxes. Initially, a round of eighteen holds required six laps around the course because it had only holes one, two and three. The remaining six holes were added later and placed on the south side of, what was back then, the wooden bridge.
It wasn’t long before this was a thriving gathering place offering its members Saturday night suppers, poker games and a waiting list of people who wanted to become members. Because members where spending so much time at the course, the idea of adding a clubhouse was soon tossed around. After much fundraising (passing the hat and taking a cut from the poker hands played), an old wooden building was purchased as the original clubhouse.
The Anthony Country Club is a community based non-profit organization, and although it is believed that it was officially organized around 1946, the actual dates are not known. All of the records pertaining to the club were destroyed in a fire at the Antony Cotton Gin in 1974. At the time, Irvin Woodward was the Secretary/Treasurer and he kept the records at his office where he worked as the manager of the gin.
Many things have changed since the inception of the Anthony Country Club including the addition of a swimming pool, the new and improved clubhouse that was built in 1960 and later the tennis courts. But aside from the cosmetic changes, many members agree that the club is a lot more inclusive and diverse these days. Nacho Hernandez started working here in 1946 as a caddie when he was only 11 years old. Although he and his wife Vicky are members today, he explains that in the early years, the only way non-whites where allowed on the course was if they were caddies. He remembers that when he worked here there was a designated place outside for the caddies because they weren’t allowed to enter the clubhouse.
Another notable difference is that back in the day, the course did not have a manager. Members took turns serving as waiters and bartenders as well as handling refreshments and the clean up. However, for the past 35 years, the club has been run by Joe Bautista. In 2005, Joe’s wife, Letty, joined him as part of the managing staff. As general managers, they are at the clubhouse from 7am to close, Tuesday through Friday. Part of their contract stipulates that they live on the property, so their children Jose Miguel, 31; Juan Carlos, 27; Marissa, 26; and 20 year-old Ariana, literally grew up on the golf course. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Doña Lupe, who is like family to the Bautista’s, has been cooking for the members for the past 25 years and I’m told her enchiladas are to die for.
This little club out in the country is special in many ways including its history and longevity. And with the river lining the course, the wide range of natural fauna and flora and views of nearby farms it has much to offer. As it is laid out today, the course is great for novices as well as for experienced golfers. The signature hole, No. 4, is a par-3 and a blind shot over the bridge on O’Hara Road. It is the only one of its kind in the area. The 9-hole course offers six par-3s, two par-5s and a par-4 hole with two tee boxes at each hole for 18 holes.
However, the one thing that stands out the most is the dynamics of this country club; it is unlike any other. Many members have been coming here for decades and consider the golf course a second home. As such, they take ownership and assist when repairs and improvements are needed. There is a very warm, casual sense of camaraderie. It’s one of those places where everyone knows each other and as Letty says, “Everyone is family and everyone welcome” —farmer or not.