Westchester County’s six 18-hole golf courses have opened for the season with players being able to initially tee up on March 12 at the Dunwoodie and Sprain Lake courses in Yonkers, Saxon Woods in Scarsdale and Maple Moor in White Plains.
The openings of Hudson Hills in Ossining and Mohansic in Yorktown Heights followed. As was the trend nationwide, because golf provided outdoor recreation compatible with social distancing requirements to combat Covid-19 while other recreational activities were restricted, the year 2020 saw a 40% increase in the number of rounds played on county courses over 2019’s activity. The 267,455 rounds made 2020 the best season for the county’s courses in more than 20 years.
This year, as last year, virus mitigation measures are in effect, including restricting golf carts to only one rider, requiring masks and social distancing and flagsticks being left in the holes instead of being pulled out by hand when players reach the greens. The county removed rakes, ball washers and coolers from the courses and increased sanitizing of equipment. Food service establishments at courses are operating at reduced indoor and outdoor capacity in accordance with state requirements while also offering take-out service.
“When you have a parks system as extensive as ours, 55 parks from one end of the county to the other, you have a diverse amount of things and they appeal to different audiences,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer told the Business Journal. “Not everybody is part of a country club or beach club setting so we have public pools and beaches. For the same reason, we have public golf courses. There are great private golf courses in this county, fabulous courses, major courses where national tournaments are played. Public golf courses reach people for whom golf is their preferred recreation. Golf is a sport you can play into your 60s, 70s, so it meets a certain dynamic of recreation.”
Latimer pointed out that the county’s golf course system has been operating for decades.
“Each of the county’s courses has a different dynamic. The last course that we added to the mixture came over 20 years ago at Hudson Hills. Going through the pandemic you’ll see there are a certain amount of recreational options that we lost during 2020 and they’re starting to come back in 2021 but they’re still not back,” Latimer said.
“Golf naturally includes social distancing. In golf, you do not cover the other players the way you do in basketball or go head-to-head the way you do in football or hockey. We were able to successfully open the courses last year during the pandemic.”
Latimer believes that the Westchester golf courses provide a host of practical benefits for residents.
“You’re not going to have a golf course at home in your backyard. You might have a pool, you might have a basketball court and to play golf you’re going to have to go to an institutional setting,” Latimer said.
“Private clubs generally require you to have a significant down-payment to be a member and you have to do other things such as have a certain number of meals there. The average person who lives in Westchester County and wants to play a round of golf may not have the resources to participate in that. In the same way that the average person may not be able to join a beach club to get out to a beach or a private pool the average person cannot financially join a country club.
“Golf still is a relatively expensive sport because of the greens fees but the public course does not come with all of the connective expenses attached to it. You sign up to play in the same way you would reserve a park pavilion to have a picnic. You go, you use it, you pay a much less expensive greens fee and you rent a cart.”
Latimer said that having golf courses in different parts of the county means reaching more people and making golfing more convenient.
“If all we had were golf courses that would be very unfair, but we do have pools, we do have beaches, we do have nature centers. We have parks where you can walk around in a lake setting and parks where you can hike. The golf experience is one of those diverse options that you have,” Latimer said. “We have long since handled the financial acquisition costs for our golf courses so right now from an operational standpoint the costs of operating the golf courses are less than the fees that we get in. We do make a profit although it’s not a superior profit.”
Latimer said that the county’s golf course operation needs to be viewed as part of a bigger picture.
“Golf itself has a great identification with Westchester. Westchester has some of the oldest and most-storied golf courses in the country,” Latimer said.
“If you’re a young executive with a wife and young children living in the city and you’re thinking of moving to the suburbs, you can go any place you want: Nassau County is attractive, Fairfield County is attractive and Jersey is attractive. As you look at Westchester you see a lot of things. You’ve got the Hudson River, you’ve got Long Island Sound, you’ve got excellent school systems, a convenient commute and you’ve got cities that are generally safer than other cities of their size in the state. So all of those things work together and golf as public recreation is part of that.”
Latimer also noted that the county offers miniature golf at the Saxon Woods Park pool site, the Playland Amusement Park in Rye and Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers. He suggested that there are greater expectations regarding quality of life that’s enjoyed in Westchester than there might be when considering other geographic areas.
“When people or businesses look to relocate all of these things factor in together. Public golf is reflective of the reasons you’d look at Westchester,” Latimer said.
“We know that maintaining golf courses in an ongoing process. There’s always a need to upgrade your physical infrastructure. For the courses to function at the level they’re at we constantly have to be looking at upgrades.”
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