Golf pro's future up in the air


Because of what's been described as the underperformance of the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course, the Golf Commission has been looking toward restructuring its framework.

Employee contracts with the course expire this year, which has left Joe Merendo, the golf pro, uncertain about his future there.

"They haven't approached me yet, and I haven't seen anything," Merendo said. "I guess they have other ideas."

The commission presented the Common Council with a request for proposal for a company or individual interested in managing the concessionaire and pro as a single entity.

Mike Bucciferro, commission chairman, said the board reserves the right to contract each separately or together but doesn't have a preference.

"[The commission] wants to go out to bid," Merendo said, "and I know they must have gotten that idea from some place far away from here. I'm a [Professional Golfers Association] member and my section extends from the Canadian border to Little Falls, and not one golf course in that goes out to bid for a pro. I guess they want to try something different."

The commission has prepared proposals for a minimum bid and total course bid to be released nationwide, though Bucciferro said they would prefer a local area company or individual.

Late last month, Bucciferro said these changes are to enhance the golf experience, but Merendo said, without him, he hopes the course even survives.

"If I'm not asked to say, all I can say is I'll be taking some members and greens fees with me," Merendo said. "I have a lot of friends."

Merendo, who first worked at the course in 1972 when he got back from fighting in Vietnam, said he has enjoyed working at there. But, he said, if his contract isn't renewed, he'll just head to another golf course.

Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi, the Common Council liaison to the Golf Commission, said even if the commission was interested in renewing Merendo's contract, the mayor would have to sign off on it.

Mayor Ann Thane said that she is responsible for renewing Merendo's contract, but with the blessing of the golf commission. It doesn't seem, she said, that that's the direction it's inching toward.

"The commission is looking at changing the operating structure of the golf course which has underperformed for years," Thane said. "They are bleeding the fund balance out. When we look at operations there, we see that over the past few years, we are losing money to the carts. We have complaints."

Merendo said he isn't sure how much money people can expect the golf course to make, given the current economic times.

"It's a tough business," Merendo said. "Maybe sometimes we have to ride out the waves and hope its calmer ahead."

He said he doesn't think the course has ever had a losing season.

"It's never, ever, ever cost the taxpayers any money," Merendo said. "Even when we were managed by the Common Council and using taxpayer money, the golf course never lost any money. It's always made money, it's just how much."

Sandy Roginski, a regular golfer and past member of the golf commission, said the Common Council doesn't understand how much work Merendo does.

"The Common Council aren't golfers so they don't really understand what Joe the Pro does," Roginski said.

Merendo, who begins his day at 7 a.m. and often works until dusk, is responsible for overseeing the flow of the golf course, managing outings, tournaments and nightly leagues, and working with customers.

Roginski said he has no doubt that if and when Merendo does not return for the next season, as much as $90,000 will be lost from players who follow Merendo wherever he ends up.

"At least 50 people probably won't join," Roginski said. "It will be the benefit of [area golf courses] I think, most of them. He might end up at one of those places."

With whatever it decides to do, Merendo said he wishes the commission the best.

Bucciferro presented the RFP to the council on Sept. 3 and so far, there has been no response during a public meeting.

Bucciferro did not respond to requests for comment by press time.