Another ‘berry good golf season at The Valley

The clubhouse at Strawberry Valley Golf Course has looked better. 

The white vinyl siding is pockmarked from duffers yanking their drives off the second tee. Stray shots have also broken multiple windows. And the building – which is more than a century old and once looked out over Trufant’s Farm – lacks air conditioning and looks tired inside, especially compared to the sleek, sprawling clubhouses found at other area courses.

“It isn’t the clubhouse that draws people in, it’s the course, but nothing has been done in so long that the building is going to fall apart,” said Strawberry Valley Golf Course Committee Chairman Steve Wakelin. 

Abington voters will be asked to approve $250,000 in clubhouse improvements during Monday’s Annual Town Meeting. Money for the work will come from course revenue, not property taxes. 

The full scope of work includes a new roof, gutters, windows, siding, installation of central air, a new heating system, and an interior makeover. 

“It’s in dire need,” said course Superintendent Rene Vadeboncouer. “It’s been 20 years since we touched this place.”

The town-owned course is also looking for money to help dispose of a number of large fallen trees. Last October’s wind storm devastated the course, knocking over 17 trees, including multiple large oaks, maples, and other hardwoods. Among the victims was one of the enormous oak trees that guard the fourth green. Vadeboncouer said he was able to trim off the top and branches, but the 3-foot diameter trunk is too large for his team to chop up. 

One of the mature oak trees that helped guard the 4th hole was among those knocked down during an October wind storm.

Strawberry Valley Golf Course continues to thrive in the fourth full year since Abington took over day-to-day management of the course.

“Last year was another phenomenal year,” Wakelin said. 

Despite the pandemic – or actually because of the pandemic – the 2020-2021 season was the one of the best in recent memory, with golfers playing 16,680 rounds, or more than 20 percent above average. Nine months through the current 2021-2022 season, golfers have played 10,950 rounds, which Vadeboncouer characterized as being “on the higher side.” 

Wakelin chalked up the boom to an increase in people working from home during the pandemic. He said his daily commute used to take more than an hour each way; by working from home, he now has an extra 2 ½ hours a day that he can use to play nine holes. 

“I never golfed more in my life than I did in 2020,” he joked. 

[Editor’s Note: Abington News fully endorses new flexible work rules that allow golfers to jump on a course at 6:30 a.m., play 9 holes, and make it back to the home office before 9 a.m.) 

The 2020 calendar year was also marked by a sustained drought, which was terrible for lawns and gardens, but resulted in an unsurpassed number of playable days. June and July 2021 were a couple of the wettest summer months in recent memory, but the fall playing season was golfer friendly. 

The increased play has meant a small windfall for the municipal course, which had started to look its age in recent years. 

Although Abington has owned the course since 1984, it was managed for many years by private golf course operators, who paid the town an annual management fee. That fee in 2018 – the last year of the last contract – was about $50,000. 

The strong 2020 and 2021 playing seasons netted the course about $500,000; much of which is being re-invested back in the course.

The netting along the 2nd hole was raised 10 feet a couple years ago providing extra protection for the course clubhouse

Revenue generated by Strawberry Valley is placed into what’s called an enterprise fund, not the town’s general fund. The money can only be spent on operating and capital costs for the golf course.  

Voters will be asked at the Annual Town Meeting to approve $160,000 for a new rough mower and backhoe. Other projects underway include a new well to help recharge the irrigation pond off the 5th hole, and a storage area off the 7th hole for loam, seed, and other materials. 

The course is also developing a plan to start replacing lost trees across the course. Storms have knocked down more than 30 trees in the past few years, including several that separated the fairways.

The Strawberry Golf Course Committee voted to raise rates by $2 per round to cover the cost of rising expenses. Wakelin said the board was reluctant to hike greens fees, but that the new pricepoint is still competitive.

“We’re well below other golf courses in the area,” he said, adding, “We haven’t had an increase in three years since we took it back over.”

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