Golf club seeks new members

CARRIE ANN SALVI PHOTO | Jimi Rando drives off the first tee at Shelter Island Country Club.

The Shelter Island Country Club and Golf Course has seen a decrease in its membership over the last two years and board members have been brainstorming to find ways to reverse the trend.

Membership at the town-owned club, which was founded in 1901, has dropped 10 percent in each of the last two years, according to General Manager Charlie Beckwith and Board Vice President Ron Lucas. Total membership was 170 in 2009; last year it was down to 155. So far this year it stands at 135.

They blamed economic trends that have hit golf courses all over the country, including a preference among younger people for other forms of recreation. They also cited a more local reason: younger people have been leaving the Island, where housing costs are high and jobs few, to find careers elsewhere.

USA Today has reported that golf clubs “now face withering competition for the money and time of younger consumers.” The under-40 crowd, according to the newspaper, works harder than previous generations did and prefers to spend limited leisure time with family at facilities with fitness rooms and spas. And younger people “prefer doodling on an iPhone, iPad, Wii or Facebook over playing golf,” it reported.

The club’s board members are convinced they need to encourage players from off the Island to join the club to make up for the local deficit. Board President Betty Kontje said membership fees are comparable to those at courses on the North and South forks, yet SICC offers incomparable panoramic views of both Dering Harbor and Noyac Bay. The club hopes to attract new members by developing its Internet presence in the near future, according to Secretary Phyllis Power. It currently has no website or Facebook page.

Built by the Shelter Island Heights Association, the SICC was the first golf course on Shelter Island. It was modeled after Scottish golf courses, shortly after the sport’s introduction to the U.S. Called Goat Hill by local people for years, its nickname refers to the high hill on which the clubhouse sits, one of the highest points on the Island.

The indoor seating area of the clubhouse is named for Bill and Olive Congdon, who ran the club for 57 years, from the time it was owned by the Heights corporation through the period when the town bought it. The cozy and picturesque clubhouse, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, is almost unchanged since the days when Mr. Congdon cut the fairways with mowers pulled by horses. It includes a large bar, a leased restaurant with a new tenant this year, abundant indoor and outdoor porch seating, two televisions and a fireplace.

In 1942, the Heights Association decided to close the golf course. Mr. Congdon, who had worked at the club since he was a teenager in 1920, proposed that he rent it and run it as a private business. For the next 34 years, the Congdons were successful, but in 1976 profits were low and the Heights wanted to raise the rent. The Congdons decided to retire, and the club was leased and operated by George Blados until 1978. Citing financial troubles, the Heights sold the 42.17-acre course and clubhouse to the town for $275,000. Since 1980, the SICC has been operated by a volunteer Board of Trustees.

CARRIE ANN SALVI PHOTO | Goat Hill General Manager Charlie Beckwith and board members Phyllis Power, Betty Kontje and Ron Lucas discuss membership issues on the scenic deck of the clubhouse.

The club’s mission has not changed much over its 110 years. According to its original constitution,  “The objects of this Club shall be to provide and maintain for its members proper grounds and facilities for playing the game of golf … and a clubhouse for their accommodation, and also to promote social intercourse among the members of the Club.”

The golf course features nine holes on 2,512 yards from the longest tees for a par of 33. The course rating is 63.8, the approximate the number of strokes it should take an amateur golfer to complete the course. It has a slope rating of 107, a measurement of its difficulty. The minimum slope rating is 55 and the maximum is 155.

Under town rules intended to protect the Island’s aquifer, only the greens are irrigated. That keeps board members doing a rain dance in hopes that Mother Nature will cooperate and keep the course in good shape, according to Board Secretary Phyllis Power.  When Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate, the hardened dry grass does help golfers get some extra distance on their drives. The limited irrigation also means a minimum of fertilizer is used on the property.

Members and visitors to the Shelter Island Country Club have access to a driving range, a fully-stocked pro shop with balls, tees, souvenirs and clothing, both hand and motorized carts, and clubs for rent. Members of all ages enjoy the tournaments and themed gatherings. The junior tournament in August is open to non-members.

The clubhouse and course are available for formal or informal family celebrations, business meetings as well as for other group or organization outings.

Taxpayers do not support the town-owned club, except for certain repairs. According to Mr. Lucas, “The Highway Department takes care of emergency repairs to the clubhouse building, such as a recent roof leak. We are on our own with maintenance of the grounds and course.”

Membership for single golfers is $450 annually, $675 for couples, $150 for juniors under 18, and $725 for families. There are discounted rates for seniors.  House memberships, which have no golfing privileges, are available at $100 for singles and $150 for couples. Proceeds from the club go back into maintaining the course.

To become a member, a membership application must be filled out and returned with a check for the appropriate membership category, payable to Shelter Island Country Club, in person or by mail at P.O. Box 852, 11965. The club welcomes non-members to play on weekdays, nine holes for $15; and $18 on weekends. The course and golf facilities are open from 7 a.m. until dusk April through October.