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Tallgrass succeeds where Links at Shirley didn't

Toward the south end of William Floyd Parkway there is The Links at Shirley, where the weekend storm felled a huge evergreen between the first and second holes. You can see it through the gate, which has a sign that is not likely to come down the way the tree did. It reads, "Closed for the Season."

The Links apparently is closed for good.

Near the north end of the same parkway is Tallgrass Golf Course in Shoreham. There, the outlook is as sunny as yesterday's weather. The club has a multi-year deal with an experienced golf management company, has a new Web site ( and has just been named one of the best public-access courses in New York State by a national magazine.

This is the rub of the green in the current golf economy. Some public and private courses will be up and others will be out. People always did say golf is a fickle game.

"The economy is tough but what we're seeing is that golf is relatively flat. There is a migration to more affordable golf," said Matt Galvin, executive vice president of RDC Golf Group of Monroe Township, N.J., which owns and/or operates a handful of courses in the northeast and Florida. "I think we're going to benefit from that. We can offer the opportunity for 'a country club for a day' experience."

Tallgrass, which opened in 2000, is ranked eighth in New York by Golfweek in its 2010 list of Courses You Can Play. The only Long Island course that rated higher was Bethpage Black, at No. 1 (Bethpage Red is ninth, Montauk Downs is 14th). "I've never seen anybody come off this golf course and say 'I didn't like the course,' " said Phil Tita, in his second year as head pro. "It's a terrific track."

Galvin said the links-style course is back in the hands of its original owner, the DiLalio family, which hired the management group that also runs Forsgate Country Club in New Jersey, Putnam (County) National and other clubs. He added that money will be pumped into it to make it more attractive to golfers, including those who are deciding to leave expensive private clubs.

The Links at Shirley, which also opened in 2000, had sought the same audience. It was promoted as a public course with private club amenities. The layout and condition drew much praise and earned Shirley the right to host the 2009 Long Island Public Links Championship.

But the expected local golf boom never did materialize, and public-course golfers shied away from Shirley's high green fees. Mel Mindich, the owner, could not be reached this week, but recently said, "We're probably not going to reopen." He said he had invested his money, energy and devotion in the Links, but lost millions. A developer is in the process of buying it, he said, and even though the developer has golf properties on Long Island, it has no desire to maintain a course in Shirley.

Tallgrass' new managers are aware of the challenges, but they still are upbeat. "A public course might have only 6,000 to 7,000 unique customers per year," Galvin said. "You need to make it so they want to come back."

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