First-year Pioneer Hills Golf Club head pro Keith Sprenger says his favorite clubs to hit are his irons, and as it turns out, those are the most important tools in the bag for anyone who plays this tricky 5,135-yard layout from the white tees and nearly 5,400 test from the blue tees.
Located at 3230 Ballston-Galway Road in Ballston Spa, Pioneer Hills is the kind of course that rewards accuracy over power. And that’s just fine with the course’s new veteran head pro.
“Pioneer Hills is a great little spot. If people haven’t been here before, it’s a beautiful location,” Sprenger said. “It’s a shorter course, but we still have four par-5s. All of them are fairly reachable, except for the 17th hole, which is a very sharp dogleg left. There are some very tall trees on the left, and you can’t go over them. Plus, there is an elevated green. I think the 17th is a very good hole. It’s fairly narrow off the tee, and the best way to play it is to lay up on your second shot to set up a short third shot into the green. It’s holes like this that make the course so challenging.”
Sprenger said that Pioneer Hills is known for its smaller greens that don’t have a lot of depth.
“There are a lot of risk/reward kind of holes here. If you go with a driver, you can get close to the greens, but you can also play a different game by hitting irons off the tee and leaving yourself a short iron or wedge to the green,” Sprenger said.
“It all depends on how you want to play. Distance control is the key on a lot of the holes, which are fairly tight and narrow. It’s a fun course, but very challenging in that aspect.”
Sprenger is trying to build a membership at the small club, which currently has less than 100 members. “We’d love to get about 125 members,” he said. “Our memberships are very reasonably priced, even with a cart.”
Unlimited memberships at the club are just $700, or you can purchase a $500 weekday membership that’s valid Monday through Friday. A senior unlimited membership (over 55) is $600, while an unlimited membership for a member of the military is $500. There are also junior and family memberships. For any golfers that want the use of a cart included, they just add $500 to the cost.
Sprenger recently started up a Monday Night Ladies league, and he’s trying to get a couples league going, as well. The club recently brought back its popular ABCD Friday night scramble.
For the 53-year-old Sprenger, Pioneer Hills is just the kind of course he has become accustomed to since moving east and joining the Northeastern New York PGA. He grew up in Denver and eventually got into the golf business in Phoenix, Ariz., later in life than most pros when he joined the PGA as an apprentice at age 32.
Sprenger spent four years as an assistant pro at Shaker Ridge Country Club before moving up to become head pro at Catskill Golf Club for the last 11 years.
“One of my favorite things to do is running tournaments. I like dealing with tournament coordinators and making sure everything runs smoothly,” he said. “I enjoy giving good service and making everyone’s day a fun experience.”
Sprenger also likes giving lessons, although the lack of a driving range at Pioneer Hills makes that a little more challenging.
“Unfortunately, the last two courses I’ve worked at haven’t included a driving range, but at Catskill, you could hit balls between holes, and the superintendent there even cut out a little tee for me to use.
“Here at Pioneer Hills, I usually try to pick the right time of day and go out to a spot on the course to give a lesson,” he said. “There are always ways around it.”
Not having a driving range also hinders Sprenger’s own game.
“You have to hit some balls yourself to keep sharp, and it’s a hard thing to do,” he said. “But in some ways, if you don’t think about it, you can play better. There was a time when I was trying to change my game, but now I just try to go back to my old style and not worry about how I look. When you play with all the young guys who can really hit the ball a long way, it can mess you up sometimes. But for me, it’s all about timing and hitting the ball squarely. I hit my irons the best, and I can be fairly straight off the tee as long as I don’t try to overswing and keep up with the big hitters.”
Sprenger, who represented the victorious NENYPGA team in this year’s Gazette Cup competition against the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association early this spring at Mohawk Golf Club, won the Pro-Lady tournament last year at Wolferts Roost Country Club and was also third at the two-day Cobleskill Classic.
He’s qualified for three New York State Opens and also qualified for a Senior PGA Championship in Palm Springs.
“If I get to play for a certain stretch and get in a couple of days here and there, then I can get into a rhythm,” he said. “I love the competition. Maybe I’m not quite as serious as I used to be, but I still take the game seriously. For me, it’s nice to get out and play this game, especially with my peers.”
Bethlehem Central product Victor Fox (Normanside Country Club), who will be a freshman at Maryland this fall, is the current leader in the Capital Region Am-ateur Golf Association point list with 170 in just two events. He picked up 50 points for winning the Albany County Amateur Golf Championship and garnered another 120 points for qualifying for the U.S. Open sectionals.
Tri-County Match Play champion Matt Canavan of Saratoga National is next with 150.16 points, followed by Stadium Classic co-champion Jim Welch of Olde Kinderhook (102.16), Mike Wheeler of Shaker Ridge Country Club (84), Steve Quillinan Jr. of the Country Club of Troy (60.88), Jim Gifford of Mohawk Golf Club (54), Justin Deitz of The Edison Club (50.33), Gazette County Amateur winner Paul Pratico (50), Robby Bigley Jr. of Pinehaven Country Club (47.33) and Matt Parrottino of Albany Country Club (44.38).
Rounding out the top 20 are
Gazette County Amateur runner-up Todd Czepiel of Shaker Ridge CC (41), Brandon Haase of Mohawk Golf Club (36.50), Kevin Cassidy of Albany National (35.17), Chad Stoffer of Town of Colonie (35), Pete Lindner of Orchard Creek (34.33), Nick Braman of Town of Colonie (28.75), Lance Hope of Schenectady Municipal (27), Stadium Classic co-champion Dave Pallas of Saratoga Spa State Park (26.50), Justin McCarthy of Wolferts Roost CC (25.17) and Ben Bates of Mohawk Golf Club (22.50).
u The annual Bob Haggerty Jr. Better Ball Championship will be held Saturday and Sunday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. Named after the late longtime Muny head pro, this popular event will have a $160 entry fee that includes golf, cart, lunch each day and prizes. Players begin with a 9 a.m. shotgun both days. The gross-only competition will be flighted after the first round. There will be an open division and a senior division for players 55 and over.
u Van Patten Golf Club (Friday) and The Edison Club (Saturday) will host the two-day Saratoga County Amateur Golf Championship.
u Local club pros will team up with area amateurs at the Ellis Pro-Am Monday at Mohawk Golf Club.
u The Troy Invitational concludes its three-day event today at the Country Club of Troy.
u Schenectady Municipal Golf Course will host the Rotterdam Elks #2157 Junior Golf Qualifier July 23. Entry fee is $20 and includes lunch. Age divisions for boys and girls will be 12-14, 15-16 and 17-18. Two players from each group will advance to the 58th annual State Elks Junior Golf Championship at Yahnundasis Golf Club in Utica Aug. 11-12. The tournament is limited to 48 players. Call Paul Ungerland (384-0221) or Muny head pro Matt Daley (382-5155) for more information. Entry deadline is Aug. 1.
u The Schenectady Hook a Kid on Golf Charity Classic will be held July 17 at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. Funding will help support the local Hook a Kid on Golf program. Entry fee for the four-person scramble is $500 per team or $95 per individual. Call the Muny pro shop for more information.
u The Junior Achievement Adirondack golf tournament is scheduled for July 30 at Airway Meadows Golf Club. The four-person scramble will have an $80 entry fee that includes golf, cart, beer, soda, lunch at the turn and a cookout following play. Call Susan Klippel at 222-0567 for more information.
u Former New York Yankees first baseman Chris Chambliss will be the special guest for the 29th annual Center for Disability Services Golf Classic July 15 at Albany Country Club. Entry fee is $350 per player and includes golf, cart, lunch and awards dinner with Chambliss. The format will be a pro-am with local club pros from the Northeastern New York PGA. Call Karen Coleman at 944-2107 for more information.
u LPGA Teaching Division Hall of Famer Kay McMahon has announced some additions to her new 8.5 golf schools, both at her home base at the Cranwell Resort in Lenox, Mass., and locally. McMahon will host new short and long game workshops, a junior camp, two- or three-day golf schools and a day or half-day workshop. McMahon will also be offering one-to-one video lessons today at Mill Road Acres. Call McMahon at 669-1551 for more information.
Former area standout Dan Bogdan collected his sixth career hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the 145-yard fourth hole at Cedar River Golf Club in Indian Lake. Bogdan shot a five-under-par 31 on the nine-hole layout.
Yong Lake aced the 18th hole at Brookhaven Golf Club.
David Funaro used an 8-iron to hole out on the 144-yard 17th hole at Saratoga Lake Golf Club.
Also at Saratoga Lake Golf Club, Mike Martini found the cup with an 8-iron from 130 yards on the third hole.
Mike Borlawsky used a 5-wood for his hole-in-one on the 165-yard eighth hole at Stadium Golf Club.
At Van Schaick Island Country Club, Joe Muscatello hit a 7-iron to ace the 150-yard ninth hole.
Jeff Barringer had a hole in one with a 7-iron on the sixth hole at Schen-ectady Municipal Golf Course. It was his second career ace.
Also at Schenectady Municipal, Bill Taylor holed out with a 7-iron on the 17th hole while competing in the GE Lab league. It’s his second ace this year in the league, both on the 17th hole.
Frank Manell posted an eagle-2 on the par-4 10th hole at Eagle Crest Golf Club.
Cy Bintz eagled the third hole, and Joe Taylor eagled the fifth hole at Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course.
Mike Bucciferro chipped in for eagle on the 15th hole at Briar Creek.
Syl Brackett holed out with a 9-iron from 112 yars on the 338-yard par-4 12th hole at Airway Meadows Golf Club.