Public Courses Can Grow Local Talent

When someone referred to my dad as a "sweet old duffer" I was slightly taken aback because obviously that person really did not know my father very well or what he loved most in life besides my mother. Far from being a duffer, which is by definition a bad golfer, my late father known to many by a variety of nick names, to include Nick, Joe, Ace and even Farmer was perhaps for many years one of the best home grown golfers that Union County had ever seen. Shooting his last hole-in-one when he was in his mid-seventies while suffering the ravages of a debilitating bone disease he worked almost daily as a ranger at the UC Country Club he loved when he could no longer caddy.

Born in 1912 my dad grew up in a time when only the wealthy could afford to join country clubs, not mere factory workers. They were doctors and lawyers, the people who were self employed and could get away during the week as well as weekends to hit the links. The oldest son of Polish immigrants he was expected to help support his family and not fritter his time away with such things as studying history or geography; since he could read and write he was expected to get a job at the age of 13yrs, school was for his younger siblings my grandfather said. Hopping on a borrowed bike he headed to the local courses and sought a spot as a caddy, a part time gig he held even after obtaining a "real" job in a factory working shifts and going off to war during WWII and then returning to marry and have a family. My father was a natural athlete with strong shoulders and massive hands that could wrap themselves commandingly around the grip of a nine iron or wood or ever so tenderly caress a putter as he successfully coaxed the ball into the hole. After his passing, he was buried in his golf shirt, he left behind, trophies, pictures, golf clubs (full sets of both woods and irons), rain gear and more golf balls than Titelist knows that they manufactured as well an assortment of odds and ends awarded to him to mark his successes over the years and the tournaments he played. As a caddy he was able to play on Mondays at the country club when it was closed, however with his work schedule and part time caddy job most of the thousands of rounds he played in his lifetime were at the three county owned public courses here in Union County, the majority at Oak Ridge Golf Course in his hometown, Clark.

The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has been asked to close down the course as proposed by County Manager George Devanney. It seems that George has made the proposal as part of this year's budget package along with privatizing the golf clubhouses at the other courses, Galloping Hill in Kenilworth and Ash Brook in Scotch Plains. Also planned is the building of a new driving range at Galloping Hill, George elaborated by explaining that since last year's budget process ,"We started looking at the golf business as a business." Perhaps if the freeholders and county administration looked at the business of golf as the multimillion dollar business that it has become our county courses may not now be a loosing proposition. It has been reported that the golf courses lost a combined $700,000 in '08 which is just a tad better than the $1.2 million hit the courses took in 2007. Just what the problem is here is not clear but the golf courses like the county rehabilitation hospital; the two actual businesses run by the county, are both money loosing propositions when neither should be. Perhaps it is not the nature of the businesses themselves but rather who is running those operations that should be considered.

True to form Devanney has decided to throw some taxpayer money at the golf courses in an effort to generate revenue so the board has awarded a $170,000 contract to their old friends at Harbor Consultants to design a practice facility and driving range at Galloping Hill and $50,000 to another steady customer, Decotis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Wisler, LLP to provide legal services in connection with golf course operations and development. Devanney stated that the Galloping Hill project which would necessitate eliminating holes at the Pitch and Putt course there and combined with the closure of Oak Ridge would result in a net loss of 27 holes of golf in the county but he has said that the project is anticipated to bring in $600,000 in revenue. How this could be is a bit of a mystery since there appear to already be enough such facilities available to Union County residents to include the beleaguered Hyatt Hills.

County residents who descended on a recent freeholder meeting made several excellent points that must be considered along with the current and future trends of the golf industry in general and the type of facilities we have to offer here in Union County before making any hasty decisions. Considered a great course for senior citizens and those with some physical impediments, my dad would have attested to that, Oak Ridge is far less hilly than Galloping Hill and less expansive than Ash Brook and will provide a more welcome golf environment for the expected influx of baby boomers onto the retirement scene. According to the World Golf Foundation, Inc.(April 2008), golf courses are expected to rebound fully within the next two to three years as the boomers find themselves with more free time and course owners would be wise to be prepared for the expected demand on their facilities. The recent success of last weeks, 56th annual PGA Merchandise Show, in Orlando, called the world's largest and most influential golf business gathering can only be considered proof positive that golf is and can continue to be a money maker for those who manage their golf business efficiently during these challenging times.

Union County residents can breathe a sigh of relief that George Devanney and the freeholders are finally considering golf to be a business, after all the course only opened in 1927, and no one would have wanted to make a rush to judgment. But, are they perhaps taking the wrong business path with the proposed closure of Oak Ridge and renovations at Galloping Hill and need to evaluate the situation further. Some have inquired what would become of Oak Ridge and even speculated that the property could eventually be sold off to a developer to generate revenue for the county and some tax dollars for the township. The county manager spoke of preserving the course as county parkland so perhaps he privately envisions moving his beloved MusicFest to a venue that could expand the event to three days with on site parking and rolling vistas for concert goers to rival those at Max Yasgars farm.

Who knows….but by past performance George's grandiose plans usually show that he is a financial "Duffer" – a term used to denote weaker players in general. Duffer in golf lingo would be somewhat synonymous with a "hacker" which is a bit stronger but not to be confused with a "Political Hack".: a machine politician who belongs to a small clique that controls a political party for private rather than public ends. With all things considered here one certainly has to wonder.

Public Courses Can Grow Local Talent