The golf courses in Guilderland, N.Y., two of six in the town, are both in stages of closure. The property on which Hiawatha Trails is located is in the process of being sold to a developer, while French’s Hollow Fairways will not reopen this season, and the owners may pursue a conservation easement.
Two of the six golf courses in Guilderland, N.Y., are either closed or planning to close. The owners of both French’s Hollow Fairways Golf Course and Hiawatha Trails Executive Golf Course said the decision to close was driven by economics, the Altamont (N.Y.) Enterprise reported.
“I thought I would never leave this house. I thought I would do this for the rest of my life, but it’s not economically feasible any more,” said Geoffrey Van Epps, owner of Hiawatha Trails.
The property on which Hiawatha Trails is located is in the process of being sold; a developer is before the town, seeking approval for a planned unit development that would allow for building four-story apartments and an office building, the Enterprise reported.
The course is open now and will remain open until the deal goes through. Van Epps has run the business for over 20 years, since 1996, although the golf course was established in 1958, the Enterprise reported.
French’s Hollow Fairways, a family business that started 46 years ago, will not open this year, said Janet Betlejeski who owns the property with her sister, Mary. They realized at the end of the last season that they weren’t going to open it up again, the Enterprise reported.
French’s Hollow Fairways was originally a dairy farm and apple orchard farmed by Janet Betlejeski’s grandfather. In 1971, her father, Dr. John Betlejeski, turned it into a golf course, even though he did not golf. Neither do his daughters, who took over running of the course after his death in 1991, the Enterprise reported.
“It was very different,” back then, Betlejeski said of their earlier years. “There were country clubs back then but also room for golf courses like ours that were not as manicured and that didn’t use as many pesticides.”
French’s Hollow Fairways has been in decline, she said, since about 2008 and the start of the economic downturn. Their course, which had holes ranging from par 3 to par 5, was “very low-key,” Betlejeski said. They charged seniors $13 to play all day. “We were kind of in competition with the town,” she said. “We had very low rates, and they were also lowering their rates, I think to try to get some of the seniors that we were catering to.”
The sisters have no plans for what to do with the land, Betlejeski said. “We’re going to let it go fallow for a while. We’re thinking about trying to get a conservation easement for the property, which will restrict development on it.”
“What’s happening,” said Van Epps, “is that these older generations are aging out, and millennials and gen-Xers don’t play golf.” He estimated the age of most customers over the years as “45 and up,” the Enterprise reported
Van Epps has tried to bring in younger golfers, he said, offering lessons for adult beginners. He only had a handful of takers for those, he said. He has tried print and television advertising in the past, the Enterprise reported.
Van Epps compared golf to farming. “It’s a seasonal business,” he said, “and you have five months, really, to make it.” His course does remain open in the off-season, with discounted prices. Last year, he said, it rained almost every day for more than three months, starting in April, the Enterprise reported.
The grounds still need to be maintained, even when no revenue is coming in, he said. Equipment is expensive, citing $90,000 as the cost for a new fairways mower, and $35,000 for a greens mower, the Enterprise reported.
“Then you also have to pay taxes on top of that,” Van Epps said. By way of comparison, he said, referring to the town-owned Western Turnpike Golf Course, “The town course gets to buy equipment on the upstate contract, and then they don’t pay any taxes.”
Hiawatha Trails has no membership program, Van Epps said. It’s a public course, walk-up-and-play, he said; you can make a tee time. The cost of playing 18 holes, he said, is $16 per person on weekdays and $20 on weekends during the spring and summer. In the off-season, it’s $10 per person, the Enterprise reported.
There are four par-4 holes, and the rest are par 3, he said. “People who play this course regularly get better at their short game, and have fun,” he added. “The short game is really what golf is all about.”
Van Epps has a clubhouse, where he offers light fare. “Hamburgers, hot dogs, things like that,” he said.
Van Epps runs the course with his children, who have grown up there. The oldest is now 24. His children have served as counselors at the summer camps he has run for 18 years, which focus on unstructured play, the Enterprise reported.
Four golf courses remain in town. Orchard Creek Golf Club is owned by Abbruzzese family, which also owns and operates, partly on the same land, Altamont Orchards and the Cider House restaurant at the clubhouse, which is also open to the non-golfing public. Their event business hosts weddings, class reunions, and private parties, the Enterprise reported.
The Abbruzzeses also have a farm market and offer some apple picking. “We’re not as big in the apple business as we used to be,” said John Abbruzzese, who runs the family’s restaurant.
The different businesses that the family runs help support one another, he said. “Golf is kind of stagnant,” John Abbruzzese said, “but we’re doing great. Between our golf businesses and our wedding business and the restaurant, we’re doing fine.”
His brother, Dan Abbruzzese, who runs the golf course, described Orchard Creek as a PGA championship 18-hole golf course. Orchard Creek doesn’t do a lot of advertising, he said. “A lot of it is word-of-mouth.” He does go to golf shows and collect email addresses there and send out targeted email blasts to 8,000 to 10,000 people, offering specials including discounted rates for first-time golfers, the Enterprise reported.
Orchard Creek has just hired a new golf professional, Jeff Betti, who will start in April and who has a lot of ideas about reaching more potential golfers and especially younger people, Dan Abbruzzese said.
Rates vary by day and time, but the highest rate that Orchard Creek charges is $65, per person, with a golf cart, for the earliest tee times on a weekend morning, he said. Some people who play often take out memberships, which can significantly reduce the price. “I’ve got guys who play like 120 times a year, and are doing it for like $15 a time,” said Dan Abbruzzese.
Western Turnpike, the town-owned and -operated 27-hole course is open to the public, said Gregory Wier, the director of the town’s parks and recreation department. “Obviously,” Wier said, “the town doesn’t pay any property taxes, since the town owns the land.”
The clubhouse at the golf course is owned by the town and leased to the Mallozzi family, Wier said, which pays the town a set fee per year to operate the clubhouse. According to the contract, the Mallozzi organization must provide food to the golfers. The clubhouse also hosts weddings and private parties, the Enterprise reported.
Western Turnpike’s golf pro, Casey Childs, told The Enterprise about several trends he notices there. One, he said, is that golfers who used to play three or four times a week are not playing as often recently; they now play just once or twice a week, he said. He isn’t sure of the reason, but said, “Time is limited, money is limited, and the weather plays a factor as well.”
The other is a “good uptick” over the last five or so years in junior golfers at Western Turnpike—“not just the under 20, but the 22 to 30. We’re crossing our fingers that that will continue, because you need the younger generation.”
The course has 27 holes, with three different 9-holes, which Childs said allows for “more leeway.” It includes par 3, par 4, and par 6 holes. “We’re not considered a shorter course,” he said, noting that the only difference between Western Turnpike and a PGA championship course is length—at a championship course, he said, each hole might be 50 yards longer, the Enterprise reported.
Western Turnpike has increased its membership, Childs said, and has added several leagues and outings, the Enterprise reported.