|City/Town: • Bethany|
|Location Class: • Commercial|
|Year Built: • 1941|
|Year Abandoned: • 2012|
|Status: • Demolished • National Register of Historic Places|
|Photojournalist: • Michael Schwarz|
Historic OKC hunting club on endangered list
It´s 1971, and the pool at the Oklahoma City Sportsman’s Country Club is full of laughing children and families. In the early evening, tables are all reserved in the dining room, and men are talking about their latest turkey, boar or deer hunt.
Without a doubt, the Sportsman’s Country Club was the place to be and the place to be seen in the 1970s and ’80s.
Fast-forward 40 years, and the crowds at the pool and dining hall have waned. Fewer people are hunting, and the club’s membership, which once stood at more than 1,100, has dwindled to fewer than 700 members.
When the club opened in the 1940s, members were permitted to hunt on the 30-acre site. Once the city began to grow, hunting on-site no longer was an option. And as Oklahoma City continued to grow, so did the club, which received a renovation in the mid ’80s.
But that was more than 20 years ago, and assistant manager Debbie Goodson says it shows. As a member for more than three decades, she has witnessed the decline.
“At this time, we’re trying to renovate and get more members,” she says. “It’s a great location, and we’re just trying to keep our membership.”
Mannfred Westerwelle, who served as general manager of the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club for 23 years, helps run the Sportsman’s Country Club now, and says new members are the lifeblood of any successful club.
Goodson says the recession took its toll on the once-popular family country club, but time and age — both on the building’s façade and its membership — have been equally harsh.
The Thursday-evening bingo buffet and Sunday-morning brunch with live piano music remain staples of the club. But fewer people attend.
“It’s a very unique club and a very family-oriented club,” Goodson says. “We have families with three and four generations here. We have a very good swimming program, and we serve excellent food. We make the members very welcome when they walk through the door. We know who they are, and we know what they like to eat and drink.”
Goodson noted through the financially turbulent years of 2007 and 2008, there was a mass exodus of members simply not renewing. Most recently, the club’s board has placed an emphasis on renovation and attracting new members.
“We are holding our own right now,” Goodson says. “The members are still coming over and using the facility, but we’re just not growing, and our board members see that in the near future we have to grow.”
The hunting club is one unique portion of club membership. Join a golf country club, and you have access to a few thousand yards of highly manicured turf. Join the Sportsman’s Club, and you get access to some 60,000 acres of Oklahoma hunting land. Acreages are available for hunting deer, quail, prairie chicken, wild turkey, duck and geese.
Goodson says by design, the club isn’t a good ol’ boys’ club. Young men in their 20s and 30s who love to hunt for deer and quail are members. Hunting memberships range from $130 to $145 per month. Business members pay $55 per month, granting them access to the restaurant and meeting rooms with the ability to invite clients.
Of course, there are older members who no longer hunt, but opt to pay $95 per month to have access to the restaurant and other social amenities for themselves and their grandchildren.
So how does the Sportsman’s Country Club stay off the endangered list?
“Marketing, which we’ve never done at all. We’re kind of in the back ages,” Goodson says. “I’m not embarrassed to say, but in 2007, we just started using computers.”