Eagle Crest Golf Club owner/general manager Bill Paulsen wants a mulligan on the extremely frustrating start of the 2020 golf season, and it’s hard to blame him.
Paulsen, in his 30th season as head of the family-owned Clifton Park facility, has continued to upgrade the popular course, making it one of the finest in the Capital Region. He’s also a well-known player in his own right, winning nine straight Saratoga County Senior Amateur championships and 10 of 12 during one stretch.
But so far, this golf campaign is one he’d love to forget, and not just because of the delayed opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a crazy six weeks,” said Paulsen, who has suffered through an unbelievable run of medical issues involving his left hip. He ended up having surgical procedures in three different hospitals in three different states.
“I’ve had arthritis for quite a while. It runs in the family,” the 63-year-old Paulsen explained about how his injuries first began to pile up. “I had bilateral knee replacements about 12 years ago, and they went smoothly. But roughly three years ago, I started to get severe hip pain, so I went to see a doctor. He said the X-rays showed I had a degenerative left hip, with the ball crumbling in the socket. It’s the same sort of injury [former NFL and MLB star] Bo Jackson had. Back then, they couldn’t do anything for him, but now they could have helped him with the same surgery I had.”
Paulsen suffered through the pain of his hip problem through most of 2018, and after he and Jim Mueller won the Wolferts Roost Invitational, he finally had the surgery.
“I was so uncomfortable, that I knew it was time. I had the surgery, and we went on vacation about three weeks later. I felt about 90 percent,” Paulsen said.
But Paulsen’s luck began to turn in the wrong direction. While on vacation in January 2019, he tripped over a sailboat on the beach.
“I was looking at the beautiful water, and I didn’t see the sailboat coming in behind me. I caught my leg and foot, and all the force of my stride went the wrong way. I knew something was wrong right away,” he recalled.
Paulsen got the injury checked out, and doctors thought it was a muscular problem at first, but the pain kept getting worse as the 2019 season progressed. He kept battling through the extreme discomfort and playing golf, but finally, Rocky Staples, a friend of his, suggested he go down to Jacksonville, Florida, to get the surgery done from one of the best orthopedic doctors in the country who belonged to Staples’ club.
“So I went to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. We flew down there in April of this year,” Paulsen said. “But when the pandemic hit, they wanted to postpone the surgery until the early summer. I didn’t want to stay down there that long, so I came back home. Fortunately, they called me on April 29 and said the surgery was back on, so we drove the car back down to Florida and had the surgery.”
Because of the pandemic, Paulsen couldn’t have any visitors, including his wife, Kim, at the hospital. He was in the hospital for three days and recuperated in Florida for two weeks.
“My recovery went great, and I got the staples out of the hip. We flew from Jacksonville to Charlotte on my birthday, which was May 14,” he said.
The Paulsens were ready for the final stage of their trip back to Clifton Park when disaster struck again.
“As we were taxiing for takeoff, I felt a ton of pain more than anything I’ve had before. It was from my new hip. I had dislocated it as I was sitting on the plane,” Paulsen said. “The flight attendant had to stop the plane, and we had to taxi back to the gate. I was in cold sweats and suffering from a lot of pain. The EMTs came on board, and they had to get a small wheelchair through the aisle for me to sit on. My pain level went to a nine or 10.”
Paulsen, who is 6-foot-4 with a sturdy frame, was not easily moved into the wheelchair. With pandemic rules in effect, the paramedics couldn’t let him back into the airport, so he had to sit in his wheelchair on the tarmac. Finally, an ambulance came out to the runway, dodging planes, to pick him up and bring him to the hospital.
“It was a rough ride in the ambulance to the hospital in Charlotte. It was brutal,” Paulsen said.
Doctors put Paulsen’s hip back in place, and he was told he could leave for home the next morning. He saw local surgeons back in the Capital Region who said the X-rays looked good and to give it 4-to-6 weeks of recuperation time.
However, just a couple of weeks ago, while sitting in his recliner watching the Lance Armstrong “30-for-30” documentary on ESPN, he dislocated his hip once again.
“They came with an ambulance and took me out on a stretcher. We went straight to St. Peter’s, and two days later, they did another surgery,” Paulsen said. “They had to use the same 14-inch incision in my hip to take out the old pieces of bone. I was in the hospital for three more days.”
Paulsen is back home now, and he’s trying to remain patient. Doctors say he can start putting and chipping and maybe start playing again – gingerly – in four weeks or so.
“I bought a set of three new Cleveland wedges, so I can’t wait to try them,” he said. “This is definitely six weeks I will never forget.”
Both Paulsen and his wife, who does most of the bookkeeping for the golf course, now work from home while their great staff tends to an extremely busy clientele. Paulsen credits his sister, Wendy, course superintendent Todd Kehoe, director of golf John Peterson and head pro Scott Battiste with keeping the business running smoothly.
“This is our 30th year owning the club, and the good news is that we’ve been very busy,” Paulsen said. “I give a lot of credit to my staff. Everybody is carrying a huge load, and the course is in great shape.”
Golf has always been Paulsen’s passion, even though it was only a hobby for half of his life. He graduated from Shaker High School in 1975 and one season his Blue Bison won the Section II Class A title and came in third in the state tournament. Among his teammates were the late Schuyler Meadows Club pro Tim Sereikis, former pro bowler Kenny Hall, Carter Hoyt, Staples and Bob Copeland. Paulsen attended and both Hudson Valley Community College and Daytona Beach Community College before going to work at his father’s lumber company. His father eventually sold the lumber business, and Bill stayed with the company as a sales rep for 10 years before he and his father started looking around for a golf course to purchase.
Originally, they thought about buying Queensbury Country Club, but that deal fell through and they eventually bought the old Northway Heights Golf Club from the late Gino Turchi.
“I’ve always loved golf, and I grew up playing it at courses like Tall Timbers, Pinehaven Country Club, Wolferts Roost and Albany Country Club,” Paulsen said.
He once owned a handicap index of 0.8 and one of his career highlights was earning medalist honors for the NYS Senior Amateur at Ballston Spa CC.
“I like the competition,” the affable Paulsen said. “I don’t compete at the highest level, but I’ve played in events like the U.S. Senior Amateur Qualifier, and I play in a lot of local tournaments. I just like to play.”
Cobleskill Golf & Country Club is one of the first local courses to come up with a creative solution to allow two people to safely ride in a golf cart together when not from the same family. They’ve installed a poly sheeting divider that runs from the seat to the roof of each cart. This should help smaller clubs, like Cobleskill G&CC with its 40 carts, to keep up with the demand of single-cart players.
Saratoga Spa Golf Club assistant pro Scott Berliner teamed up with CC of Pittsfield head pro Tim Mabee to win the inaugural Northeastern New York PGA event of the season, a pro-pro at Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown, Massachusetts. They shot a best-ball score of 5-under-par and beat Brian Lowe of Catskill GC and Glenn Davis of Albany CC in a playoff. The pros’ next event is Monday with a Stableford individual event at Columbia G&CC.
New rules announced for New York State Golf Association championship events include no scheduled practice rounds, no caddies and only one spectator per player in the field. The NYSGA has also made a few updates to its schedule, including changing the NYS Men’s Amateur at Onondaga G&CC to July 27-28 and switching the format from 72 holes to 54 holes. The NYS Boys’ Junior Amateur will be played July 20-21 at Seven Oakes and will be separate from the NYS Girls’ Junior Amateur, to be played July 6-7 at Tuscarora Golf Club.
Airway Meadows Golf Club will hold a Couples Tournament June 27, with tee times starting at 1:30 p.m. The format will be two-player scramble. Each golfer’s tee shot must be used at least twice per nine holes. Entry fee is $79 for non-members and includes a chicken Marsala dinner. Airway Meadows also announced the return of its Wow What a Wednesday Special of $29 for 18 hole with cart.
Linda Miller collected her first-ever hole-in-one with a 27-degree hybrid on the 126-yard ninth hole at Pinehaven Country Club.
Also at Pinehaven CC, Paul Hart aced the 138-yard ninth hole with a 9-iron. It was his second career hole-in-one.
At Normanside CC, Greg Scott posted his first career ace with a 4-hybrid on the 197-yard 12th hole.
Also at Normanside CC, Paul Collins hit a pitching wedge for an ace on the 95-yard sixth hole.
At Briar Creek, Kyle Brinkley holed out with a 9-iron on the 110-yard seventh hole.
Tom Hefferon of Rotterdam eagled the par-5 502-yard 18th hole with a chip-in from 50 yards at Eagle Crest Golf Club.
Richard Morris eagled the par-5 eighth hole with a gap wedge at McGregor Links Country Club.
Steve Dow eagled the 415-yard 10th hole at Rolling Hills Country Club.
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.