Down the Fairway: Pinehaven Country Club will be busy this season

Longtime Pinehaven CC course superintendent Bob Bigley is also a fine player, having won five Schenectady County Amateur Championships.
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Longtime Pinehaven CC course superintendent Bob Bigley is also a fine player, having won five Schenectady County Amateur Championships.

Picturesque and prolific Pinehaven Country Club will be busier than usual this summer, hosting two major tournaments as well as keeping its membership happy with its usual pristine playing conditions.

Pinehaven CC, carved through the pine barrens of the Pine Bush in Guilderland and host to NYS Amateur Championships in 1998, 2002 and 2008, will entertain both the Symetra Tour’s local stop, the Twin Bridges Championship and the NYS Women’s Senior Amateur Championships. The Symetra Tour’s local event had been held at Capital Hills at Albany for the last 17 years.

Longtime general manager Scott Warren, head pro Brian Pierotti and veteran course superintendent Rob Bigley will have their hands full this season.

While Pinehaven CC continues a long tradition of hosting state-level championships with the NYS Women’s Senior Amateur, the Symetra Tour stop is something new for Pinehaven CC.

The Symetra Tour is the official feeder system for the LPGA Tour. A total of 147 players have “graduated” from the Symetra Tour over the years. The Capital Region has hosted a Symetra Tour event for 37 years, making it the longest-running stop on the tour. Saratoga Springs native Dottie Pepper, a 17-time LPGA champion and currently a television golf analyst, won a Symetra Tour event as a 19-year-old amateur, and Scotia native Laura Diaz won three Symetra Tour events before winning twice on the LPGA Tour. Jackie Stoelting, whose parents are both Capital Region natives, also won a Symetra Tour title.

“This was a tremendous opportunity to host the Symetra Tour,” said Pierotti. “It was discussed among the board members as to the pros and cons of hosting such a big event, and the pros outweighed the cons. We are very fortunate to host it. I made a lot of calls over the winter to other courses, and I was able to accommodate my members at other places to play during the tournament. But there is also a strong feeling that our members will want to be out there volunteering to help and embrace the tournament.

“As far as publicity is concerned, I think it will be great for the course. We’ve had a strong membership already. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the advance publicity about the Symetra Tour coming here, but we’ve already got 45 new members. It’s exciting, and we’re very happy to see all the new faces coming on board.”

Pierotti discussed some of the more challenging holes at Pinehaven CC.

“You’ve got to hit the ball straight here for the most part,” he said. “On holes 6 and 7, you must be able to move the ball right to left on 6 and then from left to right on No. 7. On the eighth hole, normally a par-5, the Symetra players will be playing the hole as a par-4, so our par will be a par-71 for the tournament. I think the eighth hole will be a key.”

Pierotti said that the course toughens up on the back nine, with most tournaments decided on the final three holes.

“On the back, our holes 15-18 are definitely [strategic] holes,” he said. “The 18th hole is quite a finishing hole. There is out-of-bounds on the right and trees on the left. There are also two fairway bunkers to avoid. You’ve got to hit two accurate shots and then deal with a very challenging green. Your second shot is slightly downhill, and there are subtle mounds on the green. If you are on the wrong side of the green, you can easily be 10 feet past the cup on your first putt.

“You must be accurate off the tee, and when you’re not, you must be able to hit your balls out of the woods and back into play.”

Pinehaven CC’s staff is top-notch. Warren has longstanding connections to the club since he was a youngster and has been an assistant pro as well as the head pro there. He’s also been the head coach for The College of Saint Rose golf team.

Bigley, a five-time Schenectady County Amateur champion as a player, has been the course superintendent for 31 years.

Pierotti, 48, has strong local ties. He started out working for the late Bob Haggerty Jr. at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course and split his time at PGA National at West Palm Beach. He worked as an assistant pro under CC of Troy head pro Mike Kucera from 2001-2004 and then began his run at Pinehaven CC in 2005. This is his 17th season with the club.

“My favorite part of the job is customer relations,” Pierotti said. “I enjoy the teamwork of putting tournaments and junior camps together. The members have been very accommodating to me over the years. I also enjoy teaching. I love seeing the reaction on someone’s face when they finally hit a good shot after I give them a lesson. I love finding something to get them back on track.”

Pierotti, who played four years of varsity golf under Ed Catino at Schenectady High School, has two holes-in-one, both at Schenectady Municipal. One was during a benefit for his late father, Ron, and the other occurred just as his father was driving up in a cart to see it. His best tournament performance was finishing second in a Pro-Senior event at Wolferts Roost.

OTHER MAJOR EVENTS

Besides the two big events at Pinehaven Country Club, the Capital Region will play host to the NYS Men’s Amateur Aug. 10-12 at Schuyler Meadows Club and to the NYS Mid-Amateur Golf Championship at Shaker Ridge Country Club Sept. 24-26.

The men’s amateur schedule includes other important tournaments like the Tri-County Match-Play Mother’s Day weekend at Colonie G&CC, the annual Challenge Cup between the local club pros and the top amateurs at Schuyler Meadows on May 27, the Troy Invitational at the Country Club of Troy, the Schenectady Classic at Schenectady Municipal and the Saratoga County Amateur, all in June, as well as the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association’s Stroke Play Championship, tentatively set for Normanside CC in August.

Area pros square off in the U.S. Open Local Qualifier at Mohawk Golf Club May 10, the Stroke Play Championship at the Country Club of Troy May 18-19, the Challenge Cup at Schuyler Meadows; the New York State Open Qualifier at Eagle Crest GC June 10; the Donald Ross Classic at The Sagamore Resort and Glens Falls CC June 13-14; the Professional Championship at Hiland Park GC Aug. 23-24; the Match Play Championship at Normanside CC Sept. 21-22 and the Tour Championship/Rolex Championship at the CC of Pittsfield Oct. 5-6.

Local women will set their sights on their NEWGA Championship July 27-28 at Colonie G&CC, and the Schenectady Women’s Classic June 18-19 for individual medal play, and to the Gail Sykes Best Ball (Aug. 9 at Albany CC) and Capital District Women’s Open for partners competition.

AROUND THE CLUBS

Galways’s Christian Torres is the new Director of Golf Operations for the Northeastern New York PGA, replacing the popular Doug Evans, who died last fall.

Local courses have a few new professionals on staff including McGregor Links CC head pro Mike Decker, Wyantenuck CC head pro Marc Levesque, who takes over for longtime head pro Tom Sullivan, who died last season; Michael Bell of Oneonta CC and director of instruction John Neet at Normanside CC.

Former Schenectady Municipal assistant pro Chris Bentrovato is now at Pinehaven CC. Other new assistant pros include Dan Gaucher at Shaker Ridge CC, Joel Aptaker at Albany CC and Justin Kumpulanian at Taconic GC. Andrew Daily, son of Battenkill head pro Dal Daily, is now working at Albany CC.

Two local courses will be celebrating anniversaries. Frear Park in Troy opened its 90th season on Friday, while McGregor Links Country Club in Wilton will be enjoying its centennial season, with special events set all summer.

CHIP SHOTS

Kennedy Swedick, 14-year-old Albany Academy for Girls student, won the girls’ 14-18 age division in the first New York Kickoff Hurricane Junior Golf Tournament. The first Section II girls’ individual champion two years ago, Swedick earned one of two local exemptions into the Symetra Tour’s Twin Bridges Championship in July.

Brayden Dock of Queensbury, a standout on the Northeastern New York PGA Junior Tour, finished second in the boys’ age 12-13 division of the national Drive, Chip & Putt Championship this week at Augusta National Golf Club. He won the putting skills division.

Saratoga Springs graduate AJ Cavotta, a former Section II champion, won his second Northeast-10 Conference Rookie of the Week award for Southern New Hampshire’s golf team.

Former Cobleskill-Richmondville High School and SUNY Cobleskill standout Connor McCarthy is the new head golf coach at Division II Shorter University in Rome, Georgia.

The New York State Golf Association is offering free rules of golf webinars via Zoom. They are limited to the first 100 attendees who register. They are designed for recreational golfers, individuals considering becoming a rules official, new tournament volunteers and officials, PGA/LPGA professionals and high school coaches and players. The dates are this Wednesday (7-9 p.m.), April 19 (7-9 p.m.) and April 23 (noon to 2 p.m.). For more information, contact the NYSGA at 315-471-6979.

Local assistant pros kick off their season with their Associate Presidents Cup at McGregor Links CC Monday and Tuesday. Class A pros open their season April 19 with a Pro-Pro at Wiltwyck Golf Club in Kingston.

HOLE-IN-ONE

Don Klingbiel started the season off right with a hole-in-one on the sixth hole with a 6-iron at Rolling Hills at Antlers Country Club.

At Briar Creek, Howie Wyman of Rotterdam aced the 110-yard seventh hole with a 7-iron.

Chris Pollard recorded his first hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the 187-yard eighth hole at the Country Club of Troy.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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