WATERLOO — Fifty years ago, Paul Perkins bought the old Baker Farm and its 70 acres. The local contractor spent the next four years converting the property into Silver Creek Public Golf Course.
The nine holes Perkins designed and built opened in the spring of 1967.
Nearly a half-century of lost balls, club tossing and foul language later — golf can be a frustrating game, after all — the business, now 18 holes and known as Silver Creek Golf Club, retains its foothold in this Seneca County community.
There have been plenty of smiles, laughs, fun, good times and friendships made during those 46 years, a theme the current owners embrace.
Norm and Carol Sharman will celebrate their 20th year of owning and operating Silver Creek next May. They acknowledge that running a successful business is a challenge, but one they tackle with enthusiasm.
“We have strived to create an atmosphere of fun and enjoyment when people come here to golf,” Norm said. “I think we’ve been successful at that. People keep coming back.”
Perkins, who died in 1992, built most of what is now the back nine first. The front nine was added in 1972.
The course name comes from the creek that snakes through the back nine and comes into play on many of the final nine holes.
“It’s eaten its fair share of balls,” Sharman said, smiling.
Perkins built the original clubhouse, adding the Dungeon Lounge bar in the basement. It’s been a popular watering hole and gathering place since.
Perkins sold Silver Creek to Ron and Jean Cosentino in 1981. The Cosentinos made improvements to the clubhouse facilities and added a driving range before selling it to Rick Badlam in 1992. Badlam in turn sold it to the Sharmans in May 1994.
Other than the occasional movement of some tee boxes, landscaping and trees growing bigger, the course is relatively unchanged from its inception. The 16th hole was transformed from a par 4 into a par 5 a few years ago.
Two years after taking over, the Sharmans hired Seneca Falls resident Paul Clark as his greens superintendent. Norm credits Clark — “Clarkie” to all who know him — with doing a meticulous job of maintaining the course’s greens, fairways, rough and sand traps.
Other upgrades have been made.
“We’ve done a lot of small improvements over the years, a lot of drainage work to keep the course playable after rainfall,” Sharman said. “All of our bridges have been replaced, and the club now offers a full banquet hall, outdoor patio and grill that makes it a popular place for tournaments.”
The pro shop no longer sells golf clubs, but does feature the other usual amenities: balls, gloves, tees, hats, shirts and other apparel. While it’s a public course, annual memberships are available. There is no golf professional on staff, but Sharman said he’ll try to hook up anyone wanting a lesson with an experienced player.
Sharman caught the golf bug from his dad, the late Graham Sharman. Graham Sharman owned Big Oak Public Golf Course in the town of Geneva, where Norm and his siblings worked as youngsters. Norm’s brother, David, now owns Big Oak.
Norm believes interest in the game has waned a bit in recent years.
“It was really big 10 to 15 years ago, back when Tiger Woods was arriving on the scene and generating a lot of interest in golf,” Sharman said. “Whether it’s the economy or private clubs opening up to the public, I’m not sure, but it’s down a bit.”
Sharman said Silver Creek has been fortunate to hold its own by generating a strong following of regulars. Season-pass numbers are up, and the number of tournament dates has swelled as the business’ food-service offerings have increased.
Sharman is encouraged by the number of youth signing up for junior programs, especially ninth- and 10th-graders. The number of women playing at Silver Creek is up too, he added.
Silver Creek hosts two women’s leagues and six men’s leagues, and is home to the Waterloo High School golf team.
Sharman met Carol, a Bronx native, when they attended State University College at Oswego. They have raised two sons and a daughter in their Bauer Road home, which sits about a pitching wedge from the second green.
“We’ve made a lot of friends in the golf business,” Sharman said. “People like to play and are usually in a good mood. We try to make sure it stays that way when they come here and finish a round.”
Sharman acknowledged he and his wife have been blessed with many loyal employees. For example, Colleen Stein began working there when she was 17 and has become legendary for her staffing of the course’s hot-dog stand.
“The whole Stein family has been great over the years,” Sharman noted. “Cliff, Mark and Rock went the extra mile to help out and volunteered to do a lot of work on the course.”
In the winter, when the course is closed, Norm coaches youth hockey. He encourages people to use the golf course for cross-country skiing.
Waterloo resident Jim Spina, a Silver Creek member since 1997, wouldn’t think of playing anywhere else.
“The reason I love Silver Creek is because of the Sharman family’s customer-first service approach and the family atmosphere they have created,” Spina said. “I have often told Norm that Silver Creek is like playing golf at ‘Cheers,’ where everyone knows your name. You always feel like you belong.
“Nobody rolls out the welcome mat better than Norm and Carol and their family. As long as I live in the Finger Lakes, I will never be a member anywhere else.”