Family owned and operated, Stadium Golf Course is usually the first local facility to open and the last one to close.
Keeping their large greens in top condition all-season long on this user-friendly, sand-based layout is one of the priorities for the Hennel family, which purchased the course — much of which was part a former baseball stadium, like its name indicates — in 1966.
“This course has been in my family for as long as I’ve been alive,” said 48-year-old co-owner Greg Hennel, who, along with brother Gary, handles most of the superintendent duties. “Gary and I do most of the outside work, and we kind of manage things,” Hennel said. “John [head pro John Souza] and Lisa handle the golf course inside, in terms of the pro shop, and Michele [Hennel] runs the restaurant and handles the banquets.”
Hennel said much of the appeal of his 5,959-yard, par-71 course is its playability for the average competitor.
“It’s not a particularly hard course. We really have no bunkers, and there is very little water on the course. I would say it’s user-friendly, with easy-to-hit greens,” he added.
Players will find that, indeed, the greens are easier to hit than many other courses in the area, because not only are they large, but there isn’t much defense on the front portion of them. You can run the ball up any way you wish, or you can hunt for the pin. Most of the holes aren’t that long, although the two closing holes on each nine — both par-5s — aren’t that easy to reach in two, except for the longest players.
The only other par-5 at Stadium is a dogleg-left, and players can shorten this hole quite a bit by hitting their tee shots over some trees that guard the left side of the fairway. If right-handers slice their driver, however, the ball could end up in a water hazard, the same one that only slightly comes into play on the previous par-3 hole.
There are some trees lining several of the fairways, but it’s fairly easy to hit most of the fairways in regulation, and most players will find that they can play the same ball for the entire round unless they really go off-line with their tee shots near the driving range or in the water hazard.
Last season was a tough one for many area courses, but especially for Stadium.
“We’re keeping our heads above water, but it’s not easy,” Hennel said. “We do about 35,000 rounds a year now, but we used to do between 38,000 and 40,000. We’re usually pretty busy, but we had a tough year because we lost some greens. We had four temporary greens last year, and that’s the first time something like that happened to us.”
Hennel said he and the Stadium staff take great pride in the course conditions throughout the long season.
“We spend a lot of money on fertilizer and pesticides. We try to stay on top of everything so we don’t have any problems,” he said. “If we’re open, we won’t have sloppy conditions. We don’t want to take a chance on having any damage to our course. Sure, we like to open early, but we try to wait and not hurt anything. It’s a delicate balance.”
Stadium also features a very busy driving range and a beautiful clubhouse that includes a well-stocked pro shop and an excellent restaurant with a patio.
Stadium also hosts banquets and weddings, although Hennel noted that the recent shift in the economy has slowed the out-of-season business in the clubhouse.
Stadium was originally the home of the Schenectady Blue Jays, and part of the original stadium’s old third-base section remained until 2004, when landscaping for the new banquet facility and clubhouse in 2004 finally destroyed it.
The Schenectady Blue Jays folded in 1957, and the owner of the team, Pete McNearney, built and owned a nine-hole golf course that he operated until 1965, when the Hennels purchased it. There was also a pitch-and-putt course, which the Hennels eventually converted into the present driving range.
The family opened a second nine in 1987. There are only two holes left from the original course that McNearney built, and both have them have been altered.
Always striving to improve the facility, the Hennels installed an irrigation system in 1993, and completely sodded the driving range. They automated their irrigation system over the complete course and added a 7,200-square foot facility to house their club cars in 1995.
They since added a large maintenance building. In 1997, Stadium was one of the first public layouts to prohibit the use of metal spikes on golf shoes.
“People can usually get around our course pretty quickly, and we’re often open when some other courses aren’t,” said Hennel.