EAST SPRINGFIELD — Although it’s not entirely clear if it has bragging rights as the oldest women’s golfing league in the area, the Town and Country Golf Association has been around long enough to celebrate longevity.
And that translates into 58 years’ worth, according to members of the group who play nine holes every Thursday morning from May through September, weather permitting, at Spring Hills Golf Course in East Springfield.
After a June play day, members of the league lingered to informally mark that approaching-60-years milestone, applauding a homemade congratulations sign made and presented by Jeanne Dowden, who at more than 40 years has been with the league the longest.
Dowden said she originally golfed with a group of women at Belleview Golf Course in Steubenville. “I don’t think they really had a league but they golfed as the Belleview Girls because they were there. It wasn’t an established league,” Dowden explained.
One school of thought, however, is that the Belleview Girls or Belleview Ladies morphed into the Town and Country group, which played at Belleview until it later switched playing locations to Spring Hills.
Member Signa Findlay referenced association notebooks, minutes and newspaper clippings providing a historic reference. “We have names of people in the original group, and there are pictures and all kinds of stuff in these notebooks,” she said, thumbing through the pages.
“These ladies here used to golf at Belleview and they just called them Belleview Ladies and that was the original name,” Findlay said.
“And then these ladies, if you read this, said they decided to form their own league, and they sat down — this is 1962 in October — they voted on officers, and they started the league in 1963, the summer of 1963, so that was the first summer it was organized,” Findlay said of Town and Country.
Listed on the original charter are the names of eight women, identified not by their first and last names but instead their surnames preceded by a Mrs. courtesy title and their spouse’s first name, a sign of the times.
Charter members were Mrs. Russell Achhammer, Mrs. Stanley Galownia, Mrs. Claud Henry, Mrs. Elmer Howcroft, Mrs. Andrew Kesig, Mrs. Whylie Langhurst, Mrs. Paul Stead and Mrs. James Waddell.
The charter notes the members are empowered with authority to approve membership for admittance and to terminate any and all memberships at their discretion. Membership is by invitation only, according to the framed charter Findlay referenced.
“They made the decision in September to name their club Town and Country. It doesn’t say why,” Findlay said. “Their dues for the year were $5.50. They golfed until the end of October and had trophies and a banquet. This was all in 1963.”
Town and Country has 21 players this season. “They used to have 40 and had a waiting list,” said Findlay, who’s been a member of the league for 13 years. “That’s how many women golfed back then, and they had to approve them to come into the league. I have letters where people asked if they would honor them to come into the league. You had to go out and golf a couple times and they would let you know if you were worthy, I guess,” Findlay added.
Those guidelines have relaxed some.
“We do games and we do scrambles, so each week is not just going out golfing for yourself. Sometimes you’re golfing with a partner — a group thing,” she said.
At season’s end, the league has a scramble and then a banquet.
“We hand out awards. We have most improved, low gross and low net in each division,” Findlay explained. “And Dan (Stacy) does the handicaps for us. He keeps scores and puts it in the computer,” Findlay said.
There are three divisions or skill levels with A flight the best, then B, then C.
Their golfing has physical benefits and emotional ones, too.
“Everyone really sticks together. People have problems and they’ve come back golfing, and we’ve got five new members this year, so some girls have never golfed with us, and we are really happy to have them,” Findlay said.
Dowden figures she’s been golfing with the league for more than four decades.
“I got involved with a girl who belonged to the club and she wanted me to join — Alicia Straka,” Dowden said of a decision that brings her enjoyment.
“I enjoy talking with the ladies, I like the game, I like to be competitive, but I’m no longer because I’m getting up in age and have some health issues. I enjoy being with the ladies. It’s a nice day to be out among them, and we have a lot of fun.”
Norma Henson is a longtime league member also.
“I’ve been a part of this since about 1995 or 1996, something like that,” Henson said. “I started golfing in California and then I moved back here — in fact, Doris Basil is the one who got me involved,” she said.
Does being in the league make her better on the links?
“No,” she responds without hesitation as her colleagues chuckle. “She’s a heck of a chipper,” someone says.
No matter her performance on the links, Henson appreciates the camaraderie and the good friendships the sport fosters.
“I think it’s the people in this group that make it fun to come out to golf — it’s a good group,” she said.
Toni Dondzila is president of the league, a member for four years.
“A big thing is we made it through COVID,” Dondzila said in citing one benefit of the league. “We did golf last year, not all of us. We had about 12 last year and really it got some of us through. It was an opportunity to be outside, and some of them wore masks and rode in their own cart, but we got to golf and it really helped us get through last year,” she said.
The league welcomes new members, taking newbies under their wings, according to Dondzila.
“We take anybody and you don’t have to be a certain age. We’re kind of priding ourselves on some of our younger members this year,” Dondzila said.
The league is a mix of ages and skill levels. “There are three levels, three flights so you fit in somewhere,” she said. “We range in age from 48 to 85.”
Margie Serafini is the eldest member at 85.
The league members live throughout the area. “We have a couple come from Weirton, and some from Wintersville, Steubenville, Richmond, Toronto, Unionport and Follansbee.”
One theory about the league’s name is that its members hail from the city and rural areas.
“I always thought that some members lived in the city and some in the country and came together to play golf,” Dondzila speculated.
Playing fuels a friendly competition.
“Today we had a scramble, so we try to do the best we can. The camaraderie is wonderful. I’ve made lifelong friends with people I’ve never known before,” Dondzila said.
Aside from Dondzila and Findlay, other leaders are Shirley Guida, vice president; Pat Zorne, secretary; and Laura Froehlich, tournament chair.
“I’ve been golfing with the group for about 15 years,” Froehlich explained. “I started golfing because my brothers golfed, and I was competitive with them. Actually my brother Greg started at Steubenville Country Club and then moved to Cadiz Country Club during the 1970s. He and my brother got involved playing golf and years later I started,” she said.
“I joined so I would be able to play at least once a week and try to carve out the time every week,” Froehlich explained.
“I love being in the league because I have a golf match at least once a week, and I’ve met other women golfers and made friends,” she said.
The season starts the first Thursday in May with the end-of-the-year banquet on the first Thursday in October.
The league follows a routine each year. “We have a breakfast to kick off the year on the last Thursday in April,” Dondzila explained.
Inflation such as it is, league dues are $31 now, six times more expensive than when the league first started.
Golfing has been a part of Dondzila’s life for many years.
“I took golf in college and took lessons after college,” she commented, adding that she golfed with her cousin Cathy and her father.
“When I retired, I joined the league at the encouragement of Kathy Antinone. I always enjoyed golfing for fun and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was welcomed by all. Every week I golf with a different foursome,” she said.
“We traveled together to several golf courses I wouldn’t have tried otherwise,” she said. “We used to have a luncheon once a month with different hostesses, but now a couple of us go to lunch nearly every week and are getting an extra round of golf in through the week,” she continued.
“We share a camaraderie with golf that extends off the course,” she said.