Taconic Golf Club plans to open this Saturday. The club's seen a significant growth in membership for its top-rated course.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The leadership of Taconic Golf Club is excited about Saturday's planned opening of the course, which traces its roots to the 19th century.
But those same leaders are more excited about the innovations that are ensuring Taconic's success well into the 21st century.
"We're trying to really build the future of Taconic," head professional Josh Hillman said this week.
"It's extremely affordable now the way the membership committee and marketing committee have set it up. ... We have 70-plus new members, which, as a PGA professional, when I talk to fellow pros all over the Northeast, they're absolutely amazed by the number we brought in this year."
Hillman sat down with Taconic Board of Directors member Matt Sheehy, head administrator Greg Canales, greens superintendent Jim Easton and Taconic chef David Travisano on Thursday to talk about what's new at the venerable club.
One of the biggest innovations is the creation of an "under 40" membership, explained Sheehy, who serves on the club's marketing and technology committee.
"It involves no initiation fee and has a step dues structure," Sheehy explained. "What that essentially involves is for every year you're under 40 years of age, you get a 5 percent discount on your annual dues."
Regular dues at Taconic are $2,431, according to Taconicgolf.com. Golfers 26 and younger (14 years younger than 40) pay just 30 percent of that, or $729.
Since last August, the club has added more than 70 members, mostly in the under-40 category. That is a significant number for a club that has somewhere between 400 and 500 regular member players — more if you count its "non-resident" members who do not regularly play the course.
The reduced cost for younger members is an investment in the sustainability of the course.
"With the new category under 40, nearly 40 new under-40 members coming in, it's going to be an exciting time for the club as far as tournaments go, as far as seeing new faces," Hillman said. "It's really a different demographic showing up here. Traditionally, we've been an older club with an average age north of 60.
"With this under-40 crowd, it's going to bring a little more life and a little more joy in terms of guys getting out and playing more evening golf. Typically evenings are quiet around here. Now coming over, playing a quick nine [holes] and getting a burger and a drink afterwards is what we're looking for."
"We're interested in turning the tide of our membership and bringing the average age down a little bit," Sheehy said.
Taconic also wants to buck the trend of a national slide in golf membership and participation.
"If you look pre-Tiger era, there were maybe 30 million golfers," Hillman said. "Tiger [Woods] brought another 10 million to the table 1997 through 2000 when he was winning, and golf courses were being built. Tiger's kind of slipped, and the ho-hum golfers have kind of dropped off.
"People say golf's in decline, and it's really not. The numbers are still up compared to where they were pre-Tiger, but they're lower than in the golf boom Tiger created.
"So what I'm saying is to grow membership like we are when golf is slipping is pretty extraordinary."
It helps to have an extraordinary course.
Golf Magazine has ranked Taconic the best public golf course in Massachusetts and No. 39 on its national list of "Top 100 Courses You Can Play." The Boston Globe ranked the course No. 1 in the state for scenic beauty.
In 2009, Taconic finished a renovation by Gil Hanse, Golf Magazine's 2009 Architect of the Year and the designer of the Brazilian course being built for the 2016 Olympics.
"It's our golf course," Canales said when explaining the membership spike. "It's steeped in history and traditions.
"I think first and foremost we're a golf club. That's what's going to drive people here, in my opinion. It's a great golf club and a great golf course."
And it is open to the public. You do not have to be a member to play Taconic. In fact last year it initiated a Tuesday-Thursday special for non-members to play 18 holes starting from 10 to 12 for $85 — $60 less than the standard greens fee.
"The response was great, on very little marketing other than word of mouth and having it posted on our website," Sheehy said. "But we'd love to get more. If we do get more activity there, there's been discussion about expanding those opportunities and blocks of time."
In addition to the course itself, all the other amenities at Taconic are open to the public, including a pro shop operated by Hillman, who recently was honored by the Northeast New York PGA as its merchandiser of the year, and the restaurant, where Travisano is entering his first golf season.
"I'm trying to bring a new dining experience to the club," Travisano said. "Rather than have a club that has burgers and hot dogs and limited food, we're trying to create a whole new dining experience here. You can get the burger or hot dog, but you also can come in and have a nice meal."
Taconic will serve prime rib on Saturdays and Sundays and theme dinners each Wednesday, starting with Italian night on May 27.
"Rather than a golf club that has food, I look at it as a golf club that has a restaurant, where we have full-service menus," Travisano said. "We're going to give the service and attentiveness that successful restaurants offer and some great selections, great price points.
"You'll have the hamburger or hot dog, but you'll also have steak au poivre or seasoned scallops, a nice meal."
Travisano said the club also will be expanding its catering opportunities, encouraging groups of up to 60 or 70 to hold business functions, anniversary parties, birthday parties and the like in the club house and patio.
Taconic has its own special events coming up in the near future. In July, the PGA Junior Series returns for a second straight year. In September, the Massachusetts Golf Association will hold a member day, when MGA members from around the state will be able to come and play the course for a reduced rate. Next year, the commonwealth's biggest tournament, the Mass Amateur, comes to Taconic.
On Saturday, it all gets started — thanks to the hard work of Easton and his crew.
"It's been a tough spring, no doubt about it," the greens superintendent said. "We got all the snow off the greens by about the second week of March. And we got to the point in early April where it was apparent we had some winter damage. So we went right ahead and seeded bentgrass in and covered it. And we've been nurturing our seedlings every since.
"We feel like we've done everything we can to expedite this process coming off the winter we had."
Sheehy is looking forward to seeing the first players tee off this winter.
"We're looking forward to this golf season more than anything," he said. "We're going to open this Saturday ... fingers crossed."
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