SEVEN YEARS AGO, at the Ticonderoga Golf Club annual fund-raising event, members of the Board of Directors agreed that attempts at small annual improvements needed a jump start. The club was losing money every year and annual fund raising of $20,000-$25,000 was not enough to accomplish what needed to be done. Four of the course’s holes were at the same level as a brook which ran through the property. A rainstorm of any significant strength could raise the brook, flood the greens and close the course. There was little to no drainage and the “irrigation system” was nothing more than a single pipe drawing from a swamp! The course literally could go from a flooded state to baked out in three days.
To make matters worse, the course was not a private club capable of assessing members but rather a public club with no savings. It had no plan, no money and no ability to deal with a catastrophe. And so, on the back of a napkin, Board members Paul Brauner and Mike Coleman, former Board member Paul Ingrey and Club Pro George Mackey devised a naive plan – rebuild, move a few greens and insert a short game area. Little did they know that seven years later, they would be looking at the tail end of a $10 million project!
The naive part of the group’s thinking was that hiring a course architect to draw a master plan was a smart beginning. The problem with a master plan done by a course architect with vision (Steve Durkee, Mountainside Construction) was that it was so beautiful they had to decide what they were willing to live without. And a few of them weren’t willing to live without very much.
To get started the project was broken into three phases. Phase One, begun in 2015, turned out so well it morphed into Phase Two. Somewhere along the way the decision was made to enhance the drainage. The counter balance to that was to overhaul the irrigation system. To increase water storage, two ponds were built. But what’s the point of all that water and multiplying the pipes and heads if you don’t have the proper turbine to drive it?
As one aspect of the work uncovered the need for more, members’ patience was tried. The endless piles of dirt and temporary greens drove them crazy. But, by May of 2018, there was a light at the end of the tunnel – until Memorial Day weekend when the course’s clubhouse burned to the ground from a kitchen fire!
The Board met the next day to decide whether to give up or if they were at the point of no return. If there hadn’t already been so much work done to the course, it was likely the decision would have been made to post two signs –“Closed” and “For Sale”. But the Board just didn’t want to quit. At the same time, the decision was made that if they were going to rebuild, they needed to create something special.
In a recent conversation with SB, Brauner and current Board member Jay Wells described their thinking at that juncture. “Ticonderoga is a town with so much history and so much natural beauty. It had just been hidden for too long. We decided we wanted to provide not just a place to hit balls but a community gathering spot of which everyone could be proud. We wanted to host gatherings, whether they be weddings, golf outings, business outings, holiday parties, etc.”
Times were changing and the two men, as well as others in the community, were seeing evidence that the goal might be doable. For the first time in a long time, money was starting to come north of Tongue Mountain. They could see evidence of that in the residences being built. They saw chances being taken by some small businesses. James Cawley had created two sites for Star Trek enthusiasts that were incredible! (Captain Kirk— William Shatner—will be celebrating his 90th birthday in Ticonderoga this summer.) Beth Hill had totally turned Ft. Ticonderoga around. It was time for others to in the community to step up as well.
The Board knew it was underinsured and, after the fire, its insurance carrier decided to wait it out and try to force the course to accept pennies on the dollar. So, the Board, along with its building architect, course designer and engineer fought the insurance company. They did a terrific job but the insurer just dug in and stalled.
Not willing to give up, the group went to Senator Betty Little who introduced them to the New York State Department of Finance, the agency that decides who gets to do business in the state. The DFS arranged a mediation and a year later, the Board received what it deserved – but it was still not enough to move forward. The site was challenging, to say the least. Enhancements, just to meet code requirements, were well over $1.5 million. At that point, the Board had the insurance money and a few enthusiastic members but clearly, they needed more friends.
Their first friend turned out to be Sandy Morhouse, a semi-retired attorney who also happened to be one of the cornerstones of The Ticonderoga Revitalization Alliance. The TRA is a full 501c-3 dedicated to achieve what it says – the revitalization of Ticonderoga, whether that be helping fledgling businesses, rescuing and developing “zombie” buildings or providing an avenue to help rescue and rebuild a formerly broken but critical gathering spot. Sandy helped the Board attract donors and the TRA opened doors to conversations with people who were willing to hear the story. In the end, many of them stepped up.
One of those people was Sonny Bonacio of Bonacio Construction in Saratoga. He grabbed the architectural plans, did a it of value-added engineering and became the builder for the new clubhouse at a much lower cost than previous bids. “We couldn’t have done this without people like Sonny – people willing to go a little farther to help,” Brauner emphasized.
But more help was needed. Along the way, a few new Board members joined and performed inspiring work. “We have been lucky in this regard. I can’t imagine either a better Board or managing to get through all this without a Board of this quality,” Brauner said. “It’s amazing to see the drive and the will to get this project done. We won’t tell you their names because other organizations will try to poach them!”
However, once more, the group faced adversity. How about a worldwide pandemic? It was just a few months into the construction of the new clubhouse when COVID-19 hit. Have you ever tried to raise funds when you are watching people lose their jobs at an historic rate? The Board managed to do just that when it was 48 hours from the possibility of having to halt construction. They were short of money but Board members came through, piecing together a bridge loan financed by private donors. It was an absolutely impossible task but they made it happen!
Seven years after writing on that cocktail napkin, three years after the fire and a year after the start of the pandemic the light at the end of the tunnel is bright for the Ti Golf Club and its determined members. Golf operating revenue last year set records each month despite no clubhouse or even a beverage cart. The course will be even better this year. The club has contracted with Spruce Hospitality from Queensbury and is excited to open Seymour’s, a restaurant named after the original course designer of 100 years ago, Seymour Dunn. A new, experienced superintendent, Joe Tennyson, has been hired and Jason Hughes, former director of golf at Basin Harbor in Vermont will be joining George Mackey, who is nearing the finish line of his 40-year career.
Brauner and Wells are eager for the start of the 2021 golf season. “The course is new. The building is new,” they enthused. “After facing so many hurdles, we recognize our good fortune and we can’t wait to see all of you out here,” the two men concluded.
Ticonderoga Golf Course
609 NY Route 9
Ticonderoga, NY 12883