Entrepreneurial PGA Professional Lucas Cohen has greatly enhanced a downtrodden range in upstate New York
On a warm April evening, Lucas Cohen sat bone-tired on a bench at his newly purchased practice range in Greenport, N.Y. The 34-year-old PGA teaching professional and newly minted entrepreneur had just completed another long day of landscaping and assorted grunt work. In any direction that he looked he could see a long-nurtured dream becoming reality.
Cohen is an upstate New York native and was raised less than 10 miles from his new range, at least until age 7 when his parents divorced. That precipitated a move to South Florida and its four-season golf weather. He was a fixture on the fairways until he turned his attention, as teenage boys often will, to cars and girls. Upon graduating with a degree in graphic design from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., Cohen underwent an identity crisis.
“I wasn’t looking forward to sitting behind a desk looking at a computer screen for the rest of my life,” he says. “I like talking to people way too much.”
Encouraged by his parents to consider a career in golf, it was the beginning of a typically itinerant career path for a young assistant, with stints at well-regarded country clubs, resorts and teaching academies.
Striving for greater success and responsibility came naturally to Cohen, who eventually received PGA of America certification. With his skill set well developed, he began the grinding task of applying for head-professional positions.
“I always thought I wanted to be a head professional, but that comes with the stress of having 300-plus bosses,” Cohen says. He continued assessing his prospects, meanwhile making the occasional trip to see family back in the Hudson Valley. In 2008, on just such a visit, Cohen spied a “For Sale” sign in front of 10-acre golf range. To his disappointment, the ownership was asking more than double what the business seemed to be worth.
There was no tall stack of investible cash among the shared assets of Lucas and Missy Cohen; meanwhile there was a newly arrived child – their son Sager. Still, Cohen returned to the property to inquire about it the next year, and the year after, and the year after that, even as its condition grew more threadbare. Finally, in late 2011 – just before the birth of Cohen’s daughter, McKenzie – the property’s asking price was halved to just over $200,000.
Cohen took the plunge, renaming his new purchase New York Golf Park. The business plan he then set out to execute was more in his head than written down, more about swift, dramatic change than number crunching.
A local contractor who had been a childhood pal, Justin DeBonis, refused payment for the improvement work he did. This included helping tear down the range’s existing maintenance shed and building a new one, as well as remodeling and repainting the golf shop.
Cohen himself has been working 12-hour shifts seven days a week, cutting back or digging out overgrown hydrangeas, dogwoods, azaleas and ornamental pear trees that threatened to envelop the miniature-golf course. He has personally painted every bench and garbage can, installed new target flags, mowed the target greens, and so on.
Behind each bay are white wooden bag stands bought on the cheap from a previous employer and spiffed up. At one end of the tee line is a new synthetic-turf putting green. The once overgrown mini-golf course is now in pristine condition.
Even more noticeable than the physical alternations is the air of optimism surrounding New York Golf Park. For that, credit Cohen’s enthusiasm and salesmanship. “I’m looking at this as a long-term thing,” Cohen says of his startup business. “I don’t mind taking a gamble – especially when I’m betting on myself.”