For the people in charge of Long Island golf clubs, approaching the future is like shooting at the green on a tight dogleg par 4: There are many angles you can try and they are difficult, but if you just perform yours the right way, you will be fine.
That was the optimistic feeling at the Long Island Golf Association’s Presidents’ Invitational Monday at Garden City Country Club. Presidents and other representatives of disparate courses on the Island know that it can seem like they are hitting into the wind, what with rising costs, stagnant interest among young people and the fact that clubs such as the venerable Island Hills in Sayville have closed. Still, the conference room was filled with upbeat golf disciples.
“We at St. George focus on what we do best, which is having a classic golf course,” said John Ammerman, past president of the 99-year-old St. George’s Golf & Country Club in East Setauket. “You can have fitness centers and pools and tennis courts, and those are fine for some courses. But we are a golf club. Every course, every institution has to define itself: What is their vision?”
The vision was realistic at the summit Monday. Discussions touched on issues such as possible effects of new federal overtime pay regulations (assistant pros often work 70 hours a week). There was no public talk about the recent demise of Island Hills, an A.W. Tillinghast classic that opened in 1927, but everyone was aware of it. “It makes one very nervous because the world is changing,” Ammerman said in an interview afterward.
Huntington Country Club president Tim Finnegan said his board once invited an accounting firm to a meeting and asked about the common denominator among clubs that have gone belly up. “Largely it’s debt. They . . . got themselves in trouble,” he said.
Nonetheless, the meeting Monday was mostly about achievements and possibilities. The session included the presentation of the LIGA’s Distinguished Service Award to Long Islander Charlie Robson, retiring this month after 43 years as executive director of the Metropolitan PGA.
Finnegan rejected a sobering view from guest speaker John Steinbreder of Global Golf Post, who mentioned that, through dues and other fees, private-club members are effectively paying Pebble Beach-like prices (roughly $500) for every round.
“Everyone joins a private club for a lot of different reasons, but most of all, you’re joining it for the total experience. It’s having a good golf course, it’s having a great staff, it’s having a dining facility that’s comfortable and where the quality is as good as restaurants in your local town if not better. It’s having practice facilities,” the Huntington president said, adding that his club appeals to the varied interests of families. “That’s our secret of success.”
The Club at Middle Bay has taken an entirely different route, having switched from being a private club to a public course. “We think there is a niche there that needs to be filled on the South Shore,” said Sal Cappuzzo, a member of the ownership group. “Look, there are lots of private clubs that are losing all sorts of membership. We think we fill a need for that guy who doesn’t want to spend those disposable-income dollars. To play three or four times a week at our place is much more affordable.”
Ammerman said that, no matter what the venue or philosophy, “It’s just a beautiful game that brings people together.”
“I wish it were more affordable,” he said. “It’s a difficult world. But I think we’ll be fine on Long Island.”
Soldier On at Home, which supports returning veterans, will hold its first outing June 15 at Baiting Hollow Club. Call 631-523-1551 . . . Southampton Lions Club will hold the Emil Norsic Memorial Girl of the Year Scholarship Tournament June 15 at Noyac Golf Club. Call 631-283-0929 . . . The Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League will hold its outing June 20 at Noyac Golf Club. Visit HamptonsBaseball.org.
Bob Catell, Meadow Brook Club, 16th hole, 170 yards, 9-wood
Donald Wolfson, Woodside Club, third hole, 176 yards, 6-iron
Nancy Kurzweil, Harbor Links GC Executive Course, sixth hole, 115 yards, 9-iron
John Campbell, Brookville CC, seventh hole, 165 yards, 7-iron
Jim Christopher, Pine Ridge GC, 10th hole, 147 yards, 7-iron
Johnny Bucalo, Pine Ridge GC, 15th hole, 122 yards, 7-iron
Bernie Kideckel, Pine Ridge GC, 15th hole, 111 yards, 9-iron
Mark Saidans, Pine Ridge GC, 10th hole, 142 yards, 6-iron
Stephen Basso, Woods at Cherry Creek, sixth hole, 163 yards, 6-iron
Fred Bertrand, Woods at Cherry Creek, eighth hole, 144 yards, 5-hybrid
Jerry Zicchinelli, Heatherwood GC, third hole, 180 yards, 3-wood