Charles Jurgens converted his family from cabbage farmers to golf course entrepreneurs in a snap, and in a storm. On a lunch break in the early 1960s, he drove his pickup past a course in Commack. “I figured, that’s got to be a better business than what I’m doing,” he said. “They’re paying to play in the rain.”
The golf business has itself become stormy over the years, but Jurgens is still in it as a principal owner of Spring Lake Golf Club in Middle Island, a family operation into its third generation. The public course is celebrating its 50th anniversary, a considerable feat in an era that has seen other layouts close after having barely made it to 10 years.
“I’m kind of proud of the place,” Jurgens said in the clubhouse yesterday, a half-century after he and his brothers Fred and Herman as well as designer/partner Charles K. Martin opened the gates. “I think it’s a damned good public course. It could be a private course, probably. But I don’t know, I’m a worker, not a thinker.”
His life’s work involved putting in the original irrigation system and outlining the fairways, pacing off yardages from Martin’s intricate pencil drawings (which still exist and were out on a clubhouse table yesterday). His nephew Rick started working at Spring Lake as a teenager and is now the manager. Rick’s son Tyler is a key member of superintendent Don Amsler’s greens staff and is married to the head pro, the former Cristy Grzymala. Their two children, five and one, are well known to the golfers who keep showing up.
“Being a family business, it becomes personal,” Cristy said. “They look forward to hearing about our lives and what’s going on.”
The Jurgenses have built and/or owned other courses, including Indian Hills, Heatherwood, Swan Lake and Cherry Creek. But Spring Lake — with its 18- and nine-hole courses — is the flagship, still doing 50,000 rounds a year despite a national decrease in golf participation.
Rick could not wait to get his driver’s license in 1969 so he could work full-time in the summer, leaving from his home in Northport at 3:30 a.m. He convinced Amsler to come along. “We’re like brothers,” he said, extending the kinship theme.
He remembers traipsing around the property to manually turn sprinklers on and off. “I think it was a 22-mile trip we would do in the Toyota, back and forth — in the dark,” Rick said. “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in the condition of the golf course and trying to make it the best it could be. In the last 10 or 15 years, the business has gotten very competitive, so we have tried really hard to reach out to golfers and make it a pleasant experience to play at Spring Lake.”
In the past five years, they have addressed what they saw as the big flaw: the speed of the greens. They invested in a sophisticated drainage system. “The course is in the best shape it has ever been in,” Rick said. “The greens are a lot quicker than they’ve been, a lot smoother than they’ve been in the past.”
No gala party is scheduled to mark 50 years. They figure that being open for business is celebration enough. Plus, every day is a family reunion. “All three generations have worked hard at making a good product, a consistent product,” Rick said. “We all could have probably gone off and done bigger, grander things. But this is where we are.”
He and his uncle confessed that they aren’t all that great as golfers. “Mediocre,” Charles said. “I’m more of a worker.”
Long Island Cares will hold its outing Sept. 25 at The Bridge in Bridgehampton. Visit licares.org/thebridge . . . The Kiwanis Club of Southampton and the Southampton Fresh Air Home will hold an outing Oct. 17 at Sebonack Golf Club, Southampton. Visit sfah.org.
Lisa Funk, Woodside Club, third hole, 109 yards, 5-wood
David Zitner, Cold Spring CC, third hole, 127 yards, 9-iron
Donna Winters, Willow Creek G&CC, 14th hole, 108 yards, 4-hybrid
Michael Sadis, Willow Creek G&CC, 16th hole, 105 yards, sand wedge
Ed Kole, Swan Lake GC, 16th hole, 106 yards, pitching wedge
Adin Kahn, Colonial Springs GC Valley, eighth hole, 142 yards, pitching wedge
Robert Schrafel, Wheatley Hills GC, 10th hole, 180 yards, 2-hybrid
Mitch Cohen, Hamlet G&CC, fourth hole, 156 yards, 8-iron
Gary Rosenberg, Crab Meadow GC, third hole, 154 yards, 6-iron
Stuart Goldstein, Muttontown Club, seventh hole, 142 yards, 8-iron
Mary Giunta, Sumpwams Creek GC, first hole, 103 yards, 5-iron
Ralph Bracchi (of Port Washington), Villa Roma, Callicoon, N.Y., 13th hole, 138 yards, 7-iron