This New York State public golf course is going through a renovation (and ready for an amateur event)

Luke Whalen still sometimes thinks of himself as “one of the kids” and can’t believe how quickly the time has flown. Granted, it hasn’t been that long since the 21-year-old was actually a child. But the Poughkeepsie native put himself at the head of the local golf grownups table last summer, winning the Dutchess County Amateur.

That victory, tournament chairman Mark Webber said, was “good for competition.”

“There’d been talk over the years that, ‘Only 3-5 guys every year have a real opportunity to win it,’” Webber said. “For Luke to emerge and play the way he did, coming from behind and beating some of the best players, it’s great, especially as a young guy.”

The competition is steeped in history that dates back almost 90 years, and it’s a delight that some of the familiar names involved are septuagenarians who’ve still got game and a passion for the event. But organizers understand that its growth and future will depend on an influx of youth.

So, it is encouraging to them that a college student is the defending champion, and that a few prominent high school stars will be competing.

The Dutchess Amateur Championship will tee off July 12, running three consecutive days at the newly renovated McCann Memorial Golf Course in Poughkeepsie.

Players will play on a McCann course that recently had an overhaul of its traps and drainage system on the front nine. With the installation of Capillary Concrete, a polymer-based concrete in the bunkers, moisture can more easily be regulated, and debris doesn’t rise to the surface, Webber explained.

“One of the issues golfers have had was the traps, that they didn’t drain well and had rocks in the sand, so it was a blemish we needed to fix,” McCann course superintendent Chris Kemble said of the project that began three years ago with the hiring of an architect. “We repositioned some of the traps that come into play and made them smaller for maintenance purposes.”

The renovation began in 2022 and the last seven holes of the front nine were completed earlier this month. The expectation is that, with the more consistent sand, the golfers will have more traditional bunker shots. The work this spring was done relatively quickly, Webber said, and the finished product is “impeccable.” A similar project is planned for the back nine.

The course was built in 1972 with William Mitchell the chief architect, but was redesigned in 2001 by Stephen Kay. Locals can play the course for just $36 and it was named the best course by Hudson Valley Magazine seven times this century.

“The new bunkers will definitely play differently, and the upgrades are a positive,” said Whalen, who typically plays at McGann twice a week after his spring semester ends at Coastal Carolina University.

“We look forward to it every year,” Kemble said of the Amateur. “We love the buzz about it, the compliments we get from the golfers. With all the hard work the crew has put in, they’re looking forward to everyone seeing the course.”

The tournament field is currently 55 golfers, down 20 from last year, and that prompted the extension of the sign-up period. Their hope, Webber said, is to draw at least 10 more golfers. There has been an overall decline in participation in recent years and, Webber said, some of the challenges include summer scheduling conflicts and the interest level of young golfers locally.

Organizers are making a concerted effort to promote the event more, including a social media push and word of mouth. It’s also why the entry of those teenagers and 20-somethings is so significant.

Whalen totaled a 2-under 214 in the three-round tournament last year, surging in the second and third rounds to finish five strokes ahead of Brian Viola, the 2022 champion and his former golf instructor. Colin Offenbacher shot a 220 for third place, and Mike Fisher and Nick DiMarco Jr. tied for fourth.

“My game is pretty sharp right now; better than it was a year ago,” said Whalen, who has improved his putting. “I’m hoping to go back-to-back, but the mindset isn’t any different for me as a defending champion. It’s like, ‘Just go play a few rounds of golf.’ I think if I do what I can, I should be able to throw up some good numbers.”

Stephen Haynes:; 845-437-4826; Twitter: @StephenHaynes4

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek