Colonial Ridge Golf Club: A little slice of home

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My recent review of local golf course Colonial Ridge Golf Club in Laurens, N.Y.,  published in The Evening Sun, June 12, 2015:

LAURENS – Colonial Ridge Golf Club was once the “Little Engine that Could,” a golf course cut out of the backwoods of Otsego County that was the brain child of the late Clair Jacobsen Sr.

Jeff Waffle, head pro and co-owner of the course with his family, began a near lifelong affiliation with the course, then named Cee Jay’s, at the age of 12. For years, Cee Jay’s was a pitch-and-putt type of layout topping out at 4,900 yards, and playing to an 18-hole par of 69.

The Jacobsen family sold the course to the Waffle family over 10 years ago following Jacobsen’s death, and it’s a safe bet that Jacobsen would be proud of the course’s improvements and augmentations. “I think he would be happy with the direction we have gone,” Waffle said Wednesday following a full day of on-the-course upkeep.

Thirteen years ago, I toured Colonial Ridge with Bob McNitt, and about the only thing I remembered from that day was the miserable weather. Waffle, who was working merely as the head pro at the time, told us that several changes were planned for the course.

Waffle was right; I remembered little of the 2002 Colonial Ridge edition. The order of holes changed, holes have been lengthened, and new tee boxes have pushed the length of the course from the blue tees to over 6,200 yards.

For the second straight week, Rick Ferris joined me on my outing. I chose Colonial Ridge because of Rick’s affinity for the course, his course knowledge, and his familiarity with the Waffle family. He told me they were super nice people.

Indeed, the Waffle family immediately made us feel like welcomed guests. While Jeff Waffle was out on the course mowing greens, his mother Mona was manning the pro shop. Mona, Jeff’s wife Julene, and Mona’s late husband, Glenn, have brought a simple philosophy to their course ownership, one Mona described as “making golfer’s feel like they’re coming home” (when they played the course). Added Jeff: “We want people to feel like they are joining a family, not just a golf club.”

Mona explained that the price point for everything at the course – from memberships and greens fees to food prices at the next-door restaurant, The Black Bull Tavern, run by Mike Waffle, Jeff’s brother – is geared toward the every-day working man.

It’s no wonder that the 270 members at the course come from as far away as Delhi and Stamford. “It seems like we’re out in the back woods, but really we’re just a couple of miles off route 23, and just 15 minutes from Oneonta,” Jeff Waffle said. “Half of our play comes from the Oneonta area.”

At just over 20 miles from Norwich, our home base, the greens fee rate of about $25 with a cart is pretty good; however, the $350 full-year membership is an off-the-hook bargain.

Following some entertaining banter with Mona Waffle prior to tee-off, Rick grabbed a couple of scorecards – one for official recordkeeping, and one for me to mark up with inane data to satiate my inner statistics geek.

As I said a few paragraphs earlier, Rick possessed a wealth of local course knowledge. “Don’t go right,” “don’t hit it left,” “…you want to hit it just right of that pine tree and left of that mound.”

My mind absorbed Rick’s counsel, yet I remained full of hope and optimistic for a better showing that last week’s putrid display of golf at Chenango Valley State Park. Right out of the box, Colonial Ridge throws a 545-yard monster at you. The opening hole is a long dogleg to the right with a pond on the corner of the dogleg ready to swallow up any rightward-bound tee shots.

Rick’s first words, “you don’t want to go right here.”

“Okay,” I said, then I proceeded to push fade my opening tee shot touching down on pond central. My ball’s minimal splash and seamless pond entry would have scored a 9.0 from the French and Russian judges, but for score’s sake, I was taking a penalty stroke and dropping pondside. Another bogey –- or worse – was safely in the bank.

Inauspicious beginning be darned, I was not about to repeat my ill-fated golfing performance from last week. Too, Rick was resolved to improve his score. His short-game “skull-duggery” was a thing of the past as he planted fairly solid contact on his greenside chip shots. His trusty driver went awry, but Rick was slick with the recoveries.

The two of us weathered a poor start, and settled in for nicely played front nines of 39 (for me) and 41 respectively. My growling stomach requested sustenance at the turn, and we headed out for a back nine that was as enjoyable as our front nine.

I dug out my article on the course from 13 years ago, and a recurring theme from that day was copious doglegs, blind tee shots, and undulating greens. While many changes were made in the course’s length and upkeep, the meat and potatoes remained the same. Not one hole at Colonial Ridge is straight – or flat – and every green is full of hills, mounds, and breaks.

On several of the holes, the first- or second-time player on the course would be advised to drive up the fairway for some reconnaissance. You might think driver is the right club based on the scorecard, but more often than not, a three-wood or long-iron hybrid is the prudent club of choice. “Pound for pound, this is one of the more difficult courses I have played,” Jeff Waffle said. “It’s a thinking man’s golf course, and you have to make sure you play to the appropriate distance.”

With my driver taking me to parts unknown last week, I settled on hitting my three-wood off the tee on nearly every par-four and par-five. Better safe than sorry, I said to myself over and over.

During our four-hour tour, we passed Jeff as he was en route to another mowing station on the course. During our conversation, he remarked about the state of the greens, and the depth and severity of the winter kill. “It was a brutal winter,” he said. “Fifteen of the greens were damaged beyond belief.”

Now less than two months removed from greens teetering on life support, the putting surfaces have bounced back nicely. A few of the greens still suffer from patches of winter kill, but the Waffle-led staff is on it.

They really are.

“We were heart-broken,” Waffle said of his initial thoughts after the 2014-2015 winter. “But we’ve put in a lot of time and effort to get the greens back.”

Waffle said his crew, in just over a month’s time, has used as much fertilizer and top dressing as an entire summer. “(The greens) have all come back, and the clientele here has been extremely supportive,” he said. “They see the work we’ve put in, and I think they appreciate that.”

The greens at Colonial Ridge were not the only works in progress on this day. Rick’s game, one his usually describes as “constantly under construction” was much improved over a week ago. Mine, too, was markedly better than last week, although the thoughts of all the bad shots from a week earlier never left my thoughts.

I ended up breaking 80 for the first time this year, but I described it to Rick as one of the shakiest sub-80 rounds I have ever played. Thank goodness for a solid short game, and although I was playing the course for only the second time, I felt right at home.

We all tend to play a little better at home, right?

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