A guy who hates being cooped up indoors, it was only a matter of time before Joe Merendo came to the game of golf.
The head pro at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course didn’t try golfing until he returned home from the Vietnam War in 1971, when a friend taught him the basics.
He was hooked right away, he said, and decided a few years later to make an occupation of it.
“I started working in the pro shop as a young man and really enjoyed it. After I graduated from Fulton-Montgomery Community College, I said, ‘Well, I don’t really like being inside, so let’s give it a go.’ ”
Merendo was an assistant pro at Muni for five years before leaving to try a private course for a few summers.
He returned to become the head pro at Muni in 1985, and has been there ever since.
There have been a few improvements over the offseason, however, including new cart paths, more drainage and several new tees.
It’s not a bad place for a golfer to spend a quarter-century. The Robert Trent Jones original design has not been altered from its 1938 layout.
The courses Jones designed were known for putting golfers to decisions, trading risk for reward if they could execute.
“The key to the golf course is playing six, seven, eight on the front nine, and 13, 14 and 15 on the back nine,” Merendo said. “Those are the six difficult holes on the golf course. That is the trick to shooting a good score. Those are his [Robert Trent Jones] corners. Those are the tougher holes.
“We’re very hilly with small greens and very challenging. Many narrow fairways. The 15th hole is our signature hole. I’m going to say it’s about 387 yards with a creek that runs across the center of the fairway that is 210 yards from the tee. So if you want to go for it, you can go for it.”
Merendo said he was hopeful the course would be open soon, but that is heavily dependent on spring snowfall numbers.
“That’s the way it goes,” Merendo said. “I’ve seen good weather years and bad weather years. This is about average.”
To secure a tee time once the course opens, golfers can call 842-6480. The clubhouse is 842-9731, and outings and shotguns can be scheduled by calling the pro shop at 842-4265.
The course also has a website, www.amsterdammuni.com.
Younger, stronger golfers with some of the top-line clubs and balls are starting to fly the hills that used to present more of a challenge. Merendo said even with newer equipment changing the game, though, intermediate players will still find the course challenging.
No doubt, some of the young newcomers to the sport Merendo hosts each summer at his clinic will still be put to the test by those hills.
Since he took the job as head pro, Merendo has hosted a three-day clinic for youth golfers, drawing about 80-100 golfers each year. The clubs, balls and teaching — from Merendo and six or seven volunteers — are all free.
It grows the sport, concentrating on local youth, which is always a good business move.
“Especially in the area we’re in,” Merendo said. “We’re in a small populated area, and you’ve got to reach out for all the business you can get to keep it going.”
Muni has about 140 junior members, Merendo said, who golf for $140 a year.
Those junior members get a $20 discount thanks to contributions from the Dick Eckert Memorial Tournament, he said, which has donated over $30,000 back to the course since its inception.
Between the tournaments (about 13 shotgun benefits), leagues (nearly one each night) and regular member usage (among about 525 members), there’s never a dull moment for Merendo, who also gives lessons.
“It’s always busy,” he said. “There’s always someone on the tee. At some private clubs, when it’s slow, it’s slow. But there is always something going on at Amsterdam Muni.
“But tee times are always available. Weekdays and weekends. And all they have to do is call that tee time phone number.”