When Gary Shaneck opened Cottonwood Creek more than a decade ago, he told a reporter that his next project was a nine-hole addition to Spuyten Duyval Golf Course next door.
"But I soon realized that good business would be to upgrade the existing 18 at Spuyten Duyval before I expanded," said Shaneck, who has owned the course since 1973. "It only took me 12 years."
Bringing a somewhat dated course with a so-so reputation back to life meant new watering systems, new drainage, upgraded cart paths and improvements to tees, greens and bunkers.
It all helped revive interest in Spuyten Duyval, located on Central Avenue just west of Crissey Road, and the course is ready to step to a new level with the opening of its long-awaited expansion in about a month.
The new nine isn't all new. Two existing holes from the previous back nine have been incorporated into the new layout, and new finishing holes have been constructed for what was the back nine.
"The whole package makes for some really good golf," said Bob Frank, the director of golf at Spuyten Duyval. "We're not just opening a new nine. Because of the new finish to the old back nine, that's a phenomenal nine, too. I've hit some shots on those three new holes and, believe me, it's everything you'd want."
After playing the old par-4 15th hole, long considered the toughest on the track, the former back nine, re-named the West Course, now finishes with a 385-yard, par-4 hole that features an approach shot over a lake, a 200-yard, par-3 hole, and a 545-yard par-5 that crosses two ponds to the original 18th green.
"Putting the old 15th and that new finishing hole on the same nine makes that an awfully tough finish," Frank said.
The new nine, or South Course, kicks off with two familiar holes. The old No. 16 is the opening hole and the old 17th hole has been transformed from a tough par-3 hole into a short par-4. What follows are seven new holes in a parkland setting, including the pretty par-3 seventh that stretches to 185 yards and is almost all carry over a large pond to a big green.
"I think it could become the course's new signature hole," Shaneck said. "The trend in new courses is for a links-like layout because they're often built over farmland with few trees. But this nine is an old-style course with lots of mature trees and large greens. The length won't kill anybody, it's only about 3,100 yards, but you have to keep it in play to score. We built it to be fun."
Ironically, Shaneck is opening a new nine - the target date, weather permitting, is May 20 - at a time that industry experts caution against doing so, theorizing that the business has been overbuilt.
"I won't disagree, but I feel we can do it and thrive from it for a couple reasons," he said. "First, we've done a lot of work through the years to change the perception of our course and it has paid off. It's in as good a shape as any public course around, we have our new outings and banquet building, and you don't hear the negative comments anymore. As a result, our play has steadily increased and I think it will support an additional nine holes.
"Also, we're in a different position here than other new courses that opened in the area in recent years because we already owned the land. We didn't have to invest $35,000 an acre, which is what land around here is going for, and we didn't have to build a new clubhouse and start from scratch with a watering system.
"We were able to do the whole project for around $750,000 as compared to six or eight million dollars."
Including the nine-hole Cottonwood Creek and its teaching center, headed by pros Brad Heilman and Dianne Rudolph, the whole Spuyten Duyval complex covers about 240 acres. Shaneck's daughter and son-in-law, Sarai and Bill Zorn, are also involved in management of the course, which has a waiting list for a small member nucleus limited to 150 golfers.
"We feel as though we've made major strides," Shaneck said. "Golfers seem to enjoy the experience here now. The old place has come a long way from when it first opened in 1929."