Making Golf Cool Again: Local Pros Inject Life Into The Game

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By Tom Konecny

Some find the game of golf too expensive, difficult to learn and, perhaps most problematic, time-consuming. It’s also tricky to enjoy year-round, and not exactly backyard-appropriate like some sports. While golf may have enjoyed a participatory golden era during Tiger Woods’ decade of dominance from 1997-2008, most agree that the game has been somewhat stagnant since.

Yet for a sport that seems to have its share of playability issues, golf remains as resilient as ever. Some of the area’s top professionals are making their courses – and the game – relevant again, changing with the times.

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Photo By: Jonathan Miksanek

Dan Sutton Heather Downs Country Club 419-382-3481 | heatherdowns.com

In today’s post-recession world, Dan Sutton, director of golf, agrees that money is still a major factor for golf participation, but so is time – and seniors tend to have a little of both.

Sutton notes that other prominent golf locales in Ohio and Michigan have fees significantly higher than here, with courses here just as exceptional. Some of his favorites include Heather Downs, Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Stone Ridge Golf Club in Bowling Green, and Toledo’s Ottawa Park Golf Course.

Heather Downs had some requests for a shorter course, so they added senior and ladies tees, thereby shrinking the course 500 yards and drawing more golfers. Sutton said he’s also been offering Monday senior scrambles, which became increasingly popular last season, as have his leagues. While kids have many outlets for their time and energy, Sutton believes his extensive junior golf programs – such as clinics and leagues – can get them hooked on golf for life.

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Claire Batista Claire Batista Golf Academy at The Legacy 734-854-1101 | playlegacy.com

A well-respected golf instructor who’s academy operates out of The Legacy, Batista sees golf being downsized. Last year’s closure of Brandywine Country Club in Toledo, and loss of holes at Whiteford Valley Golf Club in Ottawa Lake, Michigan (from 72 holes to 45), mean golf has dropped off. Keeping golfers in the game is also an issue.

“We have a lot of programs trying to get people back in the game and retaining them, especially women,” said Batista, who played collegiately at BGSU and coached at UT. “We just don’t want what happened to tennis to happen to golf. You really don’t hear about tennis unless it’s a major (tournament).”

Batista said many local clubs are promoting the national initiative Tee It Forward, which helps golfers have more fun by playing from a set of tees best suited to their abilities.

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Jason Stuller Sylvania Country Club 419-882-2082 | sylvaniacc.org

“I think the sport, in general, is kind of down since the heyday when Tiger was around,” said Stuller, a Class A PGA professional. Stuller noted that fewer corporations today cover membership fees for client entertaining, a trend largely halted by changing tax laws. The once male-dominated country club lifestyle has transformed, too, where there’s now a heavy emphasis on women, families and youth.

As proof, this year Sylvania Country Club celebrates its 100th anniversary with a massive $2.5-million renovation, which includes a new short-game practice facility, revamped tennis courts, a new aquatics center and pool pavilion, and a family entertainment area. It’s also considering a fitness center in the next year or two.

“We came to the conclusion that times change,” Stuller said. “The kids are our future here, so we’re trying to get them involved.”

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Sarai Shaneck Spuyten Duyval Golf Course 419-829-2891 | sdgcohiogolf.com

After an admitted slump, Shaneck sees the game on an uptick and points to its positives.

“If you put in that fitness aspect of golf, the (outdoor) weather, that socialization … golf will always be in favor,” Shaneck said, while noting that one of her golfers – with Fitbit in tow – netted more than 12,000 steps in one recent round.

She also knows that some of the golf excuses are,

well, inexcusable, especially if time and money are detractors.

“You don’t have to play 18 holes,” Shaneck said. “You can play nine holes in the same time it takes to watch a movie at the theater, and get fitness, fresh air and entertainment. I also don’t know of a single course that doesn’t have rental sets, so you can rent a set of clubs pretty reasonably anywhere you go.”

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