Further Review: SW golf success starts at Villa Roma
Column by Ken Cohen
May 17, 2013 It looks like the rich golf pipeline at Sullivan West may finally be slowing down after this year. Dating back to 1999, a parade of players including Jared Kubenik, Gregg Semenetz, Sean Semenetz, Ben Kleiner, Justin Armstrong and now Drew Billard have led Sullivan West to 10 OCIAA Division titles, including nine in a row.
More impressive, Kubenik and Sean Semenetz won Section IX titles while Armstrong triumphed in the 2009 OCIAA championship. Additionally, Kubenik, both Semenetz brothers, Armstrong and Kleiner all qualified for the state championship. Billard has been nothing but steady in his career, this season leading the OCIAA in scoring average.
It's been quite a run and it appears it may be a few years before another star develops, though there are a couple of young players with potential.
For years, Liberty paraded out a string of excellent golfers, including Rad Yaun, perhaps the best high school player to ever come out of Sullivan County and still the only one to win a state high school championship (which he did as a sophomore!).
Anyway, there is one common thread to the Liberty and Sullivan West programs and to a certain extent Fallsburg, which had its share of success as well: the ability to play on quality golf courses virtually all year long. When Liberty was churning out its top golfers year after year, the school benefitted from playing and practicing at Grossinger's. Even in the summer months, school players had access to the course, which at the time was one of the top 25 courses in New York state.
At Fallsburg, Tarry Brae and Lochmor have been available to the teams, while Sullivan West has enjoyed its privileges at the Villa Roma. Sullivan West players are also allowed to play the Villa during the summer.
And they work there. All of the players mentioned above have been on Director of Golf Matt Kleiner's staff some, like Billard starting in seventh grade picking up range balls. There's no substitute for hanging around a golf course all day, being able to hit unlimited practice balls and playing all the golf you can fit in which often lasts until complete darkness. I remember doing it at Grossinger's, making about $25 a day picking the range and cleaning clubs. But all I wanted was to be around the course and have the ability to hit balls and play. I also was lucky enough to learn the game from Al Johnston, Grossinger's head professional and a former PGA Tour player. It was invaluable to my development as a competitive player.
The Sullivan West brigade has similarly been fortunate enough to tap into the excellent teaching skills of Kleiner, who has given hundreds of hours of his time to these kids on the practice range and the course. They have also benefitted from playing with and picking the brains of Villa Roma members who have competed at the regional, state and even national level.
For some who have worked at the Villa, it's not only been good for their golf games, but their ability to go to college as well. Through the Westchester Caddie Scholarship, tens of thousands of dollars have been awarded to students working at the course toward their college tuition.
Hopefully, the tradition will continue at Sullivan West and develop at otherschools as well. It looks like Eldred has something going with Swan Lake and head professional Bob Menges. Only good can come from these types of school-golf course relationships.
* * * * * *
Each group in the OCIAA golf championships Tuesday had a coach walking with them to keep score and officiate any rules questions. First of all, only players should keep score in any high school competition. That's what they will have to do at every future level of play. Secondly, some coaches need to brush up on the rules. I saw one instance, where a coach told a player whose ball ended up on the cart path that he could go back as far as he wanted to take relief. When the player finally did drop and the ball rolled forward, he advised the player to drop again.
He was wrong on both counts. There is no option to go back as far as you want on relief from an obstruction you must find the nearest point of relief. When taking a drop, you are only allowed to re-drop if the ball rolls forward and ends up closer to the hole than the spot where the original ball lay. In this case, that didn't happen and the player should have played the ball where it was dropped the first time.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.