Golfers teeing off in larger numbers

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Golfers play a round at Hop Brook Golf Course in Naugatuck July 29. –KEN MORSE

Golfers have been flocking to the local links in droves this summer.

The nature of golf — played outdoors by individuals already well spaced out on the course — has allowed it to become a safe haven for people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Sabo, managing partner of the nine-hole Highland Greens Golf Course in Prospect, said discussing it with fellow operators in the business, there has been an increase of up to 50% to 75% in rounds played in the state.

“I wish I could say I had the marketing power to generate this kind of business,” Sabo said. “But I am also smart enough and humble enough to know that this COVID situation has negatively impacted a lot of people, but has also benefited others. I am just happy we are giving people some respite, a chance to get outdoors and have fun without feeling they are putting themselves at risk.”

Sabo realizes his course doesn’t attract a lot of really experienced golfers, but he has seen a rise in numbers regardless.

“There is a trickle-down effect in our game,” Sabo said. “I am more of an entry-level course, different and distinct from the city courses at East Mountain and Western Hills (in Waterbury), for example. When those tee times fill up, there is a constant spillover effect. So as all the other big courses filled up, our tee sheet filled up. We have had a significant increase in rounds played.”

Hop Brook Golf Course, a nine-hole course in Naugatuck, has seen a significant uptick in numbers, too.

“We have been busy, and with the weather cooperating we have been extremely busy,” Hop Brook golf pro Bryan Nixon said. “I can’t say enough about (head groundskeeper) Joe Malay and the job he is doing keeping the course in the shape it’s in, especially with the lack of rain and the additional foot traffic we’ve had.”

Hop Brook has hosted several events to embrace the golfing community, including a father-child team tournament, junior clinics, and a junior golf camp that will conclude this month with a junior championship tournament.

The increase in golfers is evident in the participation in this year’s championship tournament.

“Last year, we had 47 golfers play in the tournament and this year we will have 68,” Nixon said. “I know the participation in the leagues has increased; all the leagues are full.”

From left, Colin Leary, Alex Riberio and Joshua are ready for a round of golf July 29 at Hop Brook Golf Course in Naugatuck. –KEN MORSE

“With the increase in numbers we will have three flights, along with the championship flight, with eight matches to be played in each flight,” he added.

Nick Tribanas and Eric Mester set the tone in the qualifying rounds with scores of 76. First round matches were set for Aug. 1.

Last year’s club champion, Dave Leroy, will not be defending his crown this year due to other commitments, according to Nixon.

There will be plenty of competition, though, in the championship flight. Along with Tribanas, who won in 2014, and Mester, seven-time champion Ray Martino and last year’s first flight champ, Jesse Cyr, are vying to take home the title.

Stephanie Slekis, the five-time women’s champion, won her fourth straight title last year and will look to continue that streak in the women’s tournament.

The Republican-American contributed to this report.