The fairways at Mohawk River Country Club looked like it was early spring on Wednesday afternoon, rather than late February.
With sunny skies and highs forecast near 50 degrees, golfers loaded up their clubs and hit the course. This is the first year that Tom Catchpole of Knox has golfed in February.
“Once I played the first week of January,” he said as he prepared his clubs in the parking lot.
Catchpole joined about 100 other people Wednesday at the course, which is open year-round, weather permitting.
As long as there’s no snow, golfers are allowed on the greens on Riverview Road once the frost burns off in the morning, said manager Debbie Scensny.
The Mohawk River Country Club golf course, which is open to the public, has been busier than usual all winter because of the warmer weather and lack of snow, said owner Rafael Flores.
“Last year, we had the snow from November ’til March,” Flores said.
This week has been especially busy. Golfers are itching to get outside, based on at least one of the calls Scensny got.
“The guy goes, ‘Are you open? You better not be messing with my heart,’ ” she said.
Mohawk River is open from 9 a.m. until dark.
Most golf courses are still closed, though, waiting for the last of the frozen ground to thaw.
Though Scensny said golfers won’t damage the greens by walking on them, as long as the morning frost is gone, other golf course professionals say opening early means more work later in the season. There’s a potential for damage when the ground’s surface has thawed but there’s still some freezing underneath, said Greg Hennel, co-owner of Stadium Golf Club in Schenectady.
“I was just out checking the amount of frost on the ground,” Hennel said Wednesday afternoon, adding it was between 3 and 8 inches deep.
When there’s still frost, footprints tamp down the earth in spots that will cause the ground to be bumpy later. Then workers must spend the rest of the season trying to level those uneven spots, Hennel said.
“We work very hard to try to keep excellent conditions throughout the season,” he said. “We would rather maintain good conditions for the nice weather of the year.”
Van Patten Golf Club in Clifton Park hasn’t opened yet, but hopes to do so soon.
“Right now, there’s some frost still on the ground,” said golf professional Bob Kennedy.
A late February opening could put Van Patten at least two or three weeks ahead of schedule; it usually opens around St. Patrick’s Day but last year didn’t start until April 7 because of an unusually rainy spring.
“This year would be a record-breaker for us if we get open a little early,” Kennedy said.
A nice spring would boost the bottom line for golf courses, many of which struggled through the rainy spring and summer in 2011. Flores said his course’s business was down 20 percent last year.
“Last year was a pretty bad year for everybody,” Flores said. “Hopefully this year we can make it back.”
The lack of ice right now on courses in southern Saratoga County and Schenectady County means a faster frost thaw, he said.
Kennedy said Wednesday around midday he’d already gotten a dozen calls asking when the course will be open.
“You go outside and it’s 50 degrees and the sun’s shining.”
Staffing is challenging in the early spring, but Kennedy said he’d deal with being short-staffed for the first month or so. Most of his workers are retirees or college or high school students. College students generally can start in late April or early May, after their school year ends.