Storm pushes back start of season for eager golfers

When Mother Nature dropped 9 inches of snow on the Capital Region last week, she caused eager golfer
Dave Mornhinweg, of Ballston Spa, teaches his 7-year-old son Justin how to swing at Stadium Golf Club in Schenectady on Friday, March 29, 2013.
Dave Mornhinweg, of Ballston Spa, teaches his 7-year-old son Justin how to swing at Stadium Golf Club in Schenectady on Friday, March 29, 2013.

Jack and Bill Sise were ready to open Briar Creek Golf Course as early as last week. They had picked up downed limbs, trimmed trees and raked and readied the tee boxes, fairways and putting greens for use.

The regulars had been calling nonstop since the start of March, and the brothers were anxious to declare their Princetown course open for the season.

Then Mother Nature dropped 9 inches of snow on the Capital Region last week, causing eager golfers everywhere to bemoan her wrath.

Some area golf course owners said they were forced to delay their spring openings, while others opened Friday if enough snow had already melted.

“We were really pleased with how quickly those 9 inches melted,” said Jack Sise over the sound of incessant phone ringing. “When we had that storm, we thought that was going to push us way back and we would lose this weekend, but we’re having a great opening day so far.”

Briar Creek opened Friday with about 60 golfers stopping by the 18-hole course before noon. It was an average spring opening for the Sise brothers, who said they usually open sometime between March 27 and April 4. The latest they’ve ever opened was April 15, 1993, a few weeks after a March snowstorm dropped 30 inches on the region.

Many agreed that last year’s mild winter was a boon for business. With little snow on the ground all winter, area golf courses were able to open in mid-March. One owner wondered whether last week’s snowstorm wasn’t karma for last year.

“On this day last year, the weather was in the 70s,” said a nostalgic Noel Gebauer, golf pro at the Town of Colonie Golf Course. “We had days that were in the 60s and 70s all throughout March last year. There were buds on trees. The ground was really firmed up.”

The municipal golf course off Consaul Road had its earliest-ever opening on March 15 last year. Although most of last week’s snow has melted from the course, Gebauer said it’s important to make sure conditions are playable before opening for the season. First things first: Clean up the downed limbs, pine cones and other debris. But most important, he said, was to check to make sure the ground is firm.

“We need to make sure that no damage could be done on the golf course by the players,” he said. “We like to get to the point where the grass will be able to grow back, and that usually happens sometime in mid-April.”

If golfers are allowed on the course too early, he explained, the grass lost to divots could take too long to grow back.

But golfers are a different breed. As one pro put it, as soon as they see sun they start itching to play.

“The phone’s been ringing off the hook all day,” said Bob Kennedy, PGA pro at Van Patten Golf Club in Clifton Park. “They’re dying to see if we’re opening up this weekend, but we still have a little bit of snow on the course. You look at the die-hard golfers, a lot of them would play in January, in below-freezing weather, if there was a place that would let them.”

Clifton Park got 9.3 inches of snow during the storm. On March 19, the day many Capital Region residents opened their front doors to nearly a foot of snow, Kennedy posted a photo on Facebook with the caption: “What a difference a year can make!” The photo showed the snow-covered grounds of the Van Patten course, by Main Street and Torrey Pines, and yielded sad comments from friends.

“First round last year was there, March 14,” wrote one person, following it up with a frowning emoticon.

Van Patten opened March 13 last year and April 7 the year before. This year, it will probably open sometime next week, after the frost subsides, Kennedy said.

“We’re just like farmers,” said Kirk Armstrong, owner of Whispering Pines Golf Course in Rotterdam. “It all depends on the weather.”

Armstrong said the storm put him behind schedule for an April 1 opening. Now, the 18-hole executive course with tree-lined fairways probably won’t open for another two weeks.

“We have a couple spots that are really shady, so we still have ice hiding in the shadows,” he said.

After opening March 15 last year, Armstrong said his regulars are getting antsy. And even though area courses are already starting to open, he’s forced to wait out the thaw.

“As soon as the sun comes out, the phone’s go crazy,” he said. “Like today, everybody is getting anxious because it’s so nice out. But we have to wait for the thaw to come out of the greens because if it’s too soft and everybody is out there, they’ll leave big footprints every place. But they don’t care. They just want to get out there.”

Greg Hennel opened his Stadium Golf Club on Friday, a cloudy day with temperatures in the mid-40s. The grass isn’t growing yet and he was a week behind schedule because of the storm, but as expected, the regulars started pouring into the course on Jackson Avenue in Schenectady as soon as it opened.

“We’re mobbed today,” he said Friday. “That’s a pretty good start.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County, Sports

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