Down the Fairway: Local courses had surprising success despite coronavirus pandemic

Bob Weiner photoDan Russo, right, won the Schenectady Classic for the first time this season. At left is Schenectady Municipal Golf Course head pro Mart Daley.

Bob Weiner photo

Dan Russo, right, won the Schenectady Classic for the first time this season. At left is Schenectady Municipal Golf Course head pro Mart Daley.

After a slow start because of the COVID-19 pandemic, local golf courses enjoyed a surprising resurgence in 2020. Even though many tournaments and charity events were postponed, or ultimately canceled, there was still plenty of activity in this extremely strange season.

Here are some of the biggest story lines:

  1. Golf courses went through a state of confusion when the season first began last spring, as New York State health guidelines originally prohibited the use of motorized carts before eventually allowing them, first at private facilities, and then eventually at public layouts, as long as there were single riders. There were also many rules changes to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing was introduced, masks were mandated in the pro shops, which were originally closed, and other rules like leaving the flag in the hole, prohibiting shaking hands and sharing clubs, as well as taking the rakes out of the bunkers, were initiated. Most of these safety rules are still in place.
  2. The Capital Region lost one of its most beloved figures when Northeastern New York PGA tournament director Doug Evans passed away from an apparent heart attack while administering a Player Abilities Test recently at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. Evans was only 53 years old. He was born in Manistee, Michigan, and graduated from Ferris State University with a degree in professional golf management. He was the NENY PGA’s tournament director and assistant executive director since 2004, and previously was the tournament director for the Connecticut PGA (1998-2003), as well as the assistant tournament director for the Michigan PGA in 1997. Evans started out as an assistant pro for the Hartford Golf Club for six years. He was a certified USGA/PGA rules official and was known for his dry humor and friendly demeanor. Evans was also a certified basketball referee and loved to coach girls’ softball. He will be missed.
  3. Hagaman’s Dan Russo continued his impressive run as one of the greatest amateur golfers in local history when he won his ninth Capital Region Amateur Golf Association Stroke Play Championship this summer at Schuyler Meadows, his current home club. Russo, 62, also secured his first Schenectady Classic title at Schenectady Municipal and won a few other partner events. He’s won a record 19 major championships, including five Tri-County Match Play crowns, two Tri-County Stroke Play titles, two Troy Invitational trophies and one Times Union Amateur Championship. Russo also won the 2019 NYS Senior Amateur and has qualified for 12 USGA national events.
  4. Like Russo, Scott Berliner, the assistant pro at Saratoga Spa Golf Course, continued to dominate his peers, winning his unprecedented 10th consecutive Northeastern New York PGA Stroke Play championship, as well as securing two other majors, the Donald Ross Classic, and the Professional Championship. The Luzerne native now owns 27 major sectional championships, and that doesn’t include the nine Assistants Championships he’s captured. Berliner, 45, is looking for his 10th section Player of the Year of the award and currently leads the section points standings.
  5. Justin Hearley, the 30-year-old assistant pro at Normanside Country Club, also had a breakthrough season among the local club pros as he won his first major, the NENY PGA Match Play crown, by beating Mohawk Golf Club head pro Jeremy Kerr. Hearley dedicated his victory to his good friend, the late tournament director Doug Evans, who died just a week earlier. Hearley, a graduate of CBA and SUNY Delhi, also celebrated the birth of his son, Caiden, and is currently second on the section’s point list.
  6. Rachel Barlette, 33, of Shaker Ridge Country Club, joined the list of area champions when she won her first major event, the Northeastern Women’s Golf Association Championship, by shooting 80-83-163 at Pinehaven Country Club to edge three-time winner Pat Mayne of Western Turnpike. Barlette’s victory didn’t come easy, as she had to make a par on the first playoff hole.
  7. Speaking of Mayne, the longtime area standout shot back-to-back rounds of 2-over-par 74 to win her first Schenectady Women’s Classic at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. She won by a whopping 18 shots over Kelly McKenna. Mayne, who is headed to Florida for the fall and winter months, is a former Daily Gazette Women’s Best Ball champion.
  8. Tom Salmon, a 50-year-old Niskayuna High School and Siena College product, won his inaugural event as a senior when he held on for the Schenectady Classic Senior Men’s Championship at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. The longtime Shaker Ridge CC member won the Schenectady Men’s Classic, formerly the Gazette Schenectady County Amateur Championship, in 2002.
  9.  High School golfers got good news when most — but not all — of the Section II leagues decided to allow their golf programs to play this fall. They will play league schedules and vie for league championships, but there will be no postseason championships, including sectionals or states.
  10. Jim Gifford, 33, won his fifth Saratoga County Amateur Championship at Eagle Crest Golf Club and The Edison Club. Gifford shot 76-76-152 and admittedly wasn’t at his best after losing his favorite driver after it snapped. He’s a former Edison Invitational and Tri-County Match Play champion, as well as a perennial contender in New York Golf Association Championships.


Berliner teamed up with amateur Dave Huestis to win the annual Bill Moll Triple Play by three shots at Eagle Crest Golf Club this week. The format was two-man teams playing nine holes of scramble, nine holes of alternate shot and nine holes of best ball. Pro Justin Hearley and amateur Don DeNyse tied the amateur tandem of Russo and Joe Fitzsimmons for second place. Rounding out the leaders were Dave Hostig with Trevor Jaycox, Spencer Sautin with Jimmy Sullivan, Mike Decker with Todd Czepiel, Daniel Kinn with Jack Wennstrom and Dave Pallas with Jim Welch.

Roger Flynn won the men’s low gross title, Carl Leininger took the low net championship, Charlie O’Brien secured the senior men’s crown and Deb Kirkpatrick triumphed in the senior women’s division of the Airway Meadows Club Championship recently. It was Flynn’s third club championship and also Kirkpatrick’s third straight senior women’s title.

Local pros wrap up their regular season with the Omega Tour Championship Tuesday and Wednesday at Wyantenuck Country Club in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. They will close out their schedule with a match against the Central New York PGA at Shenendoah Golf Club at Turning Stone Resort on Oct. 15.

This is the final golf column of the season. Hit them straight and we’ll see you next season.


Chris Nappi posted a hole-in-one on the 13th hole at Schenectady Municipal.


For the second time in three days, Jim Geiger eagled the par-5 10th hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.

Tom Hefferon of Rotterdam picked up his fourth eagle of the season at Eagle Crest on the 502-yard par-5 18th hole. He’s eagled that same hole twice this season. This time he sank a 20-foot putt after reaching the green with a 3-iron.

Richard Homenick recorded his second eagle this year on the ninth hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.


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