Supervisor Paula Mahan presents Town of Colonie Head Professional Noel Gebauer with a plaque commemorating the course’s silver anniversary. Jim Franco / Spotlight News
COLONIE — For 50 years, hundreds of thousands of people have come to Consaul Road to enjoy a day outside, the company of friends, old or new, and a better than par day. Golf has a unique way of facilitating the first two objectives, while at the same time almost always, without mercy, squashes the last.
The Town of Colonie Golf Course is wrapping up its silver anniversary this year, 50 years after the first 18 holes — the white and the blue courses — were carved out of about 199 wooded acres by William Mitchell, a renowned golf course architect who designed courses like Old Westbury Golf and Country Club, the East Bay Meadow Country Club in Largo, Florida, and the links course at Saratoga Spa State Park.
To celebrate the anniversary, the course offered greens fees at 1969 prices, or $4 for town residents and $5 for non-residents through the Columbus Day weekend. There were some who were asking if there was a deal on carts too, but Head Professional Noel Gebauer kindly reminded them there weren’t any carts in 1969. A far cry from the $27 resident and $32 guest fee for a full, 18-hole round during prime time charged in 2019.
“We were trying to give them a reason to not put the clubs away just yet,” Gebauer said. “This is a celebration of the course and we are trying to take care of the golfers who play here a lot and we have some who have been playing since 1969. It’s great to show their appreciation to them and it brings back some great memories when we do something like this.”
Gebauer grew up around the corner from the course and began working there as a kid under Tom Gunning and broke into the Professional Golfers Association at the course from 1986 to 1994. He had stints at Western Turnpike, Schuyler Meadows and Normanside before returning home 13 years ago as a head pro.
The golf course doesn’t make any money, said Supervisor Paula Mahan, but all the money generated is used for the operation and maintenance of the course.
“Everything we get here goes back into the course,” she said. “Even if you don’t golf, the restaurant is open year round and during the winter there is snowshoeing and cross country skiing and we freeze the parking lot for ice skating so it’s a nice amenity to have for our residents and they have been enjoying it for a long time now.”
This year the course will see about 60,000 rounds, and it was, by and large, considered a wet summer. Rain and golf do not mix well. On a dry year, the course pushes 70,000 rounds a year.
“I like to use the tag line we are the ‘busiest golf course between Boston and Buffalo north of New York City,’” Gebauer said.
When the course is open for play is totally wether dependent, said John
Under then Supervisor William K. Sanford, the town purchased the land from four families — Glen Roberts, Ralph Bruno, Wellington Kugler and Ed Scharfenberg, according to news accounts at the time.
In 1968, the Town Board at the time paid Mitchell, of Long Island, $1.1 million to design and build the course. He had, at the time, designed some 100 courses and said the course would be ready for play by 1969.
It opened to rave reviews. “New Colonie Golf Course is a Thing of Beauty” boasts one headline in the Times Union, with the subhead reading “Will Become One of the Best.” A copy of the nearly full page spread, written by Executive Sports Editor Tom Cunningham, hangs on the hallway in the course’s clubhouse.
At the time, Mitchell was charged with allowing enough room around the clubhouse for an area possibly used as tennis courts and to leave enough room for another nine holes to be built in the future.
World-renowned golf course architect Robert T
rent Jones designed what is known as the “Red Nine” and that opened for business in 1981 giving the course 27 holes.
In 1998, as other courses were opening in the Capital District, the town added another nine, known as the “Green Nine.” That was designed by Rick Jacobsen, a golf course architect who learned from one of golf’s all-time greatest, Jack Nicklaus.
It was during the mid 1990s when golf as a sport saw a huge boom in popularity and during that time the number of holes available to the public nearly doubled, Gebauer said. Orchard Creek in Altamont and the Fairways at Halfmoon were just two examples of new, quality courses that opened during that time.
Colonie was so crowded that it needed the additional nine holes to accommodate the crowds without making customers wait unpleasant times to tee off and then have the course so crowded it would take too long to get around 18 holes to be any fun.
By the late 1990s, golf was booming and Tiger Woods was quickly approaching the top of his game. His monstrous drives, the Nike swoosh and his fist pump energized a sport with a reputation for snobbery and elitism.
According to the Denver Post newspaper and Forbes magazine, which used data from a 2019 report by the National Golf Foundation available for free only to members, golf participation peaked in the U.S. at 30 million in 2005.
By 2014, that number dropped to about 24 million and has remained steady since.
Still, everything ebbs and flows, and in 2019, golf was an $84 billion industry. More than a third of the U.S. population — more than 107 million people — played, watched or read about golf. Along with the 24 million people who actually went to the course and played a traditional 18-hole round, there were an increasing number played on simulators. Those entail hitting a ball into a screen that has on it projections of a real golf hole and a computer will gauge where the shot goes based on the balls trajectory and spin as it hits the screen.
Why travel to Georgia when you can play the storied Augusta National in a dome or even in a bar? Ironically, the relatively slow pace of golf compared to a video game or even a sport like lacrosse is one reason given for the decline of the sport’s popularity.
“Golf has been around for more than 600 years and its evolution is ongoing,” said Mike Davis, the United States Golf Association CEO as reported by Forbes. “As the world changes at a rapid pace it’s up to us to make sure that the game maintains that pace. We’re all in this together, united by our love for the game.”
Golf had its greatest marketing tool in Woods, like it did in Nicklaus and in the generation prior, Arnold Palmer. Woods coming back to win the Masters after an 11-year drought was one of the best moments in all of sports.
But, not everyone is going to win a Masters, especially a kid just picking up a club for the first time.
At the Town of Colonie, Gebauer is very involved in junior golf, not only because he enjoys that aspect of being a pro, but because kids, unlike football or baseball, continue to play as adults.
“We are at the center of junior golf activity in the Capital District,” he said, adding the course hosts junior golf leagues, the PGA Junior Championship and the Junior Golf League Championship of Northeastern New York. “It really is a lot of fun watching the kids play and watching them improve and it bodes well for the future of the sport.”
Making the course playable for those less skilled is also a factor in making the sport more enjoyable. Playable, in this sense, means shooting a decent score and not getting frustrated while doing it.
“We can move the tees forward so they are still playing a real golf course that is challenging but it won’t take them forever to get through and they can still shoot a decent score,” Risler said. “We try to adapt at Colonie and we do well by giving them a place to learn the game and not get frustrated with the game. Any golfer wants to score and when you score you keep coming back.”