Share this article

print logo

Looking fore-word to spring

A new clubhouse and an open-air, timber-frame pavilion are going up at the Harvest Hill golf course in Orchard Park.

Deerwood Golf Course in North Tonawanda has added a website for booking tee times and a blog with posts about things like new golf apps to attract the younger generation.

The Country Club of Buffalo is restoring its course to its original design from 1926.

And it’s finally feeling warm enough – for golf.

If the promise of a great season on the links isn’t enough, golfers will see some big changes at their favorite courses, from new equipment, paint and buildings, to new apps, to new traps.

There’s a new owner at Harvest Hill in Orchard Park, where personal injury attorney Ross M. Cellino spent the winter overseeing construction of a clubhouse.

Marked by a signature faux silo, the structure captures the ambiance of the country fields and ties the course on Old Transit Road with its rural past, as well as nearby barns.

Cellino bought the course last fall from the Harvest Hill Foundation, formerly known as the West Seneca Rotary Foundation, and quickly got down to planning the details.

It’s still the same 18 holes spread over 7,010 yards designed by golf course architect Michael Hurdzan, but Cellino took as his mission the preservation of the daily-fee course as an affordable public course, while enhancing the experience for golfers.

“On my watch, I want it to remain a public course for the citizens of Orchard Park and West Seneca,” Cellino said shortly after he bought the course and equipment for $1.5 million. He spent another $1.1 million on construction of the new facilities.

On a recent tour, Cellino eagerly pointed out where a pro shop and sports bar and grill will emerge from wooden studs in the clubhouse. On the exterior, cedar wood will be painted translucent gold, with burgundy and green trim.

“It’s quite impressive, because coming into this, he didn’t have any golf experience,” said Harvest Hill golf pro Scott Arnold.

The goal was to open the clubhouse in April, but golfers will have to wait until Memorial Day weekend for the full experience. Until then, they can watch the work-in-progress on the way to the first tee.

Construction on the 3,700 square-foot clubhouse started last year. Two golf cart buildings will house new carts – each with its own cooler, so golfers can buy a drink in the clubhouse and take it with them on the course. An open-air, timber-frame pavilion that can accommodate 150 to 200 people for tournaments also will be completed by Memorial Day.

Cellino pays homage with a granite marker at the first hole to H. Joseph Sgroi and Carl Lambein of West Seneca, who got the course off the ground. Lambein and his wife, Marion, donated 125 acres for the course, and the Harvest Hill Foundation, under the direction of Sgroi, a financial planner, secured 140 more acres and built the course.

And if you’re standing on the 18th tee and don’t know quite where to shoot, just aim for the silo.

“Coming from nothing to this, what a difference a year makes,” Arnold said. “It’s been quite fun.”

Back to the beginnings

The Country Club of Buffalo sees its future in its past, and has taken the course back to its beginnings, as it was designed by the famed Donald Ross in 1926. From the tees to the bunkers and the fairways, the architect’s original vision was revealed, and there was extensive interior remodeling as well.

“The original design is a classic,” said Robert Stevenson, president of the club.

The course changed over the years as updates were made and trees were planted and grew, he said.

“They start to choke the course,” Stevenson said.

About the same time Ross was designing this course, he also designed the course at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, where the PGA Championship will be held this year. Club members expect that once the renovations are completed at the Amherst club, it will return to being one of the top 100 courses in the country.

Locker room renovations at the club will be unveiled at a grand reopening for members April 18, and the course, which was renovated one hole at a time, should be completed in May.

Making bunkers better

Craig Burn Golf Club in Aurora spent the fall planting sod in its bunkers, then killing it off and placing new sand on top of it.

“That acts like a natural mat and natural drainage,” said Jim Prior in the pro shop. “Our soil around here is clay and shale, it’s not very conducive to bunkers.”

Over the years the sand in the traps wears away, and the shale underneath rises to the top, he said. The bunkers were replaced about 15 years ago, but the hope is the new sod will add an extra layer and staying power to the sand traps.

How do the golfers like it?

“They’re just happy to be out. They don’t care if there’s anything in the bunkers,” Prior said.

Going digital

And at Deerwood Golf Course, Director Keith Miranto has high hopes that new digital features – a website for booking tee times and a blog with posts about things like a new golf phone app – will help attract the younger generation.

The 27-hole golf course on Sweeney Street in North Tonawanda is under used, said Miranto, 55. He figures it is being played at 70 to 80 percent capacity by people his age and older.

The National Golf Foundation persuaded the course to add a free golf phone app for golfers to see the course layout, order food from the course-side Hideaway Restaurant and talk smack with their friends.

Miranto offered a sample message that could be sent with the app from a golfer playing ahead of the others: “I just birdied this hole up here. How come you guys are taking so long?”

“You have to have young people interested in your golf course if you want to maintain your membership,” he said.

News Staff Reporter Michelle Kearns contributed to this report. email: