Older golfers still seek lower scores and bragging rights. Just ask the members of the Eastern New York Golf Association.
More than 80 years ago, the ENYGA was the premier competitive outlet for the Capital Region’s top male players.
Established in 1932 by a group of local private clubs that were seeking a vehicle to determine course supremacy, standouts like Charlie Murphy, Joe Quillinan and Mike Daniels considered the ENYGA titles to be major events well into the 1970s.
But with the arrival of the Tri-County Golf Association, and later the Capital Region Amateur Golf Association, the ENYGA gradually transformed into a weekly traveling tournament for many of the area’s best senior players.
The private clubs originally paid dues to become members of the ENYGA, and association members needed club affiliation to join. Eventually, the private clubs dropped out. Now, everyone is welcome, regardless of age or handicap, although the vast majority of regulars are retired and no longer dream of belting 300-yard tee shots.
“I would say most of our players’ ages average in the 60s,” said ENYGA president Ron Farrigan, an 82-year-old left-hander who took over running the association from the late Harry and Bonnie Clark, for whom the ENYGA’s marquee championship event is named.
“I’ve been playing this game for more than 70 years myself, and I’ve been running the thing for more than 10 years or so. The guys are getting older, but they still love to compete,” Farrigan said with a chuckle. “The only problem is that the ENYGA has become a part-time job for Chuck Connolly.”
Farrigan was referring to “The King of the ENYGA,” who estimates that he’s won about 300 ENYGA titles.
“I play every day, no matter what,” said the 69-year-old Connolly, who has a handful of New York State Senior Amateur and Super Senior Amateur titles to his credit. “If you play a lot, it’s good to have some variety. People get very comfortable at their own course, but if you don’t go on the road and play other courses, you will be at a disadvantage in tournaments. You need to travel and make judgements at courses you haven’t played a lot.”
Despite more than 25 club championships at various courses throughout the area, including Queensbury Country Club, Hiland Golf Club and Kingswood Links, Connolly still enjoys teeing it up in the ENYGA.
“It’s low pressure, relatively speaking, and we’re all a bunch of old men mostly, but it’s still a medal-play tournament. You still have to hit all the shots and hole out,” Connolly said. “Basically, it gives me a chance to play at other places and to compete in medal play. We don’t have that many medal-play events out there any more.”
Connolly, who plays to a plus-2 handicap, recently collected his 12th career hole-in-one. The former Queensbury High School track and field coach won 17 ENYGA events last year and has already won eight times this year.
“I’ve been winning between 17 and 20 times for the last few seasons,” he said. “I still play in almost every ENYGA event.”
Ralph Maru has been a friendly nemesis of Connolly since joining the ENYGA. The 76-year-old former New York State Super Senior champion from Mechanicville estimates he has about 15 ENYGA titles, but he only gets about one a year since Connolly became so dominant.
“It’s still a lot of fun,” said Maru, a former Mechanicville teacher. “That’s why we play, for the competition. I still enjoy it. I can’t play in some of the other tournaments anymore, but I still love the game. Ron does a great job running things.”
Dave Hillier, a 73-year-old member of Stadium Golf Club, said he loves the competition, no matter how many times Connolly dominates the field.
“I play them all. I’ve been playing in the ENYGA since back in the 1990s,” said Hillier. “Basically, it’s a senior event now. There aren’t too many young guys playing, just a few of them.
“But one of the great things about the organization is that we play a different course every week, and that’s similar to the PGA Tour for me. I love the competition every week. I just want to beat Chuck Connolly once. I almost did a few years ago back at Orchard Creek. I came in with a 71 or a 72, and Bonnie Clark told me I probably beat Chuck. But then Chuck comes in one or two shots lower again.”
Although Hillier plays with his buddies at Stadium three or four times a week, he still looks forward to the once-a-week road trip in the ENYGA.
“I still play with my same group, which includes Joe Tinning, Bill Thiel and Sal Capitummino, now that school is out,” Hillier said. “You can’t go wrong. Even though the prices are going up a little bit, it still only costs us $42 to $45 to play, including cart. Plus, we can win back $35 or so in gift certificates.”
Farrigan is proud that the ENYGA still serves its membership and draws a big crowd every week, despite economic challenges from year to year.
“We’re averaging about 105 players this year, which was about the same as last year,” Farrigan said. “.
“We used to get 145 to 150 players, and it got kind of crazy with everybody wanting different tee times. We remedied that a few years ago. Now, everyone has the same tee times every week. They just sign up the week before to let me know who is coming. The same groups play together most of the time, but we do have some stragglers who I try to fit in from week to week. The system seems to work out well.”
The ENYGA is split into four divisions, based on handicap. Class A players carry handicaps from scratch to nine. Other divisions are Class B (10-17), Class C (18-23) and Class D (24 and over).
“We let the Class D players compete from the forward tees, as well as any of the 80-year-olds,” said Farrigan. “Everybody else plays the white tees. We stopped playing the blue tees for the Class A players because the guys are getting a lot older, so we’ve moved everyone to the white tees.”
The ENYGA keeps track of every member’s handicap index, and the top players in each division — gross and net — are eligible for gift certificates.
Farrigan said he feels fortunate to have as many quality courses to play on each week. The ENYGA offers a schedule of nearly 30 events every year, running right through September.
“Most of the courses we go to want us back every year,” Farrigan said. “They usually want us there. It’s a nice day for them, and we give them good income for that day, especially with the guys using carts.”
Jack Porter is Farrigan’s right-hand man keeping all the scores in a computer. Betty Curtis has been keeping the handicaps for all the players for the last 20 years.
“The guys seem to have a lot of fun, so I guess it’s all working out,” said Farrigan. “And believe me, they all want to see their name in the paper every week. That’s one of their motivations.”