For Vassar students, the golf course next to the AFC and Walker Field House is not very meaningful.
Marauding first-years have been known to lay their embroidered blankets on its grassy outskirts before putting on “Biking” and hugging each other for hours at a time, and drunken, high-speed shepherding of the geese that call the course home is an underappreciated pastime. By and large, however, Vassar students golf very little, and find sufficient alternatives on campus to satisfy their hunger for well-kept grassy surfaces on which to unwind.
As a relative unknown, the golf course carries a mystifying aura, one that provokes questions like, “Do people golf at Vassar?” and “Wait, we have a golf course?” We do indeed have a golf course, and I embarked on a journey to pick the brain of its resident PGA Golf Professional and caretaker, Rhett Myers. I sought to clear up the foggy image of Vassar’s golf course: how Vassar ended up with the course, who is really in charge of it and whether or not it will be replaced by a horde of solar panels in the near future.
Sitting across from me in the homey, brochure-laden reception room of the course, Myers explained in his curt but amiable tone that the first fundamental rule of golf is grip. The Vassar golf course opened in 1930, and in the past 60 years, has had only two managers. Myers, who took over the course in 2004, started playing golf at the tender age of nine. As a 12-year-old, he shot a 144 on his first 18-hole round. I googled it, and that is a very bad score. Thirty-five years later, as the professional of that very same course, he shot a 68. That same search informed me that’s a very, very good score.
Myers’ hold over the Vassar golf course is unchallenged, and for good reason: Each year from 2006- 2015 the Hudson Valley Magazine voted him the Best Golf Professional, and in his nine-year tenure as the coach of the Vassar women’s golf team, he guided the Brewers to one of only two NCAA tournament appearances in program history.
The second fundamental rule of golf is posture. Myers exerts himself in a number of positions as Vassar’s resident pro. He explained that, although Vassar owns the land the golf course occupies, it leases the course to a manager who runs it as an independent business. The yearly lease is paid, but otherwise the golf course is not a source of income for Vassar. At a smaller (nine-hole rather than 18-hole), more local course like Vassar, Myers explained in the straightforward manner that characterized his interview, “You’re more of a superintendent than a golf pro.” Whereas he was in charge of over 20 employees and operations worth over a million dollars at courses like Casperkill, he now knows the majority of the golfers at the Vassar course personally, and is not at the mercy of the demanding clientele that a larger course attracts.
Left to his own devices, Myers emphasized that he has what many professionals would consider a “dream job,” adding that he has a “wonderful relationship” with the school. So wonderful, in fact, that Vassar administrators have stopped attending the annual golf course review meetings, trusting that Myers is making the right decisions. Vassar is not a place where you would expect a high concentration of people with their own opinions as to how a golf course should be managed; the school’s laissez-faire approach with its manager is simply par for the course.
In the middle of our interview, a father and son entered the room and paid their green fee. After extensive deliberation, they also elected to pay for a golf cart. Shortly after walking out to the course, the son returned and asked Myers if there was beer for sale. He was gently rebuked, as Myers informed him that the golf course was a “fun-loving, family place.”
That declaration invoked the third fundamental rule of golf, which is alignment. Myers said that 80 percent of his customers are regulars from the Poughkeepsie area, and that he is good friends with many of them. The course is a haven for many young golfers, using the shorter course as a stepping stone to golfing glory in their later years, as well as aging players, who no longer want to traverse a full 18 holes.
In between the young and old patrons of the Vassar golf course is the women’s golf team, which Myers coached from 2004 to 2012. Myers described his bond with the Brewers of years past: “They were wonderful. The way they treated each other, the world would be a better place if everyone treated each other like that.” Myers described the experience as a 10/10, and said that he is still in touch with a few of his former players and their families, some of whom flew from as far as Chicago to watch every tournament. Ah, golf.
The fourth and fifth fundamental rules of golf are backswing and forward swing, which is an appropriate segue to explaining the future of Vassar’s golf course. That future, despite (or perhaps because of) the apparent lack of golfing passion in the Vassar student body, has sparked a number of rumors, including one that the course was to be replaced by solar panels.
These plans for development (or cultural regression, depending on your personal relationship to golf) do not faze Myers: “I think people don’t understand how hard it is to actually build buildings.” He cited past proposals, including a four-lane road connecting to Raymond Avenue, that were scuttled because Vassar’s administration simply has bigger fish, like Williams House, to fry when it came to spending millions on replacing things.
Vassar’s golf course is not a major landmark on campus. The Vassar golf team doesn’t even use it for practice, because it’s too small. The vast majority of its business comes from local patrons, and the few Vassar students who do venture beyond the AFC are usually not looking to play a few holes. While the minority of Vassar students who do speak about the golf course suspect that its days are numbered, Myers adopts the adage of the proverbial wise man: “We’ll see.”
In the meantime, he enjoys an unchallenged, benevolent reign over the family-friendly course, planting pear trees and hosting annual junior clinics in the summer. Though a golf course is perhaps a surprising thing for Vassar to have, and many students pay it no mind, it exists, it benefits the Hudson Valley’s lower-octane golfers and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.