The Unlikely Leader

04/22/2019
by Ray Levato

How the CenterPointe  Golf Club Was Created

The news story took up just a small corner of the Democrat and Chronicle sports page. The headline said simply “New Links Born.” The subtitle read: “Oak Hill’s Rudy Stevens Heads Group Building Course at Canandaigua.”

The year was 1962 and the article was written by longtime golf writer Bruce Koch, an Oak Hill member. But just who was Rudy Stevens and why did a group that included Oak Hill members decide to build a new golf course 30 miles down the Thruway?

Time has erased that part of the story but there is just enough left to tickle the imagination. You see, Rudy Stevens was a clubhouse steward at Oak Hill. Not the club president. Not even a member, but an employee. So how did a clubhouse attendant become the mover and shaker to convince a bunch of Oak Hill members to invest in a golf course? This is where the story gets interesting!

The location they selected was about one mile north of the Canandaigua city limit – 190 acres of farmland obtained from Howard and Estelle Lynaugh of Canandaigua, and an additional 20 acres from Paul Lynaugh. The course was good-sized for its day – 18 watered fairways and measuring 6,952 yards, par 71 – and was bounded roughly by Rochester Road (Rt. 332), Brickyard Road, and Thomas Road.

A newspaper article later that year said one of the unique features of the new course was the presence of four spring-fed ponds on the layout, and the clubhouse would offer scenic views of the Bristol Hills. Initial plans were for the course to become semiprivate. And there also were plans for home sites on another 65 acres.

For the course’s name, they reportedly toyed with the idea of Pine Hill, playing off the Oak Hill name. But they eventually chose the Native American word Kanandaque (Kan-an-dah’-kwa) which means “chosen spot.” Today, the course is known as CenterPointe Country Club, and bills itself as the Hidden Gem of the Finger Lakes.

Rudy Stevens was named president of Kanandaque, Inc. And Dr. Vincent J. Tofany, one of the Oak Hill investors, was vice-president.

The land was purchased for $10,000, but the total investment for the course, clubhouse and swimming pool was a half-million dollars. That would equate to $4,173,000 in today’s dollars.

But who would build this new championship layout? This is another interesting Oak Hill connection. Oak Hill’s longtime respected course superintendent Elmer J. Michael was brought in to design and build Kanandaque. Oak Hill Country Club in Pittsford was the work of renowned Scottish-born golf course designer Donald Ross, and the East and West courses opened in 1926. It’s believed that Michael – Oak Hill’s grounds superintendent for more than 30 years – drew upon much of Ross’ work in the Kanandaque design. He also supervised construction.

The following historical note is from 1967 when Michael was named recipient of the United States Golf Association (USGA) Green Section Award: “Mr. Michael began his career in 1918 as an assistant to his father at the Park Club of Buffalo, New York, which was built on the site of the Pan-American Exposition. A few years later, Walter J. Travis redesigned the city course and, at the age of 22, Mr. Michael was put in charge of construction.”

So Elmer Michael carried with him to Canandaigua quite a golf course design pedigree. Mr. Michael was not only respected on the golf course, but off as well. He also served as the mayor of Pittsford.

Kanandaque was immediately billed as a championship golf course open to the public. Golf Digest named it as one of America’s 200 toughest courses in 1966.

A brief mention in GOLFDOM magazine under New York Golf Notes in July of 1964 said, “Rudy Stevens is pro at the new Kanandaque Golf Club in Canandaigua, New York.” This would seem to attest to the statements from people who knew him that Stevens was an accomplished golfer in his own right.

So how did a locker room attendant convince 22 investors – half from Oak Hill – to build a golf course? Remember, at that time there weren’t the large number of quality public golf courses that dot our region today. The answer might be that Stevens was a really likeable guy, so say the people who remember and played golf with him.

Stevens worked at Oak Hill for 25 years, and is remembered in the Oak Hill Country Club Centennial book:

“Rudy Stevens was Art DeMattia’s assistant in the locker room for many years. He left Oak Hill in the 1960s to open his own bar, and later he landed at neighboring Irondequoit Country Club as the head locker room attendant. Gravelly voiced, Rudy was sort of a gruff personality who called things exactly the way he saw them, but he knew how to run a locker room. On a couple of occasions when new locker room attendants were hired, the club called in Rudy to train them.”

Oak Hill member Bill Reeves, who joined the club in 1949, says “not only was Rudy a superb golfer, but he was a real gentleman. Rudy was a very fun person to be with and we golfed together several times. Rudy was highly regarded by all the Oak Hill members.”

Longtime East Rochester golf pro Fred Urzetta also remembers Rudy Stevens as “a heck of a nice guy. We had a lot of fun with him on the golf course. He was well-liked by everybody and he had a lot of connections.”

Urzetta says Stevens occasionally caddied for his brother, longtime Country Club of Rochester head pro Sam Urzetta, the 1950 National Amateur champion. Fred’s son Jeffrey is now an assistant pro at Oak Hill and head of instruction.

Of Oak Hill’s grounds superintendent Elmer Michael, Urzetta says, “He would take the land that he had and make it into a superb golf course. His courses were immaculate.”
So what does the current owner of CenterPointe think about the course’s illustrious beginnings?  Jason Lewis, a Canandaigua native who grew up playing the old Kanandaque, says, “It’s great. It’s one of the reasons why this course can be one of the best in the area.”

Lewis says he has invested upwards of three-quarters of a million dollars since acquiring the course seven years ago. “I’ve played here most of my life. I remember what it used to be like and wanted to bring it back. My first priority was to re-do all the greens. It’s been a challenge but it’s rewarding when golfers compliment the course.” Lewis says he still occasionally gets members from Oak Hill down to play the course.

CenterPointe has hosted many tournaments over the years, including the Finger Lakes Senior Classic in September of 2017.

The highlight of the early years was a clinic and exhibition in July of 1968 by ‘64 U.S. Open winner and future CBS TV golf analyst Ken Venturi. He was to be paired with 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby and local top amateurs Jack Thornton (Oak Hill) and Don Allen (Country Club of Rochester & U.S. Walker Cup team member). Goalby had to withdraw at the last minute to return home to his seriously ill wife. While both Venturi and Thornton both shot par 71, Allen carded a 2-under 69. A Democrat and Chronicle sports article the next day said Allen “stole the show.”

Allen won a host of important tournaments in an amateur career that spanned four decades, including six New York State Amateur Championships.

Besides well wishes and the thanks of an adoring crowd that day, Venturi also left Kanandaque with a new putter!

Ray Levato is a retired reporter/anchor for WHEC-TV Channel 10 in Rochester, New York.

 


MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS ON THE HORIZON FOR OAK HILL

Oak Hill will host the 2019 Senior PGA Championship May 21-26.

The PGA Championship returns to Oak Hill for a fourth time in 2023. (Dates TBD)

MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIPS HOSTED BY OAK HILL

1949 U.S. Amateur

1956 U.S. Open

1968 U.S. Open

1980 PGA Championship

1984 U.S. Senior Open

1989 U.S. Open

1995 Ryder Cup

1998 U.S. Amateur

2003 PGA Championship

2008 Senior PGA Championship

2013 PGA Championship