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Niagara County golf courses prepare for upcoming season

Thomas Yaeger was just like the rest of golfers in Western New York thinking they would already be out on the links before the calendar hit April.

It was hard not to have high hopes with the handful of 50- and 60-degree days in a record-warm February.

“If you asked me two weeks ago I probably would’ve said we’d be open by now,” the golf director at Niagara County Golf Course said last week.

February 2017 was the warmest February recorded in Buffalo. A mere 5 inches of snow was logged at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, about a foot less than the average for the month.

The temperature even reached 71 degrees on Feb. 24, which allowed the Buffalo Tournament Club golf course in Lancaster to welcome golfers for a couple of days that week. It was the earliest the 12-year-old public course had ever opened.

But then Winter Storm Stella left its mark on the Northeast in mid-March and put an abrupt end to the wishful thinking.

The Buffalo Niagara region didn’t quite receive the whopping 58 inches that Vermont did, but the Category 3 storm did leave behind nearly 29 inches in Lockport, the highest in the area, and another 16 in Niagara Falls.

Nonetheless, Niagara County Golf Course still anticipates opening during the first week of April.

That’s around the typical time, Yaeger said. “We open up when we can.”

With large amounts of snow comes snowpack, which means courses have to wait for the accumulation to melt. The temperature and rain at the end of March helped with that, but then comes the wait for the water to drain off the course.

“We’re a fairly flat course and have a creek that runs through it, so it takes some time for that to happen,” Yaeger said.

One feature Yaeger is contemplating adding to the Niagara County Golf Course this season is more shorter tees.

“The ladies are currently at about 5,300 yards,” Yaeger said. “We’re looking into the possibility of putting in more shorter tees to knock that down a little bit.”

They would also be used by and benefit the 30-40 kids who participate in the youth program or clinic. Yaeger likes to ideally tie those two together.

“It’s great to get them right on the golf course after the clinic,” Yaeger said.

He added that they’re scheduled to host the normal 25-30 outings this year. A couple of tournaments that stand out include the 19th annual Mark A. Monaco Memorial Tournament and another that donates its proceeds to multiple sclerosis research.

The Monaco Memorial Foundation has raised over $100,000, which has in turn been used to provide financial assistance to Roswell Park and Women’s & Children’s Hospital, among other endeavors.

[PHOTO GALLERY: What? WNYers golfing in February?]

Hyde Park Golf Club, meanwhile, is still a few weeks away from opening, according to Niagara Falls Director of Public Works John Caso.

“We’re going to push it back a little bit longer into April,” said Caso, who mentioned they opened around April 28 last year. “We probably would’ve been looking at much earlier if not for the weather. We don’t want to mention that ‘s’ word, snow.”

Adding to the delay is the fact that Hyde Park has 36 holes to get into playing shape, not just 18.

There’s the North 18, the feature course, the South White 9 and the South Red 9.

The work usually starts with the bunkers for Caso and his staff.

“We work on the traps all the time,” Caso said. “We treat them as a centerpiece of outlining those and getting them to where they drain properly. We always work on additional drainage throughout the course, too.”

When it comes to the North 18 in particular, Caso is looking into the addition of paths for golf carts.

“We’ve been working that out for a little while now,” Caso said. “When it rains it’s tough to put the carts out there, so this would help.”

Caso couldn’t commit to it happening this year, but minor improvements to existing bridges are also in the works. New Niagara Falls city engineer John Gerlach, who came on board a few weeks ago, will have a hand in that.

“As soon as the grounds dry, we’ll tour and evaluate the bridges and come up with a game plan down the road, whether it be a four- or five-year plan,” Caso said. “Depends on how much money this is going to cost.”

Caso said that all club leagues are coming back for another year. There will also be 30-plus tournaments, mostly on weekends but some during the week as well.

“If Mother Nature gives us the summer it gave us last year,” Caso said, “it should be another busy one.”

Some of the bigger tournaments on the schedule include the one-day Western New York Public Links Golf Association A & B Team Championships on June 24, the three-day Club Championship July 21-23 and the Niagara Falls City Championship closer to the end of the season August 19-20.

Aside from tournaments, Caso encouraged any walk-on golfers who haven’t played at Hyde Park to go and give it a shot.

Between the flatter Red course for beginners, the intermediate White course and the 18-hole feature course, Caso noted, “We’ve got a little bit for everybody.”

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