BETHLEHEM — The town has once again taken ownership of Colonial Acres Golf Course in Glenmont.
While the Town Board adopted the land as a park during its Wednesday, April 27 meeting, thus preventing further development, the property at 15 Saybrook Drive will continue to be run as a golf course.
Unlike the six years (from 2007 to 2012) during which the town last owned Colonial Acres, its financing, operations and maintenance will remain with its current director, Dale Ezyk, who has overseen the course since 2012. In February, Ezyk entered into a contract with the Town of Bethlehem, which ensures that he will continue in his role as director for at least another three years.
Beyond that, Ezyk, 66, was doubtful he would continue to run the course, and worries about its long-term fate.
“My concern would be what will happen when I’m too old and feeble to run the place,” said Ezyk, who wondered also, why the town chose to re-enter the golf game, but said he didn’t question it, as he has enjoyed an amenable relationship with the town.
Since taking over as director in 2012, Ezyk has made strides toward making the golf course more profitable.
The town first acquired the 9-hole, par-three golf course from private owners in 2007. Under that sale agreement, the town agreed to finance its day-to-day operations, while Open Space Conservancy of New York, a not-for-profit, oversaw its management. With the acquisition, made under former supervisor Jack Cunningham, the course was no longer in danger of being sold and developed, as the private owners had threatened.
Unfortunately, the decision haunted officials for years, as the golf course ran at an annual loss of $40,000. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were also planned to be spent on improvements, specifically the construction of a proper club house and bathroom and addition of a sewer system, designed to make the course more profitable. To date, neither of those projects have come to fruition.
Facing financial pressures in the years following the financial collapse of 2008, the town decided to cut all ties with the golf course in 2012, leaving all responsibilities for running the course with Open Space Conservancy. The organization leased the land from the town at no cost, and for the five years it owned the course, continued to give a majority of its profits back to the town. Now, Open Space Conservancy is now donating the land to the town without charge, in a move the two parties have discussed for years.
“Open Space Institute operated it for years as [a] procedural matter,” explained Bethlehem Town Supervisor John Clarkson. “There will be no change in use and I’m very glad to have the continued availability of this course for the public. Everything will continue as it is, but it will no longer be owned by a not-for-profit.”
“We’ve been talking about that possibility for a while,” said Bethlehem Parks and Recreation Director Nan Lanahan, so the decision did not come as a surprise. “We weren’t sure when it would happen, but once the decision was made, it was just down to initiating the donation agreement between our lawyers, and that agreement required that the land be donated as a park. What that means is the town can’t turn around and sell to a developer. Unless Bethlehem got approval from state legislature [Colonial Acres] will always be parkland.”
Having the town own the land and contract it to private owners is not something unusual for governments to do, said Clarkson, though no other examples of this relationship exist in Bethlehem, to his knowledge.
When Ezyk does decide to leave his role as director of Colonial Acres, Clarkson said he was confident that a replacement could be found, and the land would remain a golf course.
The Northeastern New York section of the Professional Golfer’s Association (PGA) helped the town through the last transition of ownership, and Ezyk and the supervisor both said the organization has made commitments to help the golf course find its next director, after Ezyk steps down.
“They [the PGA] are agreeable and have it on their long-range plan,” said Ezyk.
Many applied for Ezyk’s post the last time the director position was open, and more will apply when it is open again, said Clarkson, especially as the golf course is no longer facing the financial difficulties it once did.
“Here’s my take,” began Ezyck. “When the town owned the course, they had people come in here and maintain the place. I came here and ran it as a golf professional. I’ve grown this little charmer into a viable business. I’m able to survive,” with a meager existence, he said, “because I teach golf, junior camps, individual lessons and what not,” which he runs out of the golf course. Most days there are more young children from his program on the course than there are adults, said the director, but that isn’t to say there are not many adults out there golfing.
“Every day, week we get new players who never knew the place was here due to my marketing campaigns,” said Ezyk, a firm believer in golf’s future growth. As well, Colonial Acres financial success in recent years can be traced to the additions Ezyk has made, including a disk golf course, foot golf and mile-long walking trail. These combined efforts earned him the honor of Business Person of the Year from the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce at this year’s ceremony, held last month.