Over 125 years ago, two gentlemen farmers decided it would be fun to start a golf course on their properties at the north end of Lake Otsego in central New York. The pair, classmates at St Paul’s School in Concord, NH, were Henry L. Wardwell and Leslie Pell-Clarke. Wardwell, a successful NY stock broker, was not that interested in golf, a sport newly introduced to this country and his primary interests on his Pinehurst estate in Springfield, NY were gardening, horses, cattle and prize-winning sheep which he raised on three farms that he had bought from Pell-Clarke in 1888. But he went along with his enthusiastic neighbor.
Pell-Clarke, who owned Swanswick, then a large estate that included a farm on what is now the site of the Glimmerglass Opera, was a golf nut. Herbert Warren Wind in his “the Story of American Golf” says before the late 1880’s there were less than a dozen golfers in the entire United States. One of the most avid of this little bunch was Pell-Clarke, who spent winters in Orlando, FL and summers in Springfield. Pell-Clarke and his wife, Henrietta, bought a large place in Orlando in 1886 and in 1892 he built a nine -hole golf course on the property. This course has long since ceased to exist.
By the spring of 1894 The Otsego Golf Club officially opened with 12 holes on the Pell-Clarke and Wardwell properties. Besides Wardwell and Pell-Clarke, the official founders of the club, according to an 1898 club booklet, were George Hyde Clarke of Springfield; A. Beekman Cox of Cherry Valley; Henry C. Bowers, John H. Bowers, and William Constable, all of Cooperstown. Pell-Clarke's gregarious personality was largely responsible for the immediate success of the new golf club. Besides Wardwell, he attracted to the Springfield area a few years later another friend from school days whose family was to play a large part in the Otsego Golf Club, Arthur Ryerson.
Many of the early Cooperstown golfers reached the course at the north end of the lake via steamboats that used to chug up and down Otsego Lake. They landed on a 300 foot pier located near the site of the present first tee. Others came up the lake road, or over the hills from Cherry Valley by horse drawn carriages. When steamboat service on the lake ended in 1931, the dock was moved east on the lakefront, to a point directly in front of the clubhouse porch, beyond the 9th green.
Pell -Clarke died in 1904 and his role as a prime supporter of the club was taken over by Arthur Ryerson. Ryerson died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.