Once the fall rains begin, you would be hard pressed to find people playing golf at many Buffalo courses. However, as you drive past one course, you’ll see them out in the showers, their caps pulled down to shield their eyes, their pullovers zipped up to the chin. And you have to wonder – as you turn on the defogger – are they crazy or that dedicated?
“I started playing here because of the people. I got to know the group in 1982, when many of the members were all 50 and 60 years old. It was these people who introduced me to Grover Cleveland Golf Course and the Buffalo Golf Club. I would put the people in this club above the people in any other club. This club has always been able to find the people who would be willing to go above and beyond to be part of the club…” – Jim Burzynski
With the founding of the Buffalo Golf Club in 1912, the members have seen Grover Cleveland Golf Course through many highs – from when the first American won the 1912 US Open to the 1931 United States Woman’s Amateur Championship, the 1950 Curtis Cup and the 1962 National Junior Girls championship. The Club continues the tradition, ensuring that players can get their USGA handicap score. Jim says it best… “A USGA handicap that can be taken anywhere they want. Which gets them into the Western NY public links and can even play at a US Open course for an outstanding cost of $95 a year.”
But it gets better, they put meaning into active lifestyle and family events. I like Jim’s pitch, “We run 22 weeks of golf tournaments, 5 complete parties with food, drinks and prizes.” The groups sells me further… “it is not just championships. It is about playing against yourself and enjoying a game with a range of talented players. It is about having a course that a father can take his daughter out to, or on a date with your wife.” Think about this for a minute. These guys are not pitching a yacht or gym membership, there are no kick-backs from the County. They are saying they offer something that is hard to find in today’s world; honest playing and events for the family.
“Every year gets better and better. Come out and play and enjoy yourself. If I can play good against the golf course, then that is where the challenge is. The handicap system is pretty fair when I get a chase to play against someone like Jim or Allen as long as you stay within yourself.” – Retired member Fred Varga
“A lot of beginner golfers come out to practice. Fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, a simple course to learn how to play. Joining the club taught him the rules of golf and to play competitively. There is a Championship picnic and they bring the families. We have 150 members and cart rentals for the senior guys.” – Paul Andruczyk
The golf course had always been a place where the public would have access to healthy recreation which included; the course, a tennis court and even an archery field. In the 1970s there was a public forum to consider improving the grounds by adding an indoor ice rink and other facilities to promote a winter time active lifestyle and increase the efficiency of use to year round by the public while retaining remarkably low fees… too low to actually support maintenance without public tax dollars being used.
But as some were looking to increase healthy lifestyle choices and save public parks there were down times during the 1970s and early 80s, when Grover Cleveland Park – along with South Park – was almost sold to a developer for housing as a way to revive the city. The choices were one time pocketing of profits vs. repeated value added. While the different factions fought over the best use of a public park… the grass died, the course was shorted due to partial sell off, the archery field removed, tennis courts were weedy, the club house fell down and due to a lack of a dedicated public employee managing the park… interesting tee times emerged.
It got to the point that if you wanted to be the first or second group on the course you had to designate one person out of the foursome to sleep in their car from 10pm at night to 6am in the morning.
Jim – “Back in ’82 you had to come at 4:30 in the morning to get ready to play. You put your golf bags in a line and each person was then allowed to go in order when called. The County was working on tee times… from golf bag line up to first car in the lot. It got to the point that if you wanted to be the first or second group on the course you had to designate one person out of the foursome to sleep in their car from 10pm at night to 6am in the morning. Often 20 cars were waiting at night to get to start at 6am. Otherwise, they would be waiting hours to get to play…”
Then they got really interesting….
One night, while the members slept in the parking lot, “…a DWI checkpoint was set up at the entrance just to the east of the drive. One of the members came in from Bailey Ave. – from the west – with the check point just the other side of the drive he had a clear right turn into the park. The police sirens were on and a chase ensued down the park drive thinking he ran the check point. The noise woke the other guys in their cars. While they hashed out the misunderstanding… one gentlemen was out to have a few drinks just down the street at Brunners. The police, handed the guy a pillow to sleep it off…[however tee time was at stake, so…] he walk the few blocks to the park. Finding a comfy spot to secure his morning tee time, he laid down on the pavement in a parking spot. During the confusion the next member came down the drive and went to pull into the next lane only to throw on the breaks …” – Jim Burzynski
It was during these long nights in the ‘70s and ‘80s, playing cards, chatting and camping out at Grover Cleveland that the guys got to know each other. The hassle of not always getting what you pay for did not deter them. Quite possibly because it was the camaraderie that encouraged them to hang in there.
In 1982 a major transition happened, the City sold the park. But instead of selling to a developer, they sold it to Erie County. It remained a public park. And with splitting up the parks, interest in turning South Park into housing fizzled also. Changes did not happen overnight, though, a phone-in tee time was added in 2002. However, a critical event happened when Erie County developed the 2003 Master Plan. In the Master Plan a proactive account was made and plan of action for each park and property owned by the County. Through all the changes, the members of the Buffalo Golf Club, their commitment and membership dollars spoke loudly of their support. They could have up and left taking their good will with them… but something should be said for those who continue to patronize an establishment, through ups and downs and returns. They are keeping the enrollment and spirits up and now the return on investment is being seen.
The County has taken notice of the course’s original designs and the sentimentality that has lasted through generations of users. So, the bunkers have been brought back to echo the days of the 1912 US Open with the restoration of the fescue rough to “delineate many of the fairways”. Signage has been introduced to emphasize its historical sentiments, and the grounds are constantly being improved while the membership fees are kept low and accessible to the general public. An irrigation system has yet to be installed, and will probably be some years out before it is approved, with Erie County having other more pressing matters at hand.
Today, the park IS once again the perfect course to teach another generation the meaning of family and friends, quality over power and most of all good sportsmanship. But I like the way Fred says it…
“You can always come here and play with anyone you want. There is always someone to play with. There is always someone available to go have a soda and golf. We have had nothing but fun, I can’t wait to come here everyday to meet and play golf.” – Retired member Fred Varga
One last note: I noticed that the guys in this club come in a variety of skin tones, in a city that has seen Main St. as a dividing line for too long. It being a club, I asked about their diversity and their membership. While they do not have records on ethnicity, there have been people of diverse ethnicities since at least 1971 when Robert Johnson joined and sat on their board of directors.
The Club is open for new members. The following three points are from their by-laws.
- Membership is open to all amateur male golfers at least 21 years old. (Sorry, but we encourage females to join the Buffalo Women’s Golf Club or one of the women’s leagues that play at Grover.)
- We strive to provide a club where members can play for the sheer enjoyment of golf and have friendly social interaction with others interested in the same.
- We play our tournaments by the USGA Rules of Golf, so members must be desirous of following the rules.
“As noted above, the only restrictions on membership are amateur status, age, and gender. We are open to anyone meeting those requirements regardless of ethnic background, physical disabilities, or other factors.” – Alan Mis