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IF THEY BUILD IT, GOLFERS WILL COME
FIVE NEW UPSCALE PUBLIC COURSES WILL BE IN FULL SWING BY NEXT SEASON

Golf courses have been popping up like dandelions for more than a decade to the east of Buffalo in Greater Rochester. They have been bursting out all over the other side of the Niagara River, on Ontario's Niagara Peninsula.

Finally, Erie County is joining the course development party.

By next season five new upscale public courses will be open in Erie County.

New layouts will open this summer in Lancaster and Akron. Another Akron course, Arrowhead Golf Club, opened fully last August and is getting good reviews in its first full season of play. Two more public courses, one in Cheektowaga and one on the Orchard Park-West Seneca border, are scheduled to open next season.

Another two upscale courses planned in Marilla are on the drawing board and could open in 2007 or 2008.

Then there's more development in Canada. Two new resort courses will open in Niagara Falls, Ont., this summer.

"I think the market is in need of new courses," said Bill Dimas, executive director of the Western New York Professional Golfers Association. "The Rochester market is oversaturated now. They've had 10 new top courses built in the last 20 years while we've had zero built."

Each of the five new Erie County courses falls into the upscale public category -- high quality layouts that will cost roughly between $35 and $50 a round. The last upscale public course to open in Erie County was Amherst's Glen Oak -- way back in 1971.

Glen Oak, designed by legendary Robert Trent Jones Jr., has had a near stranglehold on the upscale market.

Now golfers will have a great variety of premium course options.

"I think there's a pent-up demand to meet the need for public golf in the area," said Tim Davis, owner of the new Lancaster course -- the Buffalo Tournament Club. "There has been one upscale public course in the Metro Area. A year from now there will be six. . . . There's a little circuit of top public golf you will be able to play. Golfers are going to have choices."

A 2004 study by the National Golf Foundation ranked the Buffalo metropolitan area 239th out of 340 in the United States in terms of the number of public golf holes available for play in relation to the area's population.

The two Akron courses, Arrowhead and the Links at Ivy Ridge, are practically neighbors, located 10 miles east of the intersection of Main and Transit in Amherst. Arrowhead's director of operations, Mike Grisko, said an extensive study was done before his owners dove into the golf market.

"There's a 35-year gap without an opening," Grisko said, in reference to Glen Oak's debut. "According to our feasibility studies, Western New York can really support seven upscale courses. When you consider the number of people traveling to Canada or toward Rochester for golf, I truly believe the market is there. People are looking for country club quality golf and are having a harder time justifying the costs. These courses give them a nice alternative. It's going to be up to us (the public) courses to all cooperate with one another and do some marketing together."

The $40 to $50 price range for a round is less expensive than in many other markets, including Rochester.

"You look at the prices at resort courses," Davis said. "You look at prices of these kinds of courses around the country, and the prices here are going to be moderate. It's going to be a good value for this kind of golf."

"I think when you look at the success Glen Oak has had," Davis said, "when it comes to the upscale public market, people will pay to play a very good golf course."

The new Canadian courses, conversely, are in a different category.

The 36-hole Grand Niagara Resort and John Daly's Thundering Waters this year will join the Legends on the Niagara and Royal Niagara as the newest resort courses in Niagara Falls, Ont. The first three have daily greens fees of $115 to $140 Canadian.

Area golfers undoubtedly will be attracted to those courses, but success will depend on the courses' ability to attract tourists.

"I do believe the Niagara Region is just now on the doorstep of achieving the critical mass required of a great golf resort area," said Frank Racioppo, vice president of operations and a minority owner at Thundering Waters. "We're now a player in that market. The courses are achieving some solidarity by marketing the Niagara Golf Trail."

Combined with other fine Ontario courses such as Whirlpool and Hunter's Pointe, Ontario's Niagara Region should be a strong competitor with other golf destinations such as Northern Michigan, Nova Scotia and even Myrtle Beach, S.C.

"I'll use a stock market analogy," Racioppo said. "We have a diversified portfolio. Yes, you have great golf. But you have the Falls, the wineries, the wine country, the theater, casinos and spas. Other golf destinations can't match that."

Here's a capsule look at the new courses open this year:
Arrowhead opened fully last Aug. 16 and gave the Buffalo area public market its first true links-inspired layout.

It was laid out by Lockport architect Scott Witter, who has built a thriving golf design business in the Northeast. He took a 160-acre property and created a distinctive, attractive course. Fourteen of the 18 holes have no trees. The holes weave through gentle rolling terrain with tall fescue grass framing the fairways. There is a nice flow to the holes and a consistency in the design from the first hole to the last.

The course was built by Joseph Frey, the owner of the Bright Meadows nine-hole course. It's alongside Bright Meadows, which is next to Rothland Golf Course, on Clarence Center Road.

Arrowhead plays 6,654 yards from the back tees, 6,316 from the whites and 5,157 from the reds.

"What I like best is we actually built the course that the demographic was looking for," Grisko said. "Up until now you had to travel a long way to play a links style course, and we took advantage of new technology in building it. Our greens are 100 percent sand, instead of the traditional 80 percent (sand) aggregate. This course drains phenomenally well."
This project of course developer Tim Davis and his teaching-pro wife, Marlene, has been in the works for more than a decade. Davis built Lancaster's Fox Valley Club, which opened in 1992. Shortly afterward, Davis started planning a course for a property almost directly across the road, at 6432 Genesee St.

"We always wanted to have an upscale daily fee course," Davis said. "Our partners at Fox Valley wanted to be private, and they were paying the bills."

The result looks like a high quality layout built on 198 acres. The property was a group of small farm fields and a former gravel pit, and it has 55 feet of elevation change. The front nine is scheduled to open May 16. The back nine is projected to open in October.

The course will play 7,262 yards from the back tees, 6724 from the blues and 6,175 from the whites. Parts of Nos. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 run through the former gravel pit. The back nine is parkland style, winding through mature trees.

"Fox Valley was built for 300 members," Davis said. "That is a course designed to be private, one that you play regularly. This is built with not as much local knowledge required. The greens aren't flat, but they're not as severe as a private course. They're huge. The smallest is 7,200 square feet. The largest is just under 12,000 square feet."
Developer Don Nicholas purchased 205 acres off Main Street in Akron in 1996 and decided the property was suited to golf.

Nine years later the Links at Ivy Ridge is set to open all 18 holes July 1.

Like Arrowhead, it fits the "modern links style" category.

"The land suggested the links style," said Jim Fiske, course manager. "It was a farm with not a whole lot of trees. Three or four holes go down through the woods. But the rest is open. So it really lent itself to an updated links style course."

Distinctive mounding, rolling fairways and tall fescue grass figure to be the trademark of the course. The shaping was done by Blane Harrison, with help from Nicholas. Nicholas and Fiske loved the work Harrison did on Reservoir Creek, which is an hour southeast of Rochester.

"He's like an artist on a bulldozer," Fiske said. "Creating this kind of look doesn't just happen. He was here on site for 3 1/2 years. . . . No matter where you are on the course, you're isolated from the other golf holes."

Ivy Ridge has 76 bunkers, nine ponds and large greens, with an average of 7,500 square feet.
Toronto-area developers hired giant names in golf -- Rees Jones and Greg Norman -- to build the 36-hole Grand Niagara resort complex 10 minutes from downtown Niagara Falls, Ont.

Jones built the River Course, which is scheduled to open at the end of July or early August. Construction has just begun on Norman's project, the Vineland Course, and it is scheduled to open in late 2007.

The 820-acre resort will include a 15,000-square foot clubhouse, condominiums, a winery and a 250-unit condo hotel. Greens fees will be $135 Canadian on weekends and $115 Canadian on weekdays. The Vineyard Course will be a private club.

Jones, 64, is the younger son of the late Robert Trent Jones Jr. Like his dad, Rees has become known as "the Open doctor." He has been hired by numerous famous clubs for redesign work in preparation for major championship events. They include the Country Club near Boston for the 1988 U.S. Open, Hazeltine in '91, Baltusrol in '93, Congressional in '97, Pinehurst No. 2 in '99 and Bethpage in '02. He has built many top-rated courses on his own, including Pinehurst No. 7.

Jones is known for environmentally friendly courses and for making his layouts seamlessly fit the natural terrain.

The River Course is built on 320 acres. It's a traditional parkland layout built around the Welland River.

"One of Rees Jones' signatures is bunkering, and how it guides you around the course," said Ken Trowbridge, vice president of golf operations. "They're not all directly in play, but he gives you great targets to play around. The bunkering shows you where to go."
This is the second course design project for Daly, the 39-year-old winner of the British Open and PGA Championship. It is scheduled to open Aug. 3.

The entrance to the property is 1,500 yards from the brink of the Horseshoe Falls, off Marineland Parkway. Part of the land was a former Canada-Pacific railyard. The owner of the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel and the former owners of the Radisson Hotel in Niagara Falls, Ont., are behind the project.

"The former railyard only is a small part of the course," Racioppo said. "That portion lacked vegetation and is where they put four links-style holes, Nos. 3 through 6. You'd think you crossed the Atlantic Ocean and were dropped on a British Open course on those. The rest of the holes are entirely framed by trees on all four sides."|

Daly teamed with Canadian architect Boris Danoff on the design. As one would expect from Daly, the course measures 7,322 from the back tees, or "Daly tees." (It is 6,310 from the whites.) The longest hole, No. 2, is 661 yards from the back. And there are a number of risk-reward choices, where one must determine how much of a dogleg to bite off from the tee.
e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com