October 23, 2021

A double-bogey for golf courses

Closure costing area courses plenty as maintenance must continue

golf green mowing

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Paul Robison mows the greens at Stonehedges Golf Course in Groton. Courses must still be maintained, even though the state has closed them for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The state can close golf courses all it wants, or needs, to reduce the spread of coronavirus: The greens still need to be mowed.

In a couple of weeks, when the soil temperature tops 50 degrees and the grass really gets growing, Paul Robison and golf course managers — seven in the greater Cortland area — will be on the courses daily, keeping the greens to one-eighth inch. And that costs money.

“As far as economic hardship, the month of April is not too bad, but once we get into the month of May we could lose roughly $15,000 to $18,000 a week between open play and league revenue and food and beverages,” said Robison, the general manager of Groton Stonehedges in Groton. “Golf courses have our own pandemic coming. Call it MOVID-18 — 18 holes.”

Right now this club and all others across the state are unsure where their businesses will be in the next few weeks after Gov. Andrew Cuomo deemed golf courses non-essential on Thursday, forcing them to shut their doors and course to people, just as golfers were gearing up for the season.

Robison said the course is typically open in April for anyone to play, weather dependent of course. Then the leagues start up play in May and go until the week before Labor Day.

“May through August, those four months are the key to our entire year,” he said.

Then September begins tournament play.

Don Knickerbocker, an owner of Knickerbocker Country Club in Cincinnatus, said that course, like everyone else, is waiting to see whether and when the governor will allow them to reopen. He said their season typically begins around the second or third week of April.

He’s already had to cancel leagues and one golf tournament and they “aren’t promoting any organized activities.”

“Anything organized that we have on our calendars has been canceled,” he said. “We are very clear on what social distancing means. We don’t want to get it, either.”

He said the company is definitely going to lose money.

“It’s more than $100, I’ll tell you that,” he said.

Knickerbocker said because they are a family-owned business they haven’t had to lay off anyone and the family is still maintaining the course.

“We can’t let that go, so there’s a cost on that,” he said.

Walden Oaks Golf Course in Cortlandville has canceled three weeks of golf leagues, five private parties in the dining room in the club house and the loss of memberships, something that will cost the company tens of thousands of dollars if it continues, said Marcus Bernardo, the general manager.

“The economic impact is horrible,” he said. “April is a very active month for us so it’s an unfortunate time.”

No layoffs have occurred, yet, and maintenance is still being performed. He’s hopeful that courses will be able to open soon.

“We’re going to reopen as soon as we can reopen and hope it’s a great summer,” he said.

Robison said he’s not sure when the club will be able to open, or how social distancing guidelines will work with tournament play when they do reopen, especially when it’s one person per golf cart.

“I don’t think any golf course in this area could afford or be able to run leagues this way,” he said.

Until then, like the other clubs, he has employees keeping up on maintenance, painting, sanitizing and cleaning.