CONKLIN, N.Y. - Course design and management's equivalent of a public links amateur golfer playing himself into contention in the U.S. Open is cause for celebration at the Conklin Players Club. Built and run by the Brown and Rickard families, the Conklin Players Club has been appreciated by players on the New York-Pennsylvania border since it opened in 1991. The course started without an experienced architect and it continues without a professional.
The formula is hardly typical of golf courses that wind up regarded as among the best in national rankings. But, that is just where the Conklin Players Club found itself this spring when the readers of Golf Digest ranked the course among the 201 best public courses in North America among about 6,000 rated for the magazine's latest Places to Play book.
"That was great." general manager Theresa Rickard said. "We were real pleased."
The ranking of 4 1/2 stars matched four others, including 2002 U.S. Open site, Bethpage Black, for the best among New York State courses. Rickard said the ranking simply served as a confirmation. The plans for the family-run course were to go on as currently operating, learning to improve without hiring a club pro or other veterans of the industry.
"A pro here could give lessons or could work the pro shop to sell clubs, but what do we need that for," Rickard said. "We don't know a lot about golf. We're still learning. But people who come to play our golf course say they notice that it is well manicured and in good condition."
The "pro" shop is adequately stocked. The snack shop and restaurant have the essentials covered.
It is the golf course itself that lifts Conklin above the pack. It has been that way since Rick and Marty Brown, Theresa Rickard's brothers, and Rick Rickard, Theresa's husband, first showed off the course they built. From Day One, the design left players shocked that such a course could be created without an experienced designer.
Now, the impressions are made by how well the course is maintained under the supervision of Rick Brown, who remains as superintendent. Mother Nature provides a boost with scenic views, especially from the course's high point at the 15th green and 16th tee. The design comes through with a course that looks tough and top flight, but does not often beat up the average player.
Large greens can leave some long putts, but the greens do not have the type of slopes that cause for huge breaks or difficult reads. The result is large targets that play to the golfer's advantage. Most of the holes have sand, but it is generally positioned far enough away from greens that players can wind up just missing the green without automatically finding the beach.
Water, with the exception of par-3s at 10 and 13, is positioned the same way. It is in play on half the holes, but not all the hazards are a serious threat. Ponds are also responsible for two of the toughest par-4s.
Aside from the carries over water on the back nine par-3s, the eighth hole has the toughest hazard, running laterally along the right side of the fairway from just in front of the tee all the way to the green on the 360-yard, par-4. There is plenty of room left of the tee, but a lone fairway trap on that side near the landing area can cause some trouble.
The 362-yard 11th hole has an uphill tee shot followed by an approach to a green that is protected by a small pond on the right. The hole is less severe because of a bank on the left that will bounce safe shots back toward the green.
The number-one handicap hole is the 340-yard, 16th. A tee shot, usually with less than a driver, leaves a nearly blind second shot straight up to the green. The bank short of the green can leave a difficult chip, but choosing too much club can leave a shot in the woods behind the green.
Three of the four par-5s are made easier by playing downhill. The ninth is the most reachable of the three. Providing the tee shot avoids a fairway trap and out-of-bounds left without crossing too far right, 9 can become one of the easiest holes on the course from a spot out on the fairway looking down at the green.
From the white tees, Conklin Players Club plays 6,128 yards with a par of 72, course rating of 69.5 and slope of 121. From the 6,772-yard blue tees, the course rating climbs to 72.5. There are also gold tees at 5,668 yards. Red tees, playing 4,699 yards, play to a women's course rating of 67.8 and handicap of 116.
The course is located a mile from the Pennsylvania border, 10 minutes south of Binghamton. It is about 45 miles from Scranton, Pa. and 70 miles from Syracuse. Nearly half of the course's play comes from Pennsylvania golfers.
Tee times can be reserved for weekends beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
For those traveling from farther away, the course has affiliations with some Binghamton-area hotels for stay-and-play packages.
1520 Conklin Road
Conklin, N.Y. 13748
Weekdays (Monday-Thursday) $27 ($14 for nine holes)
Weekday Senior Rate $25 ($13 for nine holes)
Weekends (Friday-Sunday) $36 ($19 for nine holes)
$10/person for 18 holes
Note: Carts are mandatory until 2 p.m. on weekends
The par-3s have always been the highlight of a round at the Conklin Players Club. This season, the longest of the par-3s has gotten even better.
The seventh hole has a new tee position that alters the look of the hole and makes it more difficult. From the original tee position, which will still be used at times, the hole played steadily downhill for 180 yards from the white tee and as far back as 249 from the tip of the back tee. One sand trap was positioned well short and left and another was closer to the green, guarding the right half.
A new tee placed behind the sixth green sends the tee shot across a valley instead of straight down the hill and also forces a line of flight directly over the right trap from 173 yards.
"We rotate the tees on 7," course general manager Theresa Rickard said. "Bringing the ravine in gives it a completely different look."
The two holes that get a lot of attention at Conklin are the short par-3s on the back nine, 10 and 13. The 10th hole is a shot to an island green. The red tees are only 75 yards from the middle of the green. The whites read 100 on the scorecard, but the tee markers are sometimes moved back closer to the 143-yard blue position. In front of the green is where the pond causes the most trouble, but overaggressive shots that carry through the green can also end up in the water. A path at the left back that walks you out to the green is the only area completely clear of water.
The 13th is 128 yards from the white tees and water has to be carried to reach the front edge of the green. The other par-3 is simpler, but a 164-yard iron tee shot on the second hole of the day with sand on each side can provide an early test of accuracy. (TR)