Text and images copyright © John Coyne. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Standing on a slight rise in front of the pro shop at New York Golf Park and gazing the length of the driving range, landscaped with yardage markers and scattered golf balls, I can see a handful of thoroughbreds grazing in the bright fall sunlight.
This is Columbia County, New York, and this 10-acre golf park is wedged between farmland and apple orchards. The only sound to disturb the rural setting is the whacking of practice balls. That, plus the steady cadence of instructions from the driving range pro, Lucas Cohen, who is pacing the swing stalls, offering encouragement and advice to a dozen students, all members of the fledgling golf team of the local Hudson County high school.
Lucas has taken on himself the task of bringing par golf to teenagers more comfortable with plows and pitchforks than 5-irons. This is his fall semester gig, golf coach to the local high school team. In the long summer months, he also provides free instruction to all the county kids if they are (or not) big enough to safely swing a club. Not only does he teach the boys and girls how to play the game, he also instructs them on the Rules of Golf. (Next he’ll be making them take the SATs of golf!)
Lucas, who was born within walking distance of this converted farm field, spent his teenage years in Florida where he learned the game and graduated from Santa Fe College in Gainesville. He still returns to Florida every winter when he works with the pro who first mentored him in the game. It was in Florida, after he graduated from college, that he turned his attention full time to golf and worked his way up through the lengthy accreditation process to become a certified PGA professional.
Creating a Golf Park and Golf Academy
Built like Sam Snead with the personality of a Jimmy Demaret, he knew early on in his life that he was better suited as an entrepreneur than a country club pro, and went looking for a place of his own. He found one in rural Columbia County.
On a visit to the state in 2008 he drove by a vacant driving range and decided to come home again to New York.
It took him until 2011 before he could cement the purchase of the range. Then with help of childhood friends, he created New York Golf Park and his Start to Finish Golf Academy, installing two synthetic putting greens, a 5000 square foot natural grass tee, several target greens, and acres of open fairway stretching to the horse farm.
In addition to the driving range, Lucas also has a new 19-hole miniature golf course, batting cages, and a pro shop for the players. There is room (and sports) for the whole family!
Besides free Saturday morning lessons, he offers summer long golf camps for boys and girls and fits in lessons for adults most other days of the week.
In an area of upstate New York where there is only one private course, few public ones, and fewer golf lessons, Lucas Cohen and his New York Golf Park are a welcome addition for the aficionados of the game. But what makes Cohen an appreciated hometown boy is his devotion to the young people of the nearby small towns. He wants to turn everyone into a player.
While the USGA and the PGA are scratching their heads about how to get young people into the sport and grow the game, Cohen is doing something about it every summer week in Columbia County.
On the last Saturday morning of the summer, when I was working on my woods, I saw that the teenager golfers were growing weary and losing interest in practice until Lucas stepped up to the tee, told his students to "watch this" and then went through his deliberate pre-shot routine, picked out his target, and unleashed a high powering drive that brought oohs and aahs from the kids and revived their interest in the sport.
Out at the far end of the range, 300-plus yards from the tee, even the horses took notice. They, too, recognized a thoroughbred, not a race horse, but a seasoned PGA professional.
John Coyne is a bestselling author whose latest golf novel is The Caddie Who Won the Masters. Learn more at John Coyne Books.