During a tournament at the end of July at Apple Greens in Highland, Mike Sweeney, an organizer, lamented how participation in the decades-long event, which raises money for scholarships at Highland High School, had dropped from more than 140 golfers at one-point to less than 120.
Later that week at another tournament at Apple Greens, Judi Roehrs, who owns the 27-hole course with her husband, Dave, agrees with Sweeney and hopes that a possible rebound in golf popularity begins with youth and more girls and women taking up the sport.
“That’s where the future is and that’s where it should be,” she said. “Junior golf should be a very big push.”
Mike Aube, superintendent at Osiris Country Club, outside of Walden, drove a cart through the course early this spring, described the history of expansions, and current state of the game during the last 20 years when Tiger Woods took golf by storm 20 years ago.
Woods’ dominance in the PGA lasted about a decade before physical and personal issues halted his seemingly infinite trajectory in professional golf.
“He made the game grow exponentially,” said Aube.
And now golf is trying to recover from the bubble of popularity created by Woods that has slowly deflated since his career went off the tracks.
“There was a tremendous surge as he succeeded,” said Roehrs. “It’s kind of a slow drop-off. I do believe it will pick up again.”
Roehrs, as noted earlier is a proponent to get more girls and women in the game, and cited Highland’s varsity girls’ team this spring, with many seventh-graders, as an example of where she wants golf to go.
And as many golfers know, especially in middle age, that this is a game they chose to play decades earlier and hope to play for decades to come.
“This is a sport you can play until you are an 80-year-old,” said Roehrs. “My mother is 86, and she went out and shot seven holes the other day.”
Apple Greens is 22 years old this year, and Osiris, a private member’s only club, opened as a nine-hole course in 1927 and expanded in 1963 to 18 holes. New ownership bought an adjacent farm west of the course, and three holes on that property, a pair of par fours and a par three, are being built on that property to open this fall that will replace three similar holes nearby which was originally part of the 1927 course.
The original nine is flatter and shorter with some fairway valleys, and latter nine, located behind the clubhouse and banquet and dining facility, is longer with deeper fairway valleys.
Peter Manno, Jr. is the general manager at Osiris, and he said he’s been able to grow the membership, from 60 in 2016 to an expected 200 by the end of this year, through family-oriented events and tournaments.
“Everybody is very happy with that,” he said in his office, working to organize a tournament the Saturday before Easter.
Manno also runs the pro shop, helps teach the game and seeming works constantly to ensure members are happy and satisfied. The club is also planning to open tennis courts and a swimming pool.
On the course, however, it is Aube’s job to do the same thing, and he oversees the course’s daily maintenance.
“I make things green and playable,” he said.
As Aube drove, the conversation turned to golf’s rules and personal character and individual responsibility. Golf is a game with no deviation for physical mistakes, and honesty is the only rule when an individual grades and polices their play.
“It tells you a lot about yourself,” said Aube.
A few miles south of Walden, off Route 208, John DiMartino has been operating the Scott’s Corners Golf Course for the past 30 years. The course, with wide fairways, is surrounded by trees on the edges and in the middle near the first couple of holes. DiMartino said the nine-hole course is configured with two sets in tee boxes on each hole, so that 18 holes can be played at different lengths.
“You are playing the same course at different positions,” said DiMartino.
DiMartino said many golfers come up from New Jersey and many 20-25 play to socialize and enjoy the game. On a morning last month, a handful of golfers playing appeared to be retired or near retirement age.
But DiMartino said the majority of golfers are under 50, with many keeping the game alive with the families they have grown.
“They start enjoying more and they bring their families,” he said.
By Bond Brungard