When the grass turns green at Pine Brook Golf Club in Gloversville this spring, the lush nine-hole course will be open to the public for the first time in 76 years.
“It used to be, if you weren’t a member, you weren’t getting in,” said Don Blanchard, who operates the course. “Now you can pay $12 and play a round.”
The golf course has fallen on hard times in recent years — such hard times that Blanchard was able to lease the whole thing for just $1 last year.
Previously, the course was owned and operated by the Pine Brook Golf Club, which toward the end could not cover its expenses. Blanchard got the place because he has a landscaping company and was willing to mow.
Blanchard, who was not a golfer at time and still doesn’t play much, bought a golf membership 22 years ago for the local business connections, but by the time he took over last year, there were just 50 members.
“Imagine having a beautiful nine-hole golf course with bent grass fairways in your backyard, but only you and your friends get to use it,” he said. “That’s basically what was going on.”
There was one very good reason for the low membership and it was not a lack of local golfers. It was the membership dues: $1,200 per year per person. For a nine-hole course in Gloversville, that’s pretty pricey.
When Blanchard took over, he slashed annual dues to $475 per person, or $400 per person as part of a group membership. Membership numbers quadrupled in the space of a year. However, the club still owned the course, so its bylaws were still in place.
“These are bylaws left over from the 1940s,” he said. “They were outdated.”
As long as the bylaws were in place, people still technically had to be members to golf there. This spring though, even that will change. NBT Bank foreclosed on the property in January, saying the club owed it more than $300,000.
“As soon as they foreclosed, the bylaws went away,” Blanchard said.
This spring a golfer will be able to just walk in with a sack of clubs, pay his $12 for nine holes or $18 for 18 holes, and swing away. It’s a much more realistic business model for a smallish course in an economically depressed area.
The course is in ownership limbo, but Blanchard isn’t concerned.
“These things take years,” he said.
In the end, it could fall into the hands of the bank, the city or Nathan Littauer Hospital, which was named on the ancient deed. Scott R. Almas, the attorney handling NBT’s case, declined comment Thursday.
In the meantime Blanchard is not likely to be kicked off the property, due to the nature of golf courses.
“Once the grass grows, that’s it. It has no value as a golf course,” he said.
He keeps the place mowed, keeping its value intact, and all parties are happy.
One of those happy parties is Michael Reese, president and CEO of the Fulton County Regional Center for Economic Growth. Though opening the course to the public won’t have a direct economic impact on the area, he said it will improve the business climate in the city indirectly.
On the old membership model, the course would have closed down. Opening it to the public will keep it open.
“It’s about quality of life,” he said. “Having a golf course makes it a better place to live, which could improve business.”
As for Blanchard, he has no interest in buying the place. He’d rather see the city take it over, which isn’t likely considering the Common Council unanimously decided not to get involved in the golf course back in July. Whatever happens, he plans to keep it open as long as possible.
“There’s not many perks to living in Gloversville,” he said. “The taxes are incredibly high. At least there should be a golf course.”