by RONA MANN/images courtesy OLCC

The sign used to read “Members Only.” But now it just says, “Welcome.”

Far more appropriate for the Old Lyme Country Club, soon to celebrate 100 years of recreation, social interaction, fine dining in a pastoral setting, and just plain fun. Yes, it’s still a private club, but it’s not stuffy. Not uppity. Not filled with cliques. No, this country club is filled with fun…with members who genuinely enjoy socializing with one another, both at the club itself or out in the community. This is not an untouchable bunch of elitists, but friends and neighbors who enjoy playing golf, swimming, engaging in paddle tennis, fine dining, bridge, special events, and just living life to the fullest without airs.  In fact the only air you’ll find at the Old Lyme Country Club is the beautiful fresh air high on the hill overlooking a popular and challenging golf course.

This nine hole traditional course with small greens and narrow fairways welcomes everyone from the novice armed with a new set of clubs, hopes, and dreams, to the very experienced golfer, constantly in search of the next challenge.  Popular golf pro, Rob Barbeau has been the head golf professional at Old Lyme CC since 1987 and has mentored both students and assistant pros, sending them everywhere from the home green to the PGA.  Long time club member, Helene Nichols sings Barbeau’s praises. “We moved to the area more than 20 years ago to build a home in this wonderful community.  I told my husband that I thought I would like to learn to play golf, so I started taking lessons from Rob. He’s the only teacher I’ve ever had, and I have now become club champion several times!”

High praise indeed, but everyone speaks of Barbeau in this manner. Surprisingly, there are no tee times on this course…ever.  Not even on weekends. “And you never have to wait,” says Helene. “There are no arguments…foursomes let twosomes play through with a smile. We have no problems here; just solutions.”

It seemed only natural to meet with long-time members, Helene Nichols and Tina Birkic, because at Old Lyme the members are the club. This magnificent family-oriented facility is both member run and member managed.  It is likewise a group of members who sit on the Board of Governors with the various club professionals, chef, and other employees reporting to them.

“And it works very well,” says Birkic, who as a member of the Board of Governors is in charge of the House, Dining, and Kitchen. Tina’s husband, Dave, sings in an a cappella   group which brought them from Greenwich to the area some 30 years ago where they  first discovered the club.  Dave’s love of singing is easily satisfied here as there is a choral group right within Old Lyme Country Club along with a book club, bridge on all levels from beginner to experienced , mah jongg, a ladies lunch bunch, and ongoing barbecues, brunches, and special  events. A  favorite place for golfers is the well-appointed bar which Dave Birkic and friends have playfully nicknamed “Mahogany Ridge.”

But always, always, there is the pervasive spirit of welcoming within the club.  “If there’s one thing that labels us, it’s friendliness,” says Helene Nichols. “When members  see a new face, they automatically introduce themselves and often invite the person to join them for a meal.”

Tina echoes her enthusiasm. “It’s a great place for single women.  You never feel alone here. Our membership is very diverse and eager to embrace new people.”

And how they love to talk about and show off “their”country club! In addition to the  challenging golf course with its perfectly manicured grounds and much-loved golf pro, there is a pool…”the best kept secret in Old Lyme,” Tina imparts.  And what a pool it is!  With designated lanes for the competitive swim team, “The Stingrays,” as well as activities for the whole family from water aerobics to just leisure swim time, here is a part of the club that is both recreational and an ideal venue for entertaining.  With an overhanging terrace providing sweeping views of the course, it is a great place to host a private party. When it comes to parties, weddings, rehearsal dinners, or small galas, Old Lyme CC is the perfect place, no matter where within the clubhouse and grounds you host. There’s the formal dining room, The Grille Room with fireplace, boasting ever-changing installations by local artists, and that beloved  “Mahogany Ridge;” and the casual, scenic porch providing breakthtaking sweeping vistas. Chef Dan McManamy  is a favorite with club members because according to Tina, “He doesn’t just produce typical country club food.  He offers excellent, innovative, fine dining!”

Most of the employees at Old Lyme Country Club have been there a long time.  The golf pro, 28 years; the groundskeeper, John Holroyde nearly 30 years; the waitstaff more than a decade or two.  They stay because they share a love of this place right along with members like Helene Nichols who pronounce them, “A family. That’s what we are.”

Both Tina and Helene talk excitedly about Paddle or Platform Tennis, a wildly popular and growing sport among the club members that may be enjoyed nearly all year. At Old Lyme CC not only do people find great camaraderie playing this sport, but they’re delighted there’s a warming hut nearby for a little apres tennis to keep those joints supple.

Because the emphasis is on family fun, Old Lyme Country Club has a full and complete program for juniors, or as Helen and Tina term them, the “little clubbers” and “little racquets.” Children start early here to master tennis, swimming and not only the game of golf, but the etiquette of the course as well, so they can grow up within the sport within the club.

Above everything else, there is such great pride throughout, and pride that the members wish to share with others. Current President, Bob Polito notes that at present there are 320 members, with 17 new applications in the offing. The club is always looking for new people to enjoy all that’s offered, with members taking more than an active interest in adding to their “family.” Polito shows off the space proudly, as though it were his own…and in fact, Old Lyme Country Club does belong to him and to all the members.

Gone are the days when people joined a country club simply because their parents belonged or to garner respect in local business networks. Today, vying for attention in busy two-income households, clubs must appeal to the whole family. The image of the staid, venerable old country club is gone. After nearly 100 years the Old Lyme Country Club survives and thrives because it has kept pace with the times, listened closely to its members, and marched headlong into the future, while delivering fellowship and good fun for everyone along the way.

Small wonder then that the sign at the bottom of the hill, the one that used to read “Members Only,” now just says, “Welcome.”

They mean it.

Discover more about joining the fun at Old Lyme Country Club, 40 McCurdy Road, Old Lyme

Call and inquire about membership: (860) 434-1639

Visit: www.oldlymecc.com

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