Family Ties Make Alapaha Golf Center Tick
By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA
He was 19 years old when he stormed out of his baseball coach’s office after a disagreement led to a parting of ways and was quickly stopped by a call from an adjacent office in the sports department.
It was the Ulster County Community College golf coach, Mike Perry. He needed a fifth man for his golf team and all but told John Durcan that he was his guy. A lifelong baseball player since he was a child on Long Island, Durcan had been to the driving range maybe twice in his life and had precisely zero rounds of golf under his belt.
Perry gave Durcan a pass to play the local country club and he shot a somewhat unofficial 80 after giving himself three mulligans — still very impressive for a four-tool baseball player who’d never teed it up on the course before.
Fifty-two years later, John Durcan is quite literally a legend in the PGA’s Northeastern New York Section, as the 71-year-old still competes and wins in Section events representing its Legends Division. Over the past five decades, Durcan has served in several PGA Head Professional positions in New York’s Catskill Mountains, and became a PGA Member in 1989.
Whether it was Shawangunk Golf Club, the Hudson Valley Resort or Rondout Golf Club, Durcan has always been the epitome of a PGA Professional — coaching, running quality tournaments, merchandising, and growing the game. At each location, his wife Mary was there, helping in the golf shop so John could attend to the rest of his head pro duties.
It was 2006 when Durcan’s sister mentioned over Easter dinner that a local driving range was going up for sale. He spent the next few months considering the pros and cons of facility ownership, before pulling the trigger and going all in later that summer.
What was once Kessman’s Driving Range would now be known as Alapaha Golf Center. John Durcan Sr., his wife Mary, and their son John Jr. have a full grass driving range that’s 300 yards long, plus a Par-30 executive golf course and, as of 2015, four aboutGolf simulators that generate revenue and keep local golfers engaged in the game all year long.
Hardly a day goes by that you won’t see the Durcans teaming up to run their family business. John Jr. is out mowing the greens, Durcan Sr. is teaching, and Mary is manning the golf shop as range patrons get their tokens, and women, juniors, seniors, beginners and weekend warriors grab a pull cart or the motorized variety for nine or 18 holes on the course.
Not every day at Alapaha is sunshine and roses — the Durcan’s business has encountered the same ups and downs that most in the industry have experienced. But they’ve come through them by always offering a welcoming family atmosphere and something for everyone, especially since installing the indoor simulators. Golfers just feel at home at Alapaha; a real credit to the Durcan hospitality.
In a chat with Mr. Durcan outside of his golf shop to talk more about his family business, my own two sons weren’t far away — one working in that shop and the other on the range working on his game. That’s the vibe Durcan has created: families on the range, friends on the course, golfers young and old enjoying the game.
My boys and I recently helped the Durcans with their summer junior camps. Twenty-something kids lined up on the range, trying to apply the advice offered by John Sr. and striving to do their best every time they saw John Jr. coming their way. Gatorades to stay hydrated on the course, ice pops after play, and pizza on Friday . . . what kid wouldn't have a ball learning the game in that environment?
Sure, this piece is about the Durcan family and the collaboration they share in running their local golf business every single day; but it’s also about what they’ve created: the playing opportunities, the learning opportunities, and even the cool atmosphere that fosters socialization and camaraderie. You should see that simulator studio during the heart of the winter: football on the three large screen TVs, beer flowing, and the best snacks around— chicken fingers, tater tots, and so much more.
Durcan tells me he was a phone call away from calling it quits in 2014 after a few lean years across the industry. As luck would have it for their golf public, the Durcans doubled down with the indoor golf simulators that now support golf leagues four nights per week and die-hard golfers all weekend long; not bad for a baseball player from Long Island.
Perhaps Coach Perry knew more than he led on when he added John Durcan to his golf team roster all those years ago.