I like a good plot twist, and there is one unfolding at the Newman Golf Course in Ithaca.
We have all heard those inspiring stories about groups of young people going into nursing homes and assisted living facilities to take elderly residents for walks, play tennis, play bocci, or any other activity that gets the residents up and moving.
Well, the Friends of Newman (FON), a recently-established nonprofit organization, offers an interesting variation on that theme. The group (some of whom are retirees) was organized, according to Paul Fairbanks, “to promote, preserve and enhance Newman Golf Course, especially for families and youth.”
FON is partnering with the Ithaca Youth Bureau to offer opportunities for youngsters to step away from their screens and devices, get out on the course, and sample the game.
Newman has seen its share of challenges over the years, and Fairbanks said there was even a time when they considered shutting the place down. There are plenty of local golfers who feel a real sense of loyalty and affection for the course, sometimes referred to as “a hidden gem,” and the three women and four men who make up the Friends of Newman decided to join forces and combine efforts and talents to breathe some life into their beloved course. “We see ourselves as stakeholders,” Fairbanks said. “We want to have a voice with the city regarding what golfers want.”
Paul has spent 40-some years as a social worker, and one of the first stories I ever wrote for the Ithaca Times, in 1992, featured an opportunity Paul and I set up for a 12 year-old boy to meet a “real” race car driver, cheer him on during the race, then sit in the car for photos when the driver won. It was a life-changing experience for the young fellow, it helped me find my voice as a journalist, and it deepened my friendship with Paul and my respect for the work he has done.
Staying on that theme of setting up opportunities, Paul said, “The Friends of Newman will be a part of a youth initiative through the Youth Bureau, and the hope is we will get adults to pair up with the kids. We’ll play the nine-hole course, have lunch together, and hopefully become friends and maybe arrange some memberships.”
Like the young man’s experience in meeting a “real” race car driver, the young people taking part in the four-week sessions through the IYB will meet a “real” golf pro. PGA professional Jim Johnston has been a fixture on the local golf scene for many years, and he is the right man for the job of helping the youngsters learn to love the game.
Fairbanks added, “In addition to learning the game, there is also the aim of teaching some of the etiquette and respect for the game. The kids can benefit from a larger time commitment, instead of a 20-minute video game. There can be some real relationship building, and a lot can be learned from learning to deal with a bad shot. Learning to regroup and move on is a good life skill.”
The arrangement will unfold as a win-win, as Fairbanks explains that “As attention spans have dropped off, so has golf.” The hope is that the Friends of Newman can partner with other groups (like the Youth Bureau and the Elks Club) to spread the word and create opportunities, and their collective expertise can boost interest and memberships. The nine-hole, par 36 course (built in 1935) is dependent on greens fees and cart fees, and as a municipal course, its survival has long been a question mark. Given it is a “city course,” some are still unaware that Newman is tucked into a spectacular pocket of natural beauty, and herons, deer, red fox pups, great horned owls, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, and eagles are frequent visitors.
Newman offers leagues for men and women during the week, and a senior league plays two mornings a week. Their press release says, “There is a strong sense of camaraderie at Newman, and contrary to the stereotypical image of golfers, Newman welcomes players from all walks of life.”
Those interested are invited to visit the Friends of Newman Facebook page, and www.Newmangolfcourse.com for a list of upcoming events. •