Featured Story

Goat Hill closes for winter to preserve it: Keeping the course healthy and playable

The Shelter Island Municipal Golf Course, our Goat Hill, is now officially closed for the winter.

Over the past few months, the crew has worked diligently to put the course to bed so that it may heal and be ready and capable come spring time.

With that come some administrative duties, which keeps the Board busy, like thanking all our members for continued support of what we do as a group, while asking our membership to do their part for the course.

The first question Islanders may have is, “Why?” And that’s fair, given how for years the Goat was open when weather was good. But, then the 2014 “snow mold” season did serious damage that the grounds crew was able to minimize.

Each successive year, though, the course suffered with each winter’s play. After last year’s closure and resultant health of the course, we’re doing it again. We have closed off the 9th green and ask all members and neighbors to refrain from going on the course unnecessarily. We ask all Islanders to respect the fencing and keep off all greens around the course. (More on that later.)

The Shelter Island Country Club Board asks everyone to please respect the fences around the greens. (Credit: Brian Lechmanski)

Cold weather can cause lasting damage to a course if players are out on it. An article in Golf Monthly Magazine explored this in 2022, in which the author, a senior greenskeeper at a private club, explained why courses close in the winter.

At this time of year, rain often comes with its sidekick — frost. While it can make for a stunning postcard, it can cause lasting damage. The exact effects are long-debated, but pressure on frozen grass causes bruising, which is why you commonly see brown marks on the putting surface and tee box  after the frost and ice melt.

Closures aren’t purely for aesthetics, though. Grass grows at approximately 5% of its usual speed in the winter since it doesn’t have the temperature it needs to really grow; nor can it be simulated. That means the bruised, brittle and bumpy surface that was continuously walked on has a significantly slower recovery time, and will almost certainly take well into the spring until it’s fixed.

Favorable weather in the afternoon might help the frost thaw, but it’s not uncommon for a course to remain closed for the day once it hits the surface. So, while it may seem fine weather in the early afternoon to hit a few around the Goat, the grass that players would walk on will still have frozen characteristics and not recover until likely July, if play is limited in the earlier parts of the season.

In addition, we’re still growing the second tee box for a full season of play in 2024 after a year of healthy growth.

Further, this year, we already coordinated with the town to ensure the 9th green is roped off so sledding damage doesn’t ruin our signature hole (or the practice green just above it). In fact, for course considerations and general safety, we’re discouraging any sledding around the clubhouse due to the steep hills and potential for course damage and possible injury.

In fact, with the conditions around the course now that it’s closed, we would encourage limiting sledding or other snow-related activities to the 4th hole hill (the side facing the Shore Road/Sunnyside Avenue intersection).

Around the course and club, Brian Lechmanski and the crew continue to perform maintenance on the equipment, including the new slab in the shop so our equipment doesn’t degrade from the dust.

This allows the club to reduce degradation and dulling of mowing equipment and other tools. They’ll continue to work to keep healthy all the areas of the course, with specific attention to the personal cart storage area, which we hope to improve soon enough.

Members who still have carts in the private cart spaces are asked to remove them so our crew can do maintenance on that area. Carts can be stored in the seasonal cart area at the base of the 1st tee with signed agreements that will be sent to owners soon.

In the end, we know it can be frustrating to have good or at least tolerable weather and not be able to play golf. But, our trade-off is a healthy course in the spring that helps generate revenue to continue to improve what many in golf consider to be a hidden gem on the East End.

Thank you to everyone on Shelter Island and beyond who help make Goat Hill what it is. We’ll reach out to everyone when we open in the spring.