BY KEN RUGGIERO
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — I’ve broken my cardinal rule over the past two weeks. Since I began sharing my love for the game of golf with my readers some 28 seasons ago, I made a promise to myself that I would write for the mass audience in Western New York rather than concentrate on my specific area in Niagara Falls.
Recently, I bent my belief in order to address the issue of Hyde Park’s Red Nine, its history, and its current state. In some ways, this matter does involve all of my readers, from Lockport to Grand Island to Utica. In effect, many public golf courses are at impasse due to local economy and facing a similar dilemma.
I am writing this column twenty-four hours after the Wednesday publication of my part-two in the series on the Red Nine. I can say without hesitation that I have had, in that time span, 50 comments from players at Hyde Park and 17 emails. Every single golfer remark was positive.
Here’s a very brief sampling:
“Great article Ken. I think that anyone in this city that grew up golfing at Hyde Park, loved the Red Nine, as I did. How nice it would be to see manicured fairways and traps on “the good old Red Nine”. It’s almost legendary. I would encourage Mayor Dyster to take a close, serious look at its condition and find a way to fix it.” - George Edwards, NF
“Inspirational! Hope the powers that be are listening. I played my first round of golf ever on a real course at the Red Nine, probably in the early 1970s before I hit my teen years. The appreciation that I’ve developed for municipal courses in general, and my own experiences at Hyde Park in particular, grows deeper over time.” - Tom Lizardo, NF
“I really enjoyed your two-part article about the historic significance of the Red Nine at Hyde Park Golf Course, and am writing to offer my support in restoring this course. It was so interesting to learn the history of that course, and disheartening to learn what contributed to its demise. I hope Mayor Dyster will jump on your idea to form a non-political board to develop a plan to bring the Red Nine back to its former glory. With all the tourism in the city, the golf course could/should be another destination visitors would want to experience. I admire your passion about this matter” - Kelly Simon, NF
“In reading your column re. the Red 9, I find it almost incredulous that it was once upon a time such a highly rated and cherished set of links. It’s current appearance would be laughable if it were not such a disgrace. Even the course staff have been heard to refer to it as a “beginner’s” course because it is in such disrepair, and hence is offered at a discount to players. I surely do endorse your sentiments re: refurbishing it on an immediate basis, and to establish a local oversight board to evaluate and maintain it. I wish you all the best in your “crusade” to reclaim the Red 9.” - M.J.Ragusa, M.D.
“Great information. My friends and I would always play the Red when we were younger. It was long but we didn’t lose as many golf balls. We’d still being playing it but the conditions are horrible.” - Tom Gariano, NF
I have not as yet heard from any Niagara Falls officials. In fairness, the article was published only last Wednesday.
• • •
During my series on the Red Nine, I mentioned that course architect A.W. Tillinghast wrote in a letter to the president of the PGA that he was recommending the elimination of “Duffers Headaches” on the layout.
I have had several inquiries as to what exactly that term meant and I am happy to oblige the question with an answer.
The Duffers Headache is a term coined by Tillinghast referring to the bunkers and cross hazards often placed 100-150 yards from the tee to collect and punish poor drives. In the early 1900’s, this super penal style of architecture was fairly common on many of the courses built in this country.
“Duffers Headaches” became a foremost target of Tilly. The overuse of cross hazards took the fun and pleasure out of the game for less skilled and older golfers.
While they offer virtually no trouble to a good golfer, a novice who struggles to keep the ball in the air for long distances will be less prone to keep playing the game if he/she continually finds themselves within these confines.
Referring to the less-talented player, Tilly wrote, “His poorly played shots are vexations enough without digging pitfalls to add to his sorrows.” The USGA was promoting a golf course design that was equitable for all divisions of skill levels as far back as the 1930s.
Coincidentally, over the past year, the USGA has heavily promoted the “Tee It Forward” program throughout the United States. Its thrust is to allow golfers to play at a variety of course lengths in order to maximize the players ability to play the course with reasonable opportunity.
There are so many benefits to this “Tee It Forward” program. It astounds me that a few local courses have not taken steps to rectify the situation, both for the benefit of course clientele and for the business itself. After all, satisfied customers lead to increased business.
Additionally, if local clubs can place golfers on tees quantified to their actual abilities, speed of play would quicken dramatically as a result. It’s a win-win proposition.
Here‘s how the “Play It Forward” program works. Courses set up tees on each hole from three distinct distances. For low handicap players, a course distance would be approximately 6,400 yards. For intermediate players, a course distance would be 6,000 yards. For seniors and ladies, the course length would be approximately 5,600 yards. Nothing dramatic needs be done to accomplish this accommodation. Most courses already have tees ready to oblige these distances.
At Hyde Park, I recently spoke with the appropriate powers-that-be about this program, but unfortunately, my ideas seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
• • •
I received an email the other day from a guy who calls himself “Base Paths”. I decided to “google” his alias and see what came up. I got dozens of obituaries as a result. Not a good omen. Then I realized that BP was none other than living, longtime friend and fellow sports writer Doug Smith.
Doug tells me that a neighbor recently gave him several hybrid golf clubs and he was wondering whether or not these odd looking specimens might actually improve his game.
The simple answer, Doug, is “yes”.
Most serious players are using hybrid clubs today, even the pros. Mostly, they replace the always-hard-to-hit 2, 3, and 4 irons. Hybrids are far more forgiving. They have a larger sweet spot than most long irons and they have more beef in the head, making it easier to hit from the rough. Personally, I carry three Ping hybrids.
I’ve seen you play Doug, and I know that you’re often in the rough. Give these hybrids a try. I suspect that you’ll rid yourself of those old long irons in no time. Place them on Ebay under “antiques”.
Until next week, keep it in the fairway.Ken Ruggiero is a local golf instructor and has been writing this column for the past 28 years. He can be reached at email@example.com or 298-0967