A few weeks ago I learned that two golf courses, in my hometown of Penfield New York, are up for sale.
This may sound like no big deal. In a town of 36,000 people we have four golf courses, and several more in adjacent towns. On the surface this is simply luxury real estate changing ownership.
Except it’s not.
One of the golf courses, Shadow Lake, is being marketed as a golf course, but the other property, Shadow Pines is being offered for real estate development. The word on the street is that the 18-hole course could be turned into as many as 290 new houses.
This is a problem.
I will get to the political, emotional and civic issues in a few minutes, but until then, please indulge me as I dive into a bit of local and personal history.
The story of these two golf courses are not as simple as someone deciding to lay out eighteen holes on a plot of land.
In the center of my town there is a giant gravel quarry. I know it sounds awful, but in fact it is so surrounded by trees that many residents don’t even know it is there. The owners of the quarry owned both the land of their operation as well as equal acreage to both the east and west.
The plan, as I understood it, was to expand the quarry when the operation in the center of the property was played out.
The Penfield quarry opened in the 1920’s and through to the 1980s, all the rock-crushing machinery was at ground level where you could see it as you drove by on Whalen Rd. Some time in the 1990s they moved all the equipment into the pit, so now the only evidence of the quarry is the steady flow of dump trucks.
In 1979 the main quarry still had decades of material left to extract, so the owners decided to develop the un-mined land to the east into the Shadow Lake golf course. Shadow Lake has an eighteen-hole course plus a nine-hole executive course and a lovely clubhouse.
As the name suggests, in the center of the property is a lake, however it isn’t really a lake. Before the large quarry was established in the 1920s, the “lake” was actually the first gravel pit, used by settlers in Penfield as early as 1795.
As I have mentioned before in my writing, my father used to have Tuesday afternoons off, and it was on those afternoons when adventures were often undertaken. One Tuesday my father turned to me at lunch and said, “I heard about this really neat place not far from here. You want to go check it out?” I must have been only four or five because I remember riding in the kiddie seat on the back of his black Raleigh 3-speed. Since we moved into the house on Surrey Place in April 1973, this would have been summer of either 1973 or 1974; at least five years before the Shadow Lake golf course would open.
We rode along Whalen Rd. and through the neighborhood streets of the Village Green neighborhood. We turned north on Baird Rd, but then my Dad slowed down and began picking his way along the edge of (what was then) a thick forest. After a few minutes he triumphantly declared, “there it is.” We turned west onto a narrow trail that disappeared into the woods.
We rode along the trail for a few minutes until it opened up to reveal a cool little lake. This was the abandoned gravel pit that would eventually become Shadow Lake, but in the early 1970s it was something else entirely.
All around the lake were little groups of, well, hippies. They were drinking beer, and smoking a variety of, um, let’s just call them “home made cigarettes.”
Did I mention that the vast majority of them were bare-assed naked?
My Father was as surprised at what we had found as I was. It was clear that this was a place where everybody did their own thing in their own way. My father decided to do what any rational father of a five-year-old would. He turned the bike around and we left.
I don’t recall every really talking about that day again, but the images of what I saw are burned into my brain as permanently as Shadow Lake is carved out of solid rock. Every time I find myself in the swanky clubhouse overlooking the lake, my brain insists on superimposing the images of the naked hippies all along the shore.
In 1985, the owner of the quarry opened a second golf course on the land to the west. In keeping with the “shadow” theme, the course would be called Shadow Pines. In the center of the property was a historic home called The Clark House, and it became the clubhouse for the course and The Clark House Tavern.
In the fall of 1985, a friend of mine on the Cross-Country team asked me if I wanted a job. It started out as simply cleaning the kitchen of the Clark House Tavern on Sunday afternoons. Since both my friend and I had practice every day and meets every Saturday, the Sunday afternoon gig was a great way to make some money. The restaurant was closed on Sundays, so we could give the place a solid scrubbing.
The Cross Country season ended and I started picking up a few shifts a week as a dishwasher. This lasted several weeks until one night when the Pantry Chef didn’t show up. I was up to my elbows scrubbing a pot caked with lobster bisque when Terry the chef shouted out, “do any of you dishwashers know how to cook?”
I tentatively raised my hand.
For the remainder of the shift I made salads, shrimp cocktails and fifty peach melbas for a wedding rehearsal dinner up in the party room. From that day forward I traded in my dishwasher shirt for a slightly nicer kitchen staff shirt. They still paid me like a dishwasher, but it was exciting and much more pleasant to be on the clean side of the kitchen.
On the pages of this blog and in my book, I write a bit about my love of cooking. This love was born and developed in the kitchen of The Clark House Tavern.
I learned how to blanch snow peas. I learned how to emulsify a salad dressing. I learned how to poach shrimp to perfection. When making those fifty peach melbas, one of the other cooks taught me a trick.
Peach melba is basically a scoop of ice cream, half a peach, and some raspberry sauce. When you’re making fifty however, the first ones are starting to melt by the time you’re onto scoop thirty. So, I was told to scoop ice cream into the dishes a dozen at a time and then place them on a tray in the walk-in freezer. This could be done an hour or more before they were to be served. When dessert time came, we removed the trays one at a time, added the peach and sauce and then sent them into the dining room. The heat in the kitchen turned the frost on the glass dishes into a glistening glaze but the ice cream stayed frozen.
Today you’d call it a “kitchen life-hack” but back then it was just a trick. I ended up working in that kitchen for less than a year, but the cook in me had been brought to life and it has remained as such ever since.
In 2007, my high school class held its twentieth reunion at Shadow Pines and The Clark House Tavern.
So that’s a bit of my history with these two properties, but the present situation is now what we face. I’m certain someone will purchase Shadow Lake and continue to run it as a profitable golf property.
Shadow Pines is the greater concern as nobody in our town is interested in seeing nearly 300 new houses built on open land which (in addition to golfers) is home to deer, fox and other wildlife.
There is a saying that goes:
The last house that should be built is mine.
Certainly time passes, and with it roll the spoils of “progress.” In this situation however the citizens of my town have quickly unified against such development. Several Facebook groups have popped up, and the conversation is lively well beyond the borders of Penfield. The Town Council, in a surprisingly quick response to the outcry, is discussing a twelve-month moratorium on new development. They are also forming a task force made up of concerned parties, to discuss the situation further.
I have already offered my time and experience for the Task Force, but since I mounted an unsuccessfully run against the current Town Supervisor several years ago, I’m thinking I might not get the nod.
Either way, I plan on being a loud voice on this issue as it unfolds over the next twelve months.
We all have things about which we care. Even without the history I have with the property in question, I have a vested interest in how my town grows and develops.
The next time something like this comes up in your town, don’t be the person who simply bitches about it. Be the person who stands up for what they believe in. If enough of you do just that, those that seek to destroy something you love will quietly retreat to another, easier opportunity.
Feelings deserve to be words, and words long to be action. This is a truth, beyond the shadow of a pine.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.