Editorial: Put the public back in town-owned golf course

Editorial: Put the public back in town-owned golf course

Harbor Links’ website calls itself “Long Island’s premier daily fee public golf course and catering facility.”

But just how public the Town of North Hempstead-owned course is has been called into question in recent weeks.

Residents in two consecutive town meetings have complained that the 18-hole championship golf course will be partially closed to the public on 66 of the 109 weekdays from May 1 to Sept. 30 – 61% of the time.

“Maybe it is time to change the name of the golf course to ‘Harbor Links: yes, we are open to the public but only less than half the time,” resident Jack Genicoff told the Town Board last week.

Good point.

Why is the course closed to the public?

To accommodate “golf outings” by private groups which pay for extensive food and beverage packages as well as use of the course. Among the offerings is a “full beverage cart” for $18 per person and “dinner enhancements,” such as a sushi platter for 40 people at $185 and a cold seafood platter at $15 per person.

James Viras, general manager at Harbor Links, said the prices for outings are determined by the number of people attending and the food package chosen. Outings also vary in start times ranging from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

Presumably, this private country club experience is more profitable for Arnold Palmer Golf Management, the private company that operates Harbor Hills under a contract with the town.

Residents think so.

“We have a situation where Harbor Links is not a public course; it is being run for the benefit of certain outings to maximize income,” said William Hohauser, a Port Washington resident and Nassau County District Court judge, who raised objections at an earlier town meeting. “The question for this board is what is the purpose of Harbor Links? Is it to serve the public or is it to serve outings and maximize revenue?”

Good question. We would also like to know if the town shares in the extra revenue generated by these private outings at a private course and if Harbor Hills is operating at a profit.

In the town’s $156.6 million budget for 2022, expenses for Harbor Links amounted to $6,416,575.

“If Harbor Links management benefits financially from all these outings, then shame on the town for allowing this excess,” Genicoff said. “If the town benefits from this revenue at the expense of residents, taxpayers and players, then shame on them.”

Hohauser also said the Port Washington golf course, once a hidden gem, has since deteriorated as prices have gone up.

“Harbor Links is more expensive to play for a resident than Bethpage Black, which is a U.S. Open course,” Hohauser said. “When Harbor Links was in a good condition, you could at least defend it, but now you can’t.”

For North Hempstead residents, a round of golf on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays on Harbor Links’ championship course costs $100 from the time it opens to 8 a.m., $95 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and $90 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with prices dropping to $75 and lower throughout the end of the day.

This is much more affordable than the dues and fees required by many private country clubs in the area, which are often subject to acceptance standards that don’t make diversity a priority, to put it politely.

But it is not cheap.

At Bethpage State Park Golf Course in Farmingdale, the Black Course costs $85 for a round of golf for state residents.

Since 2000, Bethpage State Park’s Black Course has hosted three men’s major golf championships, including the U.S. Open in 2002 and 2009 and the PGA Championship in 2019.

All of which begs the question of who is overseeing Harbor Links, which also includes a 9-hole Executive Course, a “world-class” instructional program, miniature golf and banquet facilities?

Hohauser said he served on a golf advisory board, but it has not had a meeting in years.

“What I’d like to do is ask this board to consider reworking the contract with Harbor Links,” Hohauser said. “Right now Harbor Links is an overpriced course that you cannot have access to.”

Taxpayers might wonder whether the town should use the many acres of prime real estate occupied by Harbor Links – which would fetch millions of dollars on the open market – to operate a world-class golf course and banquet facility.

Would the land be better used to provide housing for first-time homebuyers including the children of current residents?

Or to create a town park along the lines of Central Park with baseball fields, basketball and tennis courts, a band shell for music and paths to walk. Such a park would serve more people than a golf course.

Yes, some of those facilities would draw more traffic. But people living outside Central Park, which includes some of the most expensive housing in the city, have somehow managed to cope.

If the town does want to use taxpayer money to fund a championship golf course with banquet facilities, then it should be well-run, well-supervised and open to the public.

Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said the concerns raised by Hohauser and Genicoff would be considered when the town’s current contract with the golf course expires this December. 

That’s not enough.

A committee should be formed to review the existing contact and determine what changes are needed to make Harbor Links a public golf course in more than name only.


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