AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – Brian Kulpa was never coy about his disdain for the Audubon Golf Course. He once declared that he was “not enamored” of the place and resented the fact that Tonawanda had two public courses that were better than anything his growing town had to offer.
So, when Kulpa became Amherst town supervisor in 2018, one of his goals was to create a “golf Mecca” in the center of town. A major part of his vision was turning Audubon into a nice nine-hole layout and finding a more suitable 18-hole option elsewhere.
Last March, the town hired Troon/Indigo Golf, one of the world’s leading golf management firms, to take over operations at Audubon and help prepare its transition to a nine-hole course.
The Indigo folks saw the structural flaws at Audubon. They also recognized its essential virtues and eventually convinced Kulpa and the town board that the answer was sitting right in front of them.
On Wednesday, Kulpa announced that Audubon will remain an 18-hole course. Rather than cutting it back to a nine-hole layout, the town will invest $1 million in capital improvements over the next two years for irrigation and other site improvements.
Kulpa credited the golfing community, the town recreation department, the Golf Task Force and, of course, Indigo for helping the town reach this decision.
“Not even all the way through their first season as an operator, Indigo has completely turned the tables for this course,” Kulpa said. “They’ve demonstrated that, even working with fairly little capital investment, that the course’s level of play can be brought up with flexibility, a lot of thought put into pricing and into timing.”
Many of the regulars at Audubon, including members of the men’s and women’s leagues, were outraged at the proposed move to a nine-hole course. They demonstrated their commitment to the course, and appreciation for Indigo’s upgrades, by patronizing Audubon in astonishing numbers this golf season.
Kulpa said the course was up by about 2,200 rounds through September. He said they’re $111,00 ahead on the budget. He confirmed that Audubon will be open year-round, depending on weather conditions. If there’s unseasonable warm weather in January, you’ll be able to play the course.
“Right now, the course is performing well,” Kulpa said. “This isn’t a money-making operation for Amherst, but we need to know that stuff is going to be sustainable when we build it. For the first time in my tenure, we can look at Audubon and say, ‘This is a spot that we want to reinvest.’
“It’s at the center of the Town of Amherst. It’s important to our school golf organizations. It’s central to their teams. Ultimately, it’s a place that can be pretty special, if we make some changes and if the town continues to invest.”
Mike Cutler, senior vice president for Indigo Golf Partners, said the firm made it clear from the outset that they could make big changes at Audubon, that it wasn’t a lost cause as an 18-hole course.
“It was ‘Hey, give us a chance,’” Cutler said. “We really think we can make a difference here and improve it. It’s borne out, which is tremendous.”
Kulpa said the town will continue with Indigo as a partner. They’ll bring in a golf architect to help improve drainage and make some structural changes the course. Part of the investment will help bring the par-3 across Maple Road to a much higher standard.
He wants to turn the existing nine-hole course at Oakwood, which was the proposed site for a new 18-hole layout, into an executive nine-hole option. Kulpa also hopes to improve the driving range and eventually have golf simulators in the clubhouse.
The idea of building a virtual reality Top Golf center isn’t off the table, either. Kulpa said the town intends to have discussions with the OnCore group that has long been considering building a similar golf facility on the Outer Harbor.
Kulpa said it helped when the town discovered that there weren’t dead bodies from a pauper cemetery buried directly under the 18th and 17th holes, as previously feared. “That was thanks to a lot of effort and work by a lot of volunteers to get the specific locations,” he said. “It looks like it’s south of 18, closer to Maple.”
For now, the good news is that Audbon will continue to be 18 holes. Jackie Berger, the deputy town supervisor and liaison to the recreational department, said weekly meetings with the regular golfers and Indigo management made it clear that it should remain an 18-hole golf course.
“I want to let you know how much I appreciate the leagues and the golfers spending time talking to me,” Berger said. “I’ve been here on a weekly basis, listening to what people wanted. Working together as a team with Indigo, we really have a bright future for golf in the town.”
Jerry Sullivan is an award-winning journalist who joined the News 4 team in 2020 after three decades as a sports columnist at The Buffalo News. See more of his work here.