Many of Long Island’s private golf clubs will look significantly different five to 10 years from now, one way or another. That was the consensus of leaders gathered Tuesday at the Long Island Golf Association’s Presidents Invitational, who agreed that clubs face the choice of changing to fit new tastes or seeing their greens plowed under and their clubhouses razed.
A future that involves indoor tees and simulators, relaxed dress codes and an array of family activities from bocce to yoga was envisioned at the Long Island Golf Association’s annual seminar and outing for club presidents and managers. Progress (or else) was the theme of the keynote speech by a national course consultant and was on the minds of Long Island golf gatekeepers who are seeking a delicate balance between tradition and innovation.
“Think like a 42-year-old entrepreneur,” Frank Vain, president of the St. Louis-based McMahon Group told the audience at Glen Head Country Club. He spoke of the challenges that have become familiar: Roughly 90 percent of any club’s new members are younger than 50, but rounds played by golfers younger than 50 have decreased by 40 percent since the 1980s.
So, clubs have to be creative and assertive. Frank Livoti, president of Garden City Country Club, said, “If you’re not investing money in your product, you’re dead.” His club spent 10 years improving the course and invested $2.5 million in capital projects over the past seven years. Last year, it began an incentive program that offered discounts to members who sponsored newcomers.
“We added 50 new members with that program,” he said, adding that there are 14 potential new young members whose applications are pending. “In many respects, we’re ahead of the curve.”
The guest speaker pointed out the importance of amenities such as good food, an expansive practice area (millennials often would rather hit balls than play 18) and a family-friendly swimming pool. On the other hand, a club such as Fresh Meadow in Lake Success is proud of what has kept it in business for nearly 100 years.
Fresh Meadow president Lee Charles said, “Unfortunately, I think there’s going to be a big shakeout in the next five to seven years. Some (clubs) will be still standing and others won’t be. When I took over as president, I told the membership the key for us is to find the right balance between holding onto the traditions that made our club great but not becoming a slave to them. You have to make adjustments.”
Thus, there are kick boxing and yoga classes shortly after dawn at Gene Sarazen’s former workplace.
Not every club needs such additions. At Long Island’s most elite courses, especially those on the East End, initiation fees are high (one club took in more than $2 million in those fees last year, according to Dan Condon of the Condon, O’Meara, McGinty and Donnelly accounting firm) and waiting lists are long. But the majority of private clubs have to hustle.
Long Island National in Riverhead took a huge leap of faith when Donald Zucker bought it in 2013 and converted it from public to private six months later. It had only 39 members the first year but has grown to 169. General manager Frank Argento Jr. said the club allows no outside outings, leaving the newly renovated course pristine and always available for the dues-payers.
“You’ve got to stay ahead of the curve,” said Argento, a second-generation manager. “It’s figuring out what people want, figuring out how the game is changing.”
Clubs that do not change with it might go the way of the wooden-shafted brassie. “There are so many competing forces,” Charles said. “Parents are much more active in their children’s lives, which is good. My wife’s father used to get up in the morning on Saturday, go to the club and meet his friends at 7:30, come home at 4 o’clock and fall asleep on the couch. Those days are over.”
The Mather Hospital Golf Classic will be June 5 at Port Jefferson Country Club. Email email@example.com . . . The Southampton Chamber of Commerce outing, to benefit the Southampton Hospital Phillips Family Cancer Treatment Center, will be June 12 at The Bridge in Bridgehampton. Visit southamptonhospital.org.
Rocco Daloia, Bellport CC, fourth hole, 161 yards, 7-iron
Joseph Gil Jr., Bethpage Black, eighth hole, 194 yards, 6-iron
Jim Tsunis, Port Jefferson CC, 16th hole, 148 yards, 7-iron
John Allen, Timber Point Red, second hole, 165 yards, 7-iron
Mike Razza, Donald E. Conroy GC, fourth hole, 100 yards, 6-iron
Robert Abarmo, Eisenhower White, 17th hole, 185 yards, 5-wood
Gerry Martin, Mill Pond GC, 15th hole, 120 yards, 8-iron
Sean Monahan, Mill Pond GC, 16th hole, 183 yards, 4-iron
Dan Saccoccio, Mill Pond GC, sixth hole, 152 yards, 9-iron