Catskills not all about jokes

It is easy to tire of the steady stream of gloom describing the state of the golf industry, fundamental validity notwithstanding. In such a frame of mind, perhaps an excursion in the Catskills is not, intuitively, the antidote.

After all, isn’t the region Illustration A for bygone resort vitality, whose Borscht Belt heydays, even as its comedic legacy remains, are a half-century removed. Resorts like Kutscher’s, Grossinger’s, The Nevele all had golf courses that were brand names – The Monster at The Concord, for example – if not icons among avid area golfers.

That’s no longer the case, but the places we did visit seemed, for the most part, to be bustling. A contributing factor has to be that as golf destinations go, it’s a steal: While food and other essentials can be near Manhattan prices (it’s roughly a two-to-three-hour drive north), easily the most we paid for golf was $44 to walk 18 holes, with the average being more like $25. Moderately priced lodging options are certainly available, as well.

In that sense, a few rounds in the Catskills – especially thanks to housesitting privileges at friends’ funky bungalow cum museum – seemed suited to the economic tenor of the times. The phenomenal weather we enjoyed for most of our vacation certainly helped.

As readers may already have inferred, if having someone at the bag rack to transport your clubs is important to you, this may not be the ideal place. Is a perfectly manicured track your first priority? You better move on.

But the Catskills in certain ways embody what most people concede is needed to spur participation and growth in golf: affordability, broad community support, and a willingness to accept the occasional brown along with the green.

The divine constant in the equation is that the topography of the Catskills – like, say, northern Michigan – simply facilitates good, sometimes great, golf course layout and design, most of it leaning toward the minimalist, almost all of it walkable.

All those positives apply to The College Golf Course at Delhi, as it is officially known. Located in the eponymous town – pronounced del-HIGH, one of the things we love about the Delaware County hamlet of some 3,000 residents – it is also affiliated with the State University of New York and doubles as laboratory and training ground for students enrolled in golf course operations, turf and professional golf management curricula.

No design credit is given for the front nine, which dates to 1960. It begins on flat terrain, then tacks along the foothills until the level 8th and 9th holes, a mid-length par 3 and a long par 5. There are plenty of striking perspectives on the scenery, especially the 7th, a longish par 4 whose downhill fairway tapers like a Coke bottle, with the green on the narrow end, flanked by woods on either side.

The back nine opened in June 1996 and is a collaborative effort with “the input and support of national leaders in the golf industry, as Delhi’s website puts it.” It has irrigation and is the proving ground for various grasses, and the routing capitalizes on the rolling terrain and panoramic views of the Catskills.

A par 72, the course measures 6,388 yards from the blue tees, slope 128, as little as 4,869 yards, slope 116, from the shortest of fours sets of tees. The most expensive weekend green fee is $33, with league and twilight rates at $14.

Dave Arehart, the head professional who doubles as instructor in the golf management programs during the off-season, has been happy to stay in the black during the latest bout of economic upheaval. The 22,000 rounds per year, 250 members, and thriving junior program are testament to the course’s status as community asset.

The afternoon we played, a Thursday, the senior leagues had segued into lunch, a throng of juniors was on the practice tee preparing for a friendly with a team from a nearby rival club, and Arehart was making last-minute preparations for the next day’s opening rounds of the club championship.

Not the first time the Everyman’s club concept has been tried – and succeeded – but maybe one whose time has come again. It would be nice to think so, anyway., (607) 746-4653.

# # #