For more than 10 years, playing golf has appealed to Ted Fass on a number of levels. The most basic, as he has always said, is this: "Every day is a challenge. I like challenges."
Now he has a new one, as does everyone else who was involved with Middle Bay Country Club.
Fass, an entertainment business entrepreneur from Rockville Centre, organizes and plays in golf tournaments for the blind. He hosted the U.S. Blind Golfers Association national championship last summer at Middle Bay, where he was a member. "Was" is the pertinent term because the club in Oceanside filed for bankruptcy in January because it could not overcome the financial ravages of Superstorm Sandy.
So he is starting from square one at Woodmere Country Club, where he must find his way around a new locker room, pro shop and course. More important, he needs to find a new "coach," someone at the club to accompany him on his rounds and align him for every shot. "I pay these people. It's not like I ask them to donate their services," he said.
Still, he is not giving up.
Nor, it turns out, has Middle Bay itself. Ron Wright, the assistant pro at Middle Bay who taught Fass and was his coach at the national tournament in San Antonio a few years ago, is heading a group that hopes to put the club back in business.
"We are in serious negotiations," Wright said yesterday, adding that a court date this week was postponed. "I'm optimistic, but with something of this magnitude, there are so many variables."
Wright lives a mile from the course and has worked there for 12 years. "If there's anybody who wants to see Middle Bay survive, it's me," he said, adding that in one meeting with the club's landlord, he apologized for his appearance because he lost much of his wardrobe to water damage from Sandy.
He put together a group of acquaintances who are in the construction business-one of whom lives just off the 16th hole-and other equity partners. They and another group were unsuccessful in an auction last month, but have kept working on a deal. Unlike many other private clubs, Middle Bay never was owned by the members. The 143 acres are owned by Lloyd Shulman, whom the Oceanside Herald reports is an heir to J.H. Mays department store ownership. Shulman leases the land to the club.
Despite the fact that about two-thirds of the estimated $3.5 million of storm damage was covered by insurance, there was a severe shortfall because many members simply decided not to renew this year because their own homes were devastated.
Fass, who lost his vision to a tumor as a child, feels for the 50 or so employees who lost their jobs. Head pro John Gatta took a similar post at Woodmere, course superintendent Mike Benz was hired at the Village Club of Sands Point. Fass' former coach, Dave Santucci, is an assistant pro at Cherry Valley.
So he is looking for someone to help in his transition to Woodmere. "I'm not really concerned with the golf component. I'm more concerned with how this gentleman will learn how to be with a blind person. Some people might be embarrassed," Fass said.
But he never considered not playing. "No way," he said. "This is my life."