SCHENECTADY – Despite infrastructure challenges at the Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, revenues are up 13% compared to last year, and tournament play is back, Matthew Daley, the facility’s head golf professional, told the City Council’s Recreation Committee this week.
But to maximize the 86-year-old, 18-hole venue, its irrigation system and pump station need to be replaced, and it could use a continuous cart path, officials said Monday.
The increased interest in play during the pandemic mimics nationwide popularity in the sport, which is due in part to the sport’s inherent social distancing, Daley said.
Daley didn’t return a phone call Tuesday concerning the dollar amount of the increased revenue.
But during Monday’s meeting, Daley said it was welcome news for the facility, which had to close for more than a month last year during the onset of the pandemic.
Its manual irrigation system is 40 to 45 years old, while the average lifespan for an irrigation system is roughly 20 to 25 years old, said Mike Scesny, acting superintendent.
The antiquated sprinkler system was manufactured and implemented in the 1930s but phased out of most courses in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Scesny, president of Northeast Turf, the company that holds the golf course’s maintenance contract.
Schenectady’s course is the only one Scesny said he knew of in the area that doesn’t use a more efficient automatic irrigation system.
The estimate for a new irrigation system stands at $2.5 million to $3 million, and it’s only growing more costly the longer the city waits, Scesny said.
An estimate the city received 10 years ago from a Boston designer was $1.5 million, he said.
The city’s present system has to be turned on manually by workers.
But officials want to move to an automatic solenoid valve system that’s activated by a low voltage current at a central computer, Scesny said.
The labor-intensive manual system involves plugging fairway couplers into valves on the grounds. There are 138 valves, but only seven can operate at a time, Scesny said.
Meanwhile, the facility’s 400-gallon-per-minute pump station also needs to be replaced, as the city is eyeing a new pump station that would increase capacity to 1,000 to 1,200 gallons per minute, the superintendent said.
The replacement, Scesny said, would reduce the time it takes to water the entire golf course from 18 hours to six to eight hours.
Daley, the golf pro, spoke of how golf carts aren’t allowed onto the course after heavy rains.
It’s because the carts are too damaging to the facility when it’s saturated with rainwater, Daley said.
As a result, the facility can only accommodate walk-in customers at that time, which undercuts revenue and take-home from green fees, Daley said, adding course leadership is looking forward to routine and preventative maintenance of the cart path, which spans about nine holes.
Saratoga National Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, by contrast, has a continuous cart path, enabling the use of carts after heavy rains, Daley said.
The infrastructure concerns persist as the state of the golf industry stands in good health, Daley said.
Citing data from the National Golf Foundation, Daley said the sport’s reach – people who played, watched or read about the sport – in 2020 was 101 million Americans, or one in three people ages 6 and older.
Daley said overall play in the U.S. increased to 24.8 million golfers, an increase of 500,000 or 2 percent from 2019, the largest net increase in 17 years.
“It’s incredible what the pandemic has done for the golf industry because there was a long period of time that numbers were down nationally,” Daley said.
Daley said he and Mayor Gary McCarthy have referred to the popularity as “the Tiger Woods effect,” where golf boomed after Woods came onto the scene, followed by a lull. The boom has returned, Daley said.
Given its social-distancing aspects, “we were able to create a nice safe haven for golfers when they came to our facility, and it showed by the numbers,” Daley said.
However, course officials put a face mask rule into effect last week.
Daley said it’s been somewhat well received.
“There’s going to be the usual complaints of players… but for the most part everyone has been in compliance and things are working well on that end,” he said.