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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Brutal winter forces course adjustments

Two women walk along Greenport Avenue in Medford.

Two women walk along Greenport Avenue in Medford. (Feb. 9, 2013) Credit: James Carbone

The brutal winter that tested everyone's patience is still not finished with Long Island golfers. They have withstood delayed course openings, tournament postponements and temporary greens. Some courses will not be back to normal until summer.

Ice, snow and cold hit some venues harder than others, without leaving much of a clear pattern. The U.S. Golf Association's agronomy department issued a webcast saying the conditions are a problem throughout the Northeast. On Long Island, the one thing that stood out was that courses with bent grass endured much better than those with poa annua. Unfortunately for Long Island, the majority of courses have the latter for various reasons, including the fact that bent does not stand up to public course traffic.

Bottom line: Golfers likely will have to stay patient.

"Green speeds are probably going to be slower in some places," said Garret Bodington, superintendent at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, where the bent grass fared well. But he has been in touch with many of his peers, and added: "Once it gets to 70 or 80 degrees, the golfers' expectations are high. But they have to understand we're dealing with a plant. When we're sick, we can just talk to the doctor and tell him what's wrong. The grass can't tell us what's wrong with it."

Although it is no one's fault, winter damage is a sore subject at many clubs and associations. Numerous officials and superintendents didn't return calls or emails. One greenskeeper, whose management would not allow his name to be used, said, "When Mother Nature wants to beat you, there's really not much you can do."

Golfers are invited to share their stories by sending them to the email address listed with this column.

Changes at Middle Bay

People running The Golf Club at Middle Bay know the benefits of going in a different direction. First the club went from private to semiprivate (the course in Oceanside is open to the public on weekdays, and when there are not preferred tee times on weekends). Now it has new, improved routing.

"We didn't change the design," head pro Ronnie Wright said. What they did was turn the back nine into the front nine and re-order the other holes so that the old No. 6, a par-5, is now No. 18. "It's a much better finishing hole. You can make or break a match there," he said.

Benefits for the changes don't stop there. Now the first few holes are not near homes, so staffers are not prevented by noise ordinances from mowing early. So the course can open earlier. Plus, the pace of play is much better now.

"Truth be told, we've had nothing but raves of positive feedback," Wright said.

19th hole

Mark Thompson, a Garden City Golf club member and former University of Alabama-Birmingham golfer, won the Long Island Golf Association's season-opening Richardson Invitational. He went 22 holes to beat Darin Goldstein in a semifinal and recovered from being 3-down to Michael Blum in the final to win on the 19th hole . . . Big week for Glen Oaks Club: Assistant pro Scott Ford, grandson of 1957 Masters champion Doug Ford, won the L.I. PGA Championship, then Glen Oaks was named Club of the Year by Metropolitan Golf Writers . . . It should be an interesting start to the Long Island qualifier for the U.S. Open on Thursday at Bethpage Red. The first group, at 7 a.m., includes Garden City Golf Club pro Bob Rittberger, a former Met Open champion and alternate at the 2007 U.S. Open; Jim Liu of Smithtown, who once broke Tiger Woods' record as the youngest U.S. Junior Amateur champion and Chris Cascio, local pro and Bay Shore High golf coach who had a double eagle at Cherry Creek last year.

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