Earlier this summer, on the heels of its "While We're Young" and "Tee It Forward" campaigns, the United States Golf Association introduced "Play 9 Day" to promote all the ways new and experienced players can enjoy the sport in a shorter, more relaxed timeframe.
Meanwhile, before the July sun rose over Riverhead on the USGA's Play 9 Day, Chris Wahlers was out, as usual, cutting the grass at the nine-hole Sandy Pond Golf Course. Co-owner of Sandy Pond with his brother-in-law Ken Weinstein, Wahlers has found that the most effective way to appeal to players from young and old to beginner and advanced is with hard work and early-morning grass stains.
Wahlers and Weinstein are in their third season as owners, and they’ve had their hands dirty from the start, spending much of their time cleaning out Sandy Pond's namesake hazards, building new tees, repairing greens or beautifying out-of-play areas. Wahlers knows the work is paying off because new faces are showing up to play the 1,070-yard course.
The hilly rectangle of land has long been a quaint setting for low-key local golf -- when the clubhouse is empty, a sign politely requests that players leave their green fee in an envelope before teeing off -- but conditions were in decline when the new owners took over. Some greens had lost nearly 40% of their turf, Wahlers said, and areas around the ponds and course perimeter had become overgrown.
Today there is a stronger mix of playability and eye candy. Mowing lines and contrasting colors form a pleasant vista, while enlarged and refurbished greens allow for real putting on smooth surfaces. Just a few steps from the gravel driveway, the first tee directs players toward the heart of the property, and along the way to the green they'll pass a stretch of golden-brown fescue that replaced a strand of bushy trees and is part of Sandy Pond's new look. The fescue and some mounding around the course, Wahlers said, is designed to add texture to the surrounding "rough."
Directly ahead at the downhill fourth, one of several flower-filled garden beds around the course freshens up the foot of a large tree behind the green. Alongside the hole, the course perimeter has been tidied up, though there's more work to be done in the area, Wahlers said.
In addition to the perimeter maintenance, Wahlers has some other improvements on the agenda, one of which is a new tee that will extend the third hole behind a water hazard and add more aesthetic appeal. A temporary tee is already in use during league play, but a permanent box is in the works along with some additional landscaping that would separate the hole from a nearby maintenance shed. Tee shots would then start their ascent over a pond and wooden bridge. Nearby, there are plans for a new patio behind the clubhouse.
Feedback from the upgrades has been overwhelmingly positive, Wahlers said. A competitive Wednesday night league began play in June, and a swell in demand led to the start of a second league for ladies on Thursdays. And, of course, more and more new faces are making their way up the gravel driveway and taking in the view.
For more on Sandy Pond, visit the course flyover.