History of Val Halla
They Built It So Golfers Would Come
Cumberland’s very own ‘Rat Pack’ created the Val Halla Golf club nearly 50 years ago
By Peter Blais
It was a 1962 midsummer afternoon at the former Vallee’s Steak House at Woodfords Corner in Portland. Longtime friends Bob Leighton, Bob Darling, Dave Higgins, Bud Bernard, Andy Bunker and Ted Lauritzen were gathered around a table grousing about their latest round at Portland’s Riverside Golf Course.
Why, they wondered, did the six of them from Cumberland schlep all the way to Riverside, if they were even fortunate to enough to obtain tee times, and the spend hours on the busy Portland layout?
It was the umpteenth time the topic arose. “Why don’t we build our own course back home?” And with that, Cumberland’s Val Halla Golf Course took root.
The group bought the land that eventually became holes 3 through 6 from a gentleman who had planned to build a nursing home on the property. He wanted to call the home Val Halla. He sold the parcel to the group with the condition that it remail open space. The course builders accepted the condition, kept the name, and purchased additional areage from Dana Bragg, Dick Doane, and Nelson Blanchard.
The original six spent two ful winters clearing land, mostly holes 7 through 9, using machinery borrowed or donated from former Scarborough Downs owner and contractor Bob Verrier.
“Right over there,” said Leighton, pointing to a spot behind Val Halla’s 7th green, shaking his head as a sad smile crossed his face. “We almost lost Bud one day. Ted was cutting a tree with a chain saw. The blade bounced back and caught Bud in the right leg. He almost bled to death before the ambulance arrived.”
With guidance from professional course architect Phil Wogan, they leveled No. 3 fairway and stockpiled the loam on No. 5 and No.7 greens. The piles provided enough earth to build all nine putting surfaces.
They harvested stolons (horizontal stems that form new plants) for greens from Fairlawn Country Club in Poland, owned by one of Higgins’s reletives.
The group used the stolons to create a turf nursery in Bernard’s back yard. The transplants ended up providing the putting surfaces for all nine original greens. It was quite a bargain, since the group paid $10 a bushel for 20 bushels of stolons.
To help fund course construction, the founders sold ten-year memberships. This provided capitol, but once the course opened, the members played most of the rounds, leaving little money for operations. That eventually caught up with the men, who finally had to sell the course to the town. Wogan later designed a second nine holes, giving Val Halla its 18. Leighton served as general manager for a time before retiring in the 1990s.
Since the passing of Bob Darling (father of Auburn’s Fox Ridge Golf Course head pro Bob Darling, Jr.) in the fall of 2007, Leighton is now the last of the Original Val Halla Six, whose efforts created the Cumberland facility. Ever since, thousands of Greater Portland players have cut their golfing teeth here.
Portland businessman K.C. Hughes grew up in Cumberland and on the Val Halla grounds. His family joined the club in 1970. His mother had the clubs first hole-in-one, nailing the ace with a well-worn Titleist later mounted on an ashtray that is now a family keepsake.
“We’d wander over there through the woods in the morning to look for balls and heat home after the bats started eating bugs by the spotlight that lit the practice green,” Hughes recalled of his younger years.
“In those days, all the members knew one another. It was like having 160 sets of parents. Sometimes that was good, sometimes not. If i squealed my tires on Main Street, my mother would know before i got home.
“The course is still verry family-friendly. Kids are welcome, and the new ‘Wine and Nine’ program that pro Brian Bickford developed has a whole new batch of women taking the game up. At almost 50 years of age, the course is bearing the test of time better than most of us.”
Leighton, his co-founders, and their families take much pride in that legacy. The orinal group played hard, wroked hard and, frankly, partied hard, earning the nickname “The Rat Pack” for reputations that mirrored the group of popular, hard-living entertainers of the mid 1950s to mid-1960s: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop.
“We really had no idea what we were doing building a golf course,” Leighton said. “But we had some great times. Never thought I’d be the last one standing, though.”
posted May 15th Ladies Day to Start Thursday, May 16th at 9:00 AM
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posted May 9th Ladies League Dinner Tonight, 5/8; League Officials Starts on Wednesday, 5/15…
posted May 8th
May 18 VHGA Ladies A-B-C-D Stableford
May 18 New Club Demo Day 2
May 21 Wine & 9 - Level 1
May 21 Men's League Begins
May 21 Non-Golf Event - MSAD 51 Teacher Recognition Night in the BC
May 22 Wine & Nine - Level 2
May 23 VHGA Memorial Classic Team Draw & Auction