|NATURAL BEAUTY: A unique double-dogleg, the par-4, 436-yard ninth hole at The Golf Club at Blue Heron Hills, above, combines a rustic, natural setting with the modern amenities of the clubhouse as backdrop, welcoming golfers into the Gananda Pub before, during or after their round for food and refreshment. (Photo: Rochester Golf Week/Dave Eaton)
New Management at Blue Heron Hills
Looks to Restore Former Glory to Public Facility
by DAVE EATON
Not long after it first opened, 28 years ago, Blue Heron Hills Country Club already had quite a reputation.
Developed by local Home Leasing entrepreneurs Norman and Nelson Leenhouts, Blue Heron Hills opened during the spring of 1987. The Macedon, Wayne County, course was being billed as one of the area’s top soon-to-go-private country clubs, but to help give the course a little early gravitas, one of the first official events hosted by the club was a sold-out exhibition round played by Hall-of-Famer Jack Nicklaus and his son, Jack Jr.
Soon thereafter, Blue Heron Hills began hosting the local Tournament of Champions — honoring current and past local club champions — which became one of the top amateur championships around the Rochester area, a tradition that continues to this day.
And, in the 1990s, Blue Heron Hills hosted the annual Hillside Skins Challenge — an all-star charity fundraiser that drew some of the biggest names in the world of golf to the area. Organized by hometown Rochester favorite Jeff Sluman, along with Horseheads resident Joey Sindelar, the event attracted golf greats such as Greg Norman, John Daly, Gary Player — and, oh yes, Arnold Palmer…twice — during it’s 10-year run.
Blue Heron Hills has had its ups and downs — like many other formerly private country clubs — in the years since, including a return to public status in order to bring in more play, as well as a change in ownership. But it is that glowing past history — along with its former reputation as one of the area’s more perfectly manicured golf courses — that the club’s new owners, Tom and Debbie Mayberry, hope to rekindle.
“The goal of the new management team will be to give their golfing members and public players a ‘private country club experience’ while playing at a semi-private course,” said Tom Mayberry, managing partner and a Blue Heron Hills member since 1992.
Now fully open to the public, the new ownership group led by the Mayberrys — which includes several partners of various levels — have given the facility a fresh new name: The Golf Club at Blue Heron Hills. But, it is the club’s past grandeur that they wish to restore.
“The goal is to bring the course back to its original luster,” says Dan Cordaro, the current PGA Head Professional, General Manager — and now, partner — at Blue Heron Hills. “And Mark is the key to the whole thing.”
“Mark” is Mark Montebella, a seasoned head greens superintendent with several years of experience at a number of Rochester-area golf courses and a award-winning member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Montebella has assembled an all-star grounds crew this year with the intention of bringing the golf course up to the expectations of those golfers who have played there in the past.
“Between Mark, John Romano, who came from Woodcliffe, Don Podlish and Corbin Parker — who both worked at Oak Hill — there is more than 50 years of experience on that grounds crew,” adds Cordaro. “As the saying goes, they could grow grass on concrete.”
Fortunately, Montebella won’t have to live up to that standard — but in just the few short months since the new ownership group took control of Blue Heron Hills, he and the grounds crew have been hard at work, already bringing the course along through many projects.
Among the things accomplished by the grounds crew this year: the original size of the course’s tee boxes have begun to be restored, the cart paths are being resurfaced throughout the course, sand traps have been re-filled and re-edged — and several new pieces of grounds equipment have been added to the inventory.
What it all amounts to is a more enjoyable round of golf for those who play at Blue Heron Hills this year — and beyond.
As for the course, it was originally designed by noted local architect Pete Craig, but when Blue Heron Hills was played that day in 1987 by the “Golden Bear” — a rather noted architect in his own right — Nicklaus made several mental notes about how the course played. Later, free-of-charge — or at least as part of his appearance fee — Nicklaus made several design suggestions for the Leenhouts brothers, who then turned over the project to then-superintendent Dick Bator, who had been superintendent at Oak Hill Country Club when Nicklaus won the PGA Championship there in 1980.
The result — a hybrid of design styles — is both “challenging and unique in that we have no common fairways and with each hole presenting its own set of challenges,” says Cordaro.
Along with restoring the course to its former glory, Cordaro says that one of the goals of the new ownership group is to foster an atmosphere of country club service and style — but with an open-to-the-public business model.
One of the areas in which they hope to do this is the re-imagination of the clubhouse at Blue Heron Hills.
“We want to get the message out that this club — and not just the golf course — is fully open to the public,” Cordaro notes. “And that goes for the new ‘Gananda Pub,’ which is open seven days a week.”
Originally the lower-level members’ grill, the ground level of the clubhouse has been completely redesigned as the Gananda Pub — offering a sports bar-type atmosphere, as well as casual dining. Two specialties of the Pub include a Friday night fish fry and a Saturday night prime rib dinner, prepared by new Executive Chef David Alfieri.
The upper level of the clubhouse may be remodeled at some point in the near future, but as it is, it remains one of the top go-to locations for weddings, banquets and gatherings on Rochester’s East side. New Food and Beverage Manager Martin West is overseeing the clubhouse schedule this year — with several dates open for reservations.
As for the pro shop, Cordaro — now in his third year as Blue Heron Hills’ head professional after previous tours as an assistant at Eagle Vale, Champion Hills and Brook-Lea, among others — offers several lesson packages, including a junior golf camp, as well as a complete inventory of equipment that he can custom fit to any golfer.
Cordaro is uniquely positioned to be both the club’s head professional as well as General Manager, with more than 30 years experience as a business owner prior to becoming a PGA Professional. As such, he sees a great future for The Golf Club at Blue Heron Hills.
“Our intention is for this club to become an active part of this community,” he says, citing the business plan of the new ownership group. “We want people — not only in Gananda, but all over Rochester — to realize that they can come here and enjoy our facilities at any time, as well as our first-class service.”