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RJ Graham Golf Management

Tanner Valley, Orchard Vali, Caughdenoy Links, Apple Creek, Skyline Lodge at Highland Forest

Golf. It’s a sport so deep in our culture that it’s a warm weather ritual, it has a nationally recognized “day” (May 1), it’s the source of humor, arguments, bets, massive tournaments, friendly rivalries, and days spent checking the weather to be assured of a good weekend’s outing.

Its history dates back to the late 1400s, when Scots (all Robin Williams’ hysterically funny descriptions aside) really did gather on the east coast of Scotland near Fife to hit a pebble with a stick around a “course” consisting of sand dunes, rabbit runs, and deer tracks.

Here in Central New York, where winters are long and fierce, golfers are all the more excited as the days lengthen and “the season” approaches. They can at last begin to look forward to a quick nine holes after work, or a long leisurely afternoon on the weekend enjoying the scenery as well as the sport.

And RJ Graham has made it his mission to see to it that your day on the links is everything you hoped it would be – and that there will be a course within an easy drive for everyone in the area.

With four courses now under his management, Graham has his hands full. But, as he says, “I’ve been around golf my whole life. I went to school for Turf management after high school and then my father and I built Apple Creek. A few years later I went to school for Professional Golf Management, and taught at a high end golf academy in Hilton Head. I knew when we decided to move back to New York that Iwanted to buy my own course and try things my way.”

After a time away, Graham returned to the Central New York area and put together a plan to buy Tanner Valley. No sooner had he sealed that deal when Orchard Valley became available and he started working on purchasing that, and then shortly after that, Caughdenoy Links. Readying himself for that challenge, he learned that his father was ready to retire – and that added Apple Creek to the foursome.

The Main banquet room(holding 175 people)

Of course, owning and operating a golf course is more than making sure the course is well architected and maintained. Golfers will argue the merits of this course over that, and expect that the greens will be manicured and the course will offer a parklike setting. But a good golf club will also offer food and beverages to be enjoyed before or after the round – or both!

“One advantage of the four courses is each one offers something unique,” says Graham. “And because our locations are beautiful and can accommodate groups, our banquet and catering businesses are big, as well.”

We’ll begin our tour in Lafayette, at Orchard Vali. This 18-hole, 5800-yard par 71 course is open to the public, and is just a quick drive from downtown Syracuse. A driving range and practice putting green, as well as junior lesson programs each summer keep the course open from June through fall. Because of its beautiful scenery, Orchard Vali is also a popular location for weddings, corporate events, and banquets of every kind.

Three main banquet rooms can serve your party, from the spacious Main Banquet Room (holding 175 people) to the more intimate Orchard Room that accommodates 80. The Vali Room, which can serve 100 people, can be combined with the Main Banquet room for that really large gathering or wedding.

Skyline Lodge at Highland Forest

And for an unforgettable event —and a truly spectacular view— Orchard Vali is the proud exclusive caterer for the Skyline Lodge at Highland Forest with spaces for 60 to 160 people.

Now, let’s head back up to Syracuse where you’ll find a golf staple of the area since the 60s, Tanner Valley. A par 72, this parkland-style course offers a newly updated Tavern, which has made Tanner Valley a popular destination for food and drinks as well as golf – and you can enjoy it year-round.

A short ride north will bring you to Caughdenoy Links in Central Square, offering 6,204 yards of par 72 golf. Set in the quiet country, this challenging layout uses the hills, ponds, and creeks nature provided to present golfers with beautiful views as well as interesting holes. After your round, a full-service bar and restaurant will keep you fueled – or promise a reward after you play.

Finally, we’ll finish our tour where it all started – in DeRuyter at Apple Creek. This father-son designed course was the beginning, and it remains a lovely 9-hole course in a classic Central New York setting. And locals enjoy the restaurant, The 19th Hole, for a quick weekend drink and dinner, too. “But we have plans to expand that course, as well,” Graham explains. “The idea is to make great golfing and great food available all across the area at affordable prices.”

The Orchard room

“I have a really good team,” explains Graham, when asked how he can keep all these balls in the air. “Each person is really expert at what they do, and I can count on them – that lets me do my job of managing and growing the business.”

Graham’s overall philosophy is to give you the best at a reasonable price. Whether you’re a visitor, or a member, his objective is to make sure you’ve had an enjoyable time. While courses, and restaurants, are open to the public, memberships are offered that give privileges at all four courses. Your membership will get you tee time priority, discounts on lessons, pro shop hard goods, glove and balls as well as apparel; access to member only events, and reciprocals.  And the organization also holds tournaments, both public and private, across all four courses.

So what are you waiting for? Spring has finally arrived —the forsythia has bloomed— and it’s time to get out and play golf!


Nancy Roberts