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Golf: Members air concerns before park board

Edginess at Emerald Hill

STERLING – Some members of Emerald Hill Golf Course are teed off, and they let the Sterling Park District board know about it on Monday night.

About 30 course members convened at the Duis Center in Sterling to air some concerns in front of the board. Five people (Paul Hess, Nick Ceruzzi, Jane Minard, Don Mekeel and Aaron Albright) spoke about various issues that the park district-operated course should address.

Chief among them were the cancellation of a qualifier for tournaments that Emerald Hill is involved in, and inadequate notice of that cancellation; cart fees being charged for young golfers; and the formation of a committee that would run events at Emerald Hill.

On June 22 & 23, Emerald Hill had scheduled a qualifier for all of the men’s events it competes in. Course members had the opportunity to qualify for teams that represent Emerald Hill in the Lincoln Highway, Rock River Classic, Senior Rock River Classic, and the fall and spring Three Rivers tournaments.

A deadline of June 19 was set for the qualifier. Instead, an email was sent to course members on June 13 that the qualifier had been cancelled, citing low sign-up numbers at that point.

Some course members received the email, and some didn’t. The team for this weekend’s Men’s Lincoln Highway Tournament at Deer Valley Golf Course, south of Rock Falls, was selected on a first-come, first-served basis. The first six golfers to respond, regardless of skill level, now make up the team.

Jacob Rude, a recent Newman graduate and a two-time qualifier for the Class 1A State Tournament, was at a youth tournament in Springfield and was among those who received late word of the cancellation. He is merely an alternate for the Lincoln Highway.

Albright spoke of forming the “Emerald Hill Association” that would consist of himself, fellow course members Chris Tennyson and Rod Anderson, and a few yet-to-be determined members.

That group would take over the operation of tournaments, to make sure what happened with this year’s aborted qualifier did not happen again.

Ceruzzi, who currently plays golf at Western Illinois University, was one of the early responders about the Lincoln Highway and will be in the lineup for this weekend’s event. He also had a concern, however.

Ceruzzi pays $400 for a college membership at Emerald Hill, but on top of that, is charged $22 to use a motor cart on weekdays and $25 on weekends. That matches the greens fee, with a cart, charged for non-members.

Ceruzzi cited other area courses that charge considerably less for young golfers like himself to play. He also noted the short season, roughly from May 15 to about August 15, that college players have to be members at golf courses.

“I think they’re just doing whatever makes them the most money and not really doing what benefits us,” Ceruzzi said. “It’s an easy fix, if they can get on the same page. It’s an opportunity to grow the game of golf. It’s just whether they want to take it or not.”

Hess noted he and his family have supported Emerald Hill for decades, going so far as to write a check to help with the planting of a tree, but has become more and more disillusioned of late. The final straw was not receiving notice of the qualifier cancellation last month – he heard it from Mekeel.

Hess cited many things Emerald Hill could do to improve. Among them were more of an emphasis on junior golf, such as allowing adults to play a few holes with kids, having extra sets of clubs for those without proper equipment, and youth clinics; courting more golf outings for extra revenue; and issuing rain checks for golfers unable to complete 18 holes, to encourage golfers to return.

Minard is the president of the Emerald Hill Women’s Association, and spoke about declining participation about females at the course. They are very few young female players at the course, and many women have left the course in recent years.

It was pointed out Emerald Hill did not have a team in the recently completed Ladies Lincoln Highway tournament in DeKalb, and five of the eight competing members of Deer Valley’s squad were former Emerald Hill members.

Mekeel addressed many of these issues as well. A long-time wrestling coach and official, he talked about the importance of healthy competition, whether it be from regular Wednesday afternoon, and Saturday & Sunday morning games with the guys, or from the tournaments in which teams are formed to represent Emerald Hill.

He suggested looking at the way park district-operated courses in Byron, Rockford and Freeport are run. He noted the Sterling Park District board needs a golf voice, something it has lacked since Rick Andersen moved away more than a year ago.

“It was nice for the board to hear from us,” Mekeel said, “but they’re not golfers. They’re not out there ever, as far as I know. It’s good to hear from people that have a passion, and let [the board] know how we feel. Whether they change anything remains to be seen. I’m not overly optimistic at this point.”

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