by Sylvia C. Dodge
When Josh Olney took the job of general manager and head golf professional at the Orleans Country Club eight years ago, he was coming back to his roots, to the area where he grew up. Since then, he has been honored twice for his work, first in 2014 by the Vermont Professional Golf Association, and most recently he was named 2021 Golf Professional of the Year by the New England Professional Golf Association.
“Josh is an outstanding young man — a great person — not just a great golf professional,” said Jamie Barron, president of the Orleans Country Club.
“I was on the team that hired him,” Mr. Barron said, “and Josh does his job extremely well … He works awfully hard, and he is very busy in the summertime.”
Mr. Olney is not only busy managing the Orleans Country Club, which had a record year last summer in terms of memberships and player visits, he is also busy renovating and modernizing the general store in downtown Orleans — Olney’s General Store, which he bought from Peter Lanoue in 2017.
Managing two businesses that are central to the identity of Orleans is time-consuming work. When asked how it feels to be such a critical figure in his community, Mr. Olney replied in humble fashion — by praising others. He thanked his friends and family for putting up with all the time he’s away from home working. He also thanked the members and staff of the Orleans Country Club for their support of his efforts to make the golf course the best it can be.
Josh and his wife, Amanda, grew up in the Derby/Newport area and went to North Country Union High School. During high school, Josh helped lead the school golf team to three state championships.
After high school he attended Methodist University in North Carolina, studying business with a concentration in golf management.
After college he spent five years at the prestigious Belmont Country Club near Boston, and then came back to his home state to work at Country Club of Vermont in Waterbury. He worked there for ten years and still lives in that community.
“And then in 2013 the opportunity came along at Orleans Country Club,” he said. It was a return home for the Olney family, putting them close again to relatives and childhood friends.
During his eight-year tenure in Orleans, Mr. Olney has been instrumental in a wide range of changes to help rejuvenate the golf course. Like the entire golf industry across America, the golf club had entered a down time as the dizzying growth of golf that took place in the early Tiger Woods era began to wane.
Irene Farrar, a former board member at the Orleans Country Club said of Mr. Olney: “When he came here he had a goal to take Orleans Country Club to the next level — to improve and grow golf in the area.”
Interestingly — the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 summer that was so detrimental to so many businesses in the United States — was a growth year for golf across the nation, and the Orleans Country Club was no exception.
“We had the best year since I’ve been on the board,” said Mr. Barron, “and that’s been 11 years.”
“People wanted to do things outdoors last summer,” said Ms. Farrar, who credits both the pandemic and Mr. Olney’s hard work for a resurgence in player visits to the golf course.
“This summer we anticipate the course being just as busy as last year, or even busier,” Mr. Olney said. He’s basing his enthusiasm on the fact that membership numbers keep increasing, and the country club has fielded many inquiries about use of the club for private tournaments and social events.
Despite the jumpstart COVID-19 has given golf, it’s the improvements that Mr. Olney has focused on during his tenure that likely spurred the growing general interest in golfing at the 93-year-old facility. In particular, Mr. Olney has concentrated on building youth golf programs, making the course friendly to all levels of golfer, and building events that are beneficial to local charitable organizations.
He was instrumental in bringing the PGA Junior League to the Orleans Country Club and enhancing the Bob Silvester Junior Golf Program. Every Saturday, free golf clinics are available to local children. Mr. Olney organizes a junior golf camp each summer, and he also fields a golf team for children that practices every week and competes with local golf clubs.
He has worked hard to make the challenging golf course at Orleans Country Club more forgiving to all levels of golfer. Family tees are now incorporated into the course, and this year new tee boxes have been added at both hole 1 and hole 14 to shorten the approach to the green for novices, seniors, and children.
Mr. Olney has also helped the club give back to the community through the initiation of two golf tournaments that benefit local veterans.
Three years ago the Olney Invitational was played for the first time, with all proceeds of the event used to help local veterans and their families. Last year approximately $14,000 was raised, and the money was distributed to individuals to do things like pay for home heating fuel, automobile repairs, Internet service, and other needs.
Another fund-raising event Mr. Olney has created is locally called the 100 Holes. It’s associated with the Patriot Golf Day program that benefits another charity for military families called Folds of Honor. Money is raised through pledges to support the marathon golf event, which pits Mr. Olney against club superintendent Frank Barsalow, playing 100 holes of golf in a single day.
If bringing the game of golf to young people and raising money for local veterans isn’t enough, Mr. Olney has also used his skills as a golf program manager to save a person’s life.
“A few years ago, Josh kept a person from dying on the course,” said Mr. Barron. A member had a heart attack, and Mr. Olney saved his life by using a defibrillator that is kept handy at the country club for emergency use.
Mr. Olney described his first years working at the Orleans Country Club as seasonal work. He spent his winters with jobs at ski areas, or simply idling his time away at home, “and I was bored a lot,” he said.
When the village store in Orleans went up for sale in 2017, “I decided it was a good opportunity for me for the off-season,” he said, and Olney’s General Store was born.
During the last few years work has been completed at the store on Main Street to upgrade the deli and renovate the back part of the building, an area that serves as the only state liquor store in the area.
“It’s taken longer than I’d hoped,” said Mr. Olney, who has worked to bring Vermont products to the store, things like locally made candles, maple syrup, and artwork from regional artists. He also caters to outdoor enthusiasts with a full array of hunting and fishing equipment.
In mid-March, he was working with a friend who is a chef to come up with new items for the summer menu at the deli.
He is also trying to figure out how to display taxidermy mounts that he acquired last summer when Currier’s Market in Glover closed its doors after serving the region since 1967.
“It all started when I initially inquired about the moose,” said Mr. Olney, perhaps the favorite stuffed animal of the many that used to be arrayed throughout Currier’s Market. In the end, Mr. Olney bought all of Jim Currier’s taxidermy collection.
This spring he has been slowly moving parts of it into his Orleans Village store. Unfortunately, he said, “I don’t have as much room as Currier’s store did. The moose is too big to get through the door.”
He plans to display many of the taxidermy mounts in his store, but others will have to remain in storage for now. Mr. Olney is hoping that his store in Orleans will eventually draw the same type of loyal clientele that Currier’s market enjoyed during its many years doing business. He noted that, in the weeks he spent with Jim Currier organizing the purchase of the taxidermy items, he noticed that many people stopped at the store not only for groceries and snacks, but also to look at the stuffed animals and to take in the old-style ambience of the store.
Mr. Olney said he hopes to recreate a similar vibe for his store.