07/26/14 7:00am
07/26/2014 7:00 AM
Riverhead, Vineyards Golf Club Head Pro Louis de Kerillis on 1st Tee Box Par 5. (Credit: Joseph DeMaria)

Vineyards Golf Club Head Pro Louis de Kerillis on the first tee box. (Credit: Joseph DeMaria)

Ladies and gentlemen, the game of golf is in need of some help. Yes, Houston, we do, indeed, have a problem.

According to the National Golf Foundation, golf has lost nearly five million players in the last decade. The number of rounds played, along with club memberships, are down at most courses. And golf courses around the country are shutting their doors. (more…)

04/06/14 8:00am
04/06/2014 8:00 AM

Keeping fun in the game is part of the plan for the owners of Cedars Golf Course, Tim McManus, left, and Paul Pawlowski. (Credit: Jay Dempsey)

When I was in seventh grade back in the 1950s, it was my dream to own a transistor radio and a new set of golf clubs. The modest earnings from my Long Island Press newspaper route put my wish list items on hold.

Paul Pawlowski had a dream when he was in seventh grade of one day owning something far more grand than a radio and a set of golf clubs.  (more…)

08/09/12 8:00pm
08/09/2012 8:00 PM

JAY DEMPSEY PHOTO | Tom McGunnigle, front and center, with some of his students.

Some of you out there, probably mostly baby-boomers, may remember the television show from the mid 1970s starring Lee Majors, “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Majors played a former astronaut, Steve Austin, who was injured in an accident and had to have many parts of his body replaced or repaired. Austin, with his newly reconstructed bionic body, went from adventure to adventure in the weekly series.

Well folks, I have discovered the North Fork’s very own bionic man. Our guy is 66 years old, lives in Peconic and has worked at many trades during his life. He has jumped horses at Madison Square Garden, been a race-car driver, farmer, welder, school bus driver and sports coach.

Our Six Million Dollar Man (probably around 30 million of today’s devalued dollars) had hip problems as a child and was on crutches. He was involved in an accident in 1976 where he lost his leg (it was reattached), lost part of his thumb, broke his ribs and fractured his shoulder. He had a blood disorder and had to have his spleen removed. He has had six “minor” surgeries, as he calls them, having his knees, hips and shoulder replaced.

And just who is our bionic man? If you’ve ever taken a golf lesson through the Southold Town Recreation Department, he is the smiling guy with the infectious laugh.

Tom McGunnigle has been giving golf lessons to young and old for over two decades. “I’ve had everything replaced and I’m not quite as nimble as I used to be,” McGunnigle said.

He could have fooled me. I recently went up to the McGunnigle farm in Peconic to take in one of his weekly golf sessions and witnessed a sweet, smooth swing from instructor McGunnigle.

Tom McGunnigle began coaching in 1987 when he took over Southold High School’s bowling team. “I was farming potatoes at the time, which were selling for two cents a pound and I needed some additional income,” he said. “I was a good bowler, so I applied for the job of Southold High School’s bowling coach.”

In 1989 McGunnigle also became Southold’s golf and softball coach.

McGunnigle took up golf after his 1976 accident. “I wanted to get some exercise so I took up golf and joined Island’s End,” he said.

McGunnigle became club champion at Island’s End and has the distinction of driving the greens on the first and second holes, back to back. He is modestly proud of his feat of taking four shots to get from the clubhouse to Long Island Sound.

Like most things he has done, McGunnigle’s golfing skills are self-taught. “My kids will tell you I analyze everything to death,” he said. “My wife says I don’t have fun doing anything because I over-analyze things, but that’s my way of having fun.”

In the late ’90s, the Southold Town Recreation Department approached McGunnigle about offering golf classes in the adult education program. With space being limited on the Southold school grounds, McGunnigle offered a chunk of his farm to serve as the practice facility. “After working out the insurance details, we began the lessons at my farm,” he said.

Getting to Tom’s practice facility is an adventure in itself. Located off the North Road in Peconic, you navigate your way down the dirt driveway with it’s twists and turns, drive past a few barns and voilà, McGunnigle magically appears before you. Acres of land complete with yardage flag sticks, sand traps and a ball-retrieving tractor. More on the tractor later.

McGunnigle offers a series of six lessons beginning with his belly-button drill. He moves onto the triangle and wrist break theories. Then it’s time for his hip high to hip high swing approach. Bubba Watson and John Daly did not attend that session. He finishes up with putting, chipping and bunker play.

One student, Sandy Rave of Peconic, said: “He makes it simple and doesn’t complicate things. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. He’s very knowledgeable.”

Back to the ball-retrieving tractor. McGunnigle’s state of the art, high-tech ball picker-upper is a 1952 Farmall tractor. This little baby runs and performs as well as its owner operates his golf clinics.

Asked what he likes best about teaching golf, McGunnigle answered: “I get the most satisfaction when a student takes it in and asks the right questions. That I love.”

07/25/12 8:00pm
07/25/2012 8:00 PM

Regular readers of the Golf Gazette know I have little tolerance for cell-phone use on the golf course. Come to think of it, I’m not a big fan of walking down a supermarket isle and listening to a fellow shopper on their phone asking the party on the other end if they should get the eight-ounce or the 16-ounce container. Do you really need help buying a bottle of ketchup? And then there are those out for their daily walk, arms flailing, chatting up a storm. Catching up with their spouses do you suppose? Hmm. But the worst of the worst are those who talk or text while driving. Makes my blood boil.

I would like to take the opportunity to commend those who have a sliver of cell-phone etiquette and move to the periphery when they make or receive a phone call. To you folks, I say thanks.

Etiquette: The conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life.
—Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Golf course etiquette should be the first thing a beginning player is taught: where to stand; when to hit; repairing divots; raking sand traps; marking your ball on the green; where to walk; fixing ball marks on the green. And the list goes on.

There are some golfers who unintentionally, or perhaps intentionally, try our patience by disregarding what to do and what not to do when playing a round of golf. I chatted with some of your golfing neighbors to find out which breach of golf etiquette annoys them the most.

Karen Danzer of Southold said, “When I’m on the green and there is a person’s shadow in my putting line and the person doesn’t move.”

Playing out of turn annoys Tony Mortillo of Greenport. “It bothers me when I’m waiting my turn to hit and a player in front of me hits before I do.”

Barbara Koch of Southold had this to say: “I get upset when the group in front of you finishes playing a hole and they take their time putting clubs back in their bags, they talk, they count up their strokes. They should leave the green and do all of that on the next tee.”

Jack Malone of Cutchogue complained, “Slow play really gets to me, when nobody in front of you gives a hoot and they don’t let you go through.”

And what ticks off your golf guy? Finding sand traps not raked and ball marks on the green left unrepaired.

Share with us your thoughts on golf course pet peeves with a comment below. Read Jay’s full column in Thursday’s paper.

07/12/12 8:00pm
07/12/2012 8:00 PM

The 2012 Ike Championship, a prestigious yearly event run by the Metropolitan Golf Association, was held June 26 and 27 at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton, bringing together the top amateur players from the metropolitan area. Competitors played qualifying rounds at different sites in late May for the right to play at Atlantic for the championship trophy.

The first day of competition saw 104 players tackle the difficult, wind-swept, 7,000-yard course. Forty players with the lowest scores from the first round moved on to play 36 holes on the final day of the tournament. Connecticut native Cameron Wilson was this year’s medalist, finishing nine strokes ahead of runners-up Joe Saladino of Huntington Country Club and Max Buckley of Westchester Country Club. Wilson, a junior attending Stamford University, recently played in his first United States Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

Our local representative in this year’s “Ike” was David Kuck, playing out of Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead. Kuck shot a sizzling round of 74 at Huntington Country Club to qualify for this year’s tournament. “Qualifying for this event is the best achievement so far in my golfing career,” Kuck said.

Kuck, a physical therapist, did not start playing golf until after he graduated from college. “I started playing golf late in life and now I can’t get enough of it,” he said. “I tried qualifying for MGA events seven times before I qualified for this year’s Ike. Now I know I can compete at this level.”

Kuck said he was nervous in the early going of round one. He settled down nicely on the back nine, however, he failed to make the cut, which was at 79. I walked with David on his last nine holes and was impressed with his enthusiasm and class. I expect to see him competing again soon.

Having attended golf tournaments most of my life, it amazes me how few people come out to watch these very good players. Normally there is no admission charge and you can get right up close to the action.

In addition to watching great golf and not seeing anything resembling a poor swing, many of these tournaments are held at some pretty swanky country clubs, clubs that only the “one percent” get to see.

There are different ways to spend your day at these events. Some choose to find a shady spot and watch as the competitors file through. Others will pick a player or two and follow them around the course. Both techniques make for a very enjoyable day on the links.

You can go on-line to the United States Golf Association, the Metropolitan Golf Association, the New York State Golf Association and the Long Island Golf Association for events in our area.

TEE TIMES Big news from the Dempsey household regarding the 2013 United States Women’s Open, which will be held at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton next June. I will be covering the event as your golf guy and am happy to report that my wife, Jean, will also be working at the tournament. Jean has signed up to work as a course marshal. She is very excited. So excited in fact, I think she may end up sleeping in her uniform. There is a problem, however. Those who know Jean know she takes any assignment given to her extremely seriously. In this case, she has already started to practice for her role at Sebonack. Lately, while enjoying our dinner and with yours truly in mid-sentence, Mrs. D may blurt out, “Quite, please!” She has also taken to blocking my path to the bathroom, saying things like: “Golfers coming through. Sorry, you’ll have to wait.” Eleven months to go before the ladies tee it up in Southampton. Wish me luck.

The USGA is looking for volunteers, women and men, to work at the 2013 Women’s Open. There are many different jobs and committees to choose from. You will only work a few hours during the week and will be given a pass to attend every day of the tournament. It’s a good deal and a great experience. Call Laura Caleal at (631) 287-4444 for details.

Vince Scheraldi of Cherry Creek Golf Links and The Woods at Cherry Creek reported holes-in-one at the Riverhead courses. Colin Brown aced No. 8 at The Woods while Gale Stenquist holed out on the second hole at Cherry Creek. Vince said both aces were made within minutes of each other. You can bet there were lots of beverages flowing in the clubhouse that day. Tim Dougherty recorded his second career hole-in-one on Swan Lake’s seventh hole, 47 years after his first ace as a 12-year-old.

A fund-raiser for the Joe Theinert Scholarship Fund will be held on Monday at Claudio’s Clam Bar in Greenport. One of the prizes will be for a foursome to play at three golf courses that are difficult to get reservations at: Altantic Golf Course, Noyack Country Club and The Bridge Golf Course. Bidding will start at 7 p.m. at Claudio’s Clam Bar. Anyone interested in bidding who cannot make it to the event may make a phone bid to Steve at (631) 484-6505.

There is still time to sign up for the rescheduled J. C. Mendreski Memorial Scholarship Golf Outing that will be held July 30 at the Woods at Cherry Creek and Stonewalls Restaurant. The cost is $150 per person. Registration will start at noon, followed by a barbecue lunch at 12:30 p.m. and a shotgun start at 1:30 p.m. Afterward, there will be an open bar, a buffet dinner and the awarding of prizes. To reserve a place, call Ross at (631) 512-5811 or Jill at (631)846-3136. Non-golfers are welcome to attend the dinner for $55.

19TH HOLE You don’t need to be a golf fan to enjoy author Jeff Miller’s new book, “North Fork Country Club — 100th Anniversary — 1912-2012” (Penguin Publishing). Miller, the former Suffolk Times editor, effectively delves into the archives of North Fork Country Club, providing interesting and amusing stories, tales and history about the club, its founders and members, past and present.

06/26/12 9:00am
06/26/2012 9:00 AM

JAY DEMPSEY PHOTO | The new proprietors of Sandy Pond Golf Course in Riverhead: Ken Weinstein, left, and Chris Wahlers.

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” author Mark Twain said after learning his obituary had been published in The New York Journal in 1897. The scuttlebutt heard locally last fall at delis, supermarkets and around town was that the nine-hole golf course in Riverhead, Sandy Pond, would be closing. Greatly exaggerated rumors? Yes, thank goodness.

In January, Ken Weinstein of Long Beach and his brother-in-law, Chris Wahlers of Mattituck, came to the rescue, becoming the new proprietors of Sandy Pond Golf Course.

“I learned that the previous owners were leaving at the end of the year,” Weinstein said. “I expressed some interest in purchasing the golf course and talked to my brother-in-law to see if this was something he would be interested in. We negotiated a lease and an agreement on the equipment. On January 1st we took over.”

And take over they did. With the help of the mild winter, the new owners immediately began making improvements at the course. “We turned up all the willow trees and cleaned up the ponds,” said Weinstein. “We want to make the ponds a focal point when people walk onto the property. We overseeded and cleaned up all the grounds to make it more presentable. We installed new irrigation around the entire property and on the tee boxes and greens.”

Weinstein, a retired Wall Street executive, handles the day-to-day operations. Wahlers works in the communications industry, has a “green thumb” and helps out whenever he can. With some experience in turf management, Wahlers has set up an experiment behind the pro shop for all to see. Spread out on a long table are small pots containing different types of grasses. “We want to see which grasses grow the greenest and the quickest,” he said.

The new owners have a list of things to do at Sandy Pond. This year they will work to improve the course and the clubhouse. If things go as planned, they hope to apply for a liquor license in the fall. “We would like to build a nice patio area with tables, chairs, and umbrellas where our guests can relax before or after a round of golf,” said Weinstein.

The results of the hard work are already evident. “I played Sandy Pond with my wife, Cathie, recently,” Mike Flanagan of Aquebogue said. “We were delighted to see the changes that have really spruced it up.”

George Ender of Hampton Bays, a 15-year member of the club, said, “The course is already vastly improved.”

Weinstein said, “I don’t know what we’ve gotten ourselves into, but here we are.”

Ken and Chris, we’re glad to have you here.

Our other par-3 golf course, Cedars Golf Club in Cutchogue, is in fantastic shape after repairing the vandalism on parts of the course that occurred early this spring. Aren’t we lucky to have not one, but two extraordinary par-3 golf courses where we can hone our golfing skills?

TEE TIMES Laurel Links Country Club hosted a qualifying event on June 12 for the upcoming New York State Open Championship, which will be held at Bethpage Black in July. Local participants included Scott Anderson and Darin Goldstein, both from Laurel Links, along with Ed Burfeindt from Island’s End Country Club. All three golfers played well, with Anderson shooting a 73, making him eligible for the finals at Bethpage.

Eighty-year-old Paul Dahm, a retired Catholic Priest, recorded his first career hole-in-one on the fourth hole at Sandy Pond. He has been playing Sandy Pond Golf Course since 1995.

Cherry Creek Golf Links will again hold junior golf camps this summer. Contact Vince Scheraldi at (631) 413-3760 for more information.

OUTINGS The Rett Syndrome Research Outing will be held July 16 at Calverton Golf Links. Call Steve Garms at (631) 786-2249 for information.

The inaugural Ecumenical Golf Outing, hosted by the men of First Presbyterian Church and St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic churches of Southold, will be held Aug. 13 at Island’s End Golf Course in Greenport. Men and women of all faiths are welcome. Contact John Orgass at (631) 765-2859 for details.

06/06/12 7:00am
06/06/2012 7:00 AM

JAY DEMPSEY PHOTO | Steve Duke has been a success at selling cars and playing golf.

Back in 1980, I took a job selling cars for Buzzy Chew at Kinney Chevrolet-Oldsmobile in Riverhead. Cars were really not “my thing” as evidenced by the fact that my first set of wheels as a teenager was a Ford Falcon. I then went on to own not one, but two Volkswagen Beetles. Not really super hot chick magnets. My tenure at Kinney, not surprisingly, was less than one year.

Buzz and I realized we should part ways after I devised a plan to get potential customers to view our entire inventory without leaving my desk. If the weather was a bit unsettled, the last thing I wanted to do was walk around outside looking at car after car. I would send my customers out on their own, telling them I had placed one of my business cards, which I cleverly named the “mystery card,” on the dashboard of one of the vehicles. If they located the “mystery card” I would give them $100 off the vehicle of their choice.

Being the enterprising and creative automobile salesman that I was, I had actually never placed a card in any of the vehicles, but it got my customers to spend hours checking out every one of the hundreds of cars we had in the huge lot. When they returned exhausted, saying they were unable to locate the “mystery card,” I congratulated them on their perseverance and told them it was their lucky day. I was still going to give them $100 off for their efforts. Buzz was a good sport and not terribly sad to see me move on.

My desk at Kinney was located directly in front of the truck manager, Steve Duke. When you think of Steve Duke you think of a number of things. Legendary automobile and truck salesman. Fabulous golfer. No nonsense, hard-working straight shooter.

I had not met Steve before working at Kinney, but knew of his reputation both on and off the golf course. Steve and I recently got together and took a trip down memory lane.

Steve Duke was born and raised in Mattituck and was a well-known all-round athlete. “I played all sports in high school: basketball, baseball, soccer and ping-pong. I think I had 12 letters,” Duke said. “I was crazy about baseball.”

Shortly after graduating from Mattituck High School, Duke entered the armed forces and served during World War II.

After his hitch in the service, Duke returned to Mattituck and worked for a short time at an ice cream parlor where he met the future Mrs. Duke. He began his career in the automobile business working as a salesman and troubleshooter for a Ford dealership in Riverhead.

After a few years, Duke moved on to a Chevrolet agency in Riverhead that became Crabtree-O’Keefe Chevrolet. Crabtree-O’Keefe eventually became Kinney Chevrolet-Oldsmobile, which Duke retired from in 1986, leaving a long list of loyal customers behind.

Steve Duke’s entry into golf came by way of a sales contest held by Chevrolet in 1954. Ever competitive, Duke won the contest. The prize was a trip to the Caribbean. Deciding he and his wife needed a new refrigerator and stove more than a week in the sun, Duke took prize points instead of the trip. Along with the new appliances, Steve chose a set of Spalding golf clubs. He had played little golf up to that point. His boss, Mr. O’Keefe, suggested he join North Fork Country Club in Cutchogue, which he did.

Being a natural and gifted athlete, with the help of club professional Fred Bornhauser, Duke fine-tuned his game very quickly. His first time on the course, Steve shot a not so awful round of 116. By year’s end he was scoring in the 80s.

Duke has had nine holes-in-one during his career, has been club champion two times and a runner-up a number of times. His biggest thrill, however, was beating the fabled Steve Doroski in the first round of his first club championship. It has been many decades since the match, but Duke was able to recall every shot like it was yesterday.

Does Steve Duke have any problems with the game of golf today?

“It seems to be that some people are in such a hurry to get done,” he said. “I find that annoying.”

In addition to his successes in athletics, his accomplishments on the golf course and the thousands of vehicles Steve Duke has sold during his lifetime, he’s got it right. Slow down and stop and smell the roses.

Prior to our time together, Steve had just completed a round of golf with his regular group. There are not many sports you can participate in as a nonagenarian. You’ve got to love this game.

TEE TIMES Vince Scheraldi of Cherry Creek Golf Links and The Woods in Riverhead reported two holes-in-one. Kevin Perace aced the second hole at Cherry Creek and Donal Clare holed out on No. 2 at The Woods.

OUTINGS Scleroderma Charity Golf Tournament, June 27, Cherry Creek Golf Links. Call the pro shop at (631) 369-6500 to sign up.