Blizzard Slows Down City Golf Courses

As Juno closed in on New York City on Monday, and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a potentially catastrophic storm, one niche industry would surely feel the impact. You can golf in the cold, but you can’t golf in the snow.

Monica Davis, the general manager at the Pelham Bay and Split Rock Golf Course in the Bronx, said that the course isn’t closed during the winter. The cold alone doesn’t deter the faithful. On Martin Luther King Day, with temperatures hovering between the high 30s and low 40s, around 140 people came out to play, she said.

However, when it snows, the course must shut down. And while the weather might be an inconvenience for golfers, it’s a major business consideration for the courses themselves. Davis says that when they do the budget in October, they try to guess what kind of impact the storms will have.

“We budget based on weather patterns,” said Davis. “And we use anywhere from five to ten-year averages of weather.”

On Monday afternoon, she anticipated that the course would be closed for 10 to 12 days after the storm.

The Chelsea Piers Golf Club in Manhattan has the distinct advantage of being a driving range rather than a full golf course. Nevertheless, the course had teams of four working through the night on Monday to clear the snow. “Once you get to five inches, then we’ve got to clear it,” said the vice president and general manager, David Beltre. “You don’t wait for more than six inches to do it.” Though the driving range was closed during the blizzard, the club was open regular business hours, and on Tuesday morning three clients came in to use the indoor golf simulators. The range was back up and running by Tuesday afternoon.

Doug Johnstone is the superintendent and concessionaire at the Silver Lake Golf Course in Staten Island, a public course that is not subsidized by the city. In preparation for Juno, he readied his equipment, which included a snow blower, a Ford F550 dump truck with a 9-foot plow blade, a truck with a salter, and lot of shovels. Johnstone said there is a tremendous amount of extra maintenance, labor, and expense that comes along with each snowfall. Some staff members were told not to come in on Tuesday, and Johnstone and his partner Eve Taranto worked with a skeleton crew of maintenance workers to clear the sidewalks and parking lots.

But even with Juno, this winter has been better than last year, when the course was closed for three months and only the restaurant stayed open. On snow-less winter days with temperatures in the 20s, Silver Lake usually gets a dozen golfers. As the temperature rises, so does attendance.

Snow days at Silver Lake also bring the added phenomenon of trespassing sledders. The Parks Department website declares, “Please note that while sledding is allowed in New York City Parks, it is illegal to go sledding on golf courses.” Staten Islanders, however, seemed to take that as more of a suggestion than a hard rule. On Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 20 school-age children whizzing down hills near the sixth and seventh holes.

Peter Mckee and Connor Peterson, both 16, live nearby. On the back of the eighth green they were building a snowboard jump. “We used to go sledding when we were little,” said Mckee. “The snow is a little loose, but we’ll try.”

Johnstone says that after a snowfall, people will cut holes in the fence and let themselves in. “Do we have a security guard to stop people from sledding? No, we do not,” said Johnstone. “It’s clearly posted there’s no sledding on the golf courses.”