The Moon Golf Club has been providing golfing services for 89 years.
By Alex Lehmbeck
If you ask someone outside the area what comes to mind on the topic of “Pittsburgh golf,” there’s a good chance Oakmont Country Club will feature somewhere in the answer. While high-prestige private clubs like Oakmont have gained a national reputation for hosting major events, the vast majority of golfers in the area will never step foot on those grounds.
In reality, public and municipal golf courses bring the newest players to the game, often becoming lifelong venues for local enthusiasts. A local example of this approach to the sport can be seen at Moon Golf Club: an 89-year old establishment aiming to provide high-level golf at an affordable rate.
Moon Township was on the cusp of its own major transformations when Moon Golf Club opened in 1932, named “Bon Air Golf Club” at the time. Once a sparsely populated farming community, Moon later grew into a bustling commercial corridor following construction of the Pittsburgh International Airport in 1952.
Designed by golf course architect and co-owner Harold Heinlein, Bon Air held steady through all of the changes around it. But over time, the conditions started to wither as business struggled. Fairways lost their lush and cart paths fell apart, putting the course at risk of closure. But in 2005, Moon Township purchased the property through a grant and renamed it Moon Golf Club.
Josh DeNinno, the club’s general manager, said the township immediately made some desperately-needed changes to the course after taking it over.
Still, he emphasized the club has maintained greater independence from the township compared to other municipal-owned courses thanks to the establishment of an independent municipal authority that oversees operations.
“Moon Golf Club is actually the Moon Township Recreation Authority, whose sole purpose is to operate the golf course, so it’s completely separate from township operations,” he said. “It turned out very successful that way. It stayed out of township politics, was not necessarily forced to return a profit early on. It’s worked out very well for both sides. The taxpayers do not support this place at all, it pays its own way.”
Adam Nolte, a Coraopolis native, began playing at the course when his dad introduced him to the game in the 1990s. He and his friend Sean Steiger, who grew up in Moon, have been regulars ever since.
They saw the course’s transformation following the municipal acquisition and said they couldn’t have been more impressed by the changes.
“It’s taken off even more so in the past four or five years,” Steiger said. “It’s really taken off as far as the quality of greens and the landscape and everything. They’ve cut down a lot of trees in the past couple years, that helps a lot.”
League play has become one of the most valuable attractions of Moon Golf Club. DeNinno estimates the course has hosted more than 700 league players this summer, primarily taking over the course on weekday evenings. These groups range from a variety of ages, genders and skill levels.
Nolte and Steiger have participated in a 32-person league on Tuesdays for a few years, playing as a two-man team week to week.
“Us two versus some other two,” Nolte said. “It’s handicapped and we come out here and do our best.”
The COVID-19 pandemic hit DeNinno and his staff with an unexpected road-block last spring, shutting the course down for a month and a half. They eventually reopened on May 1st, with many new safety precautions to reduce touchpoints and face-to-face interactions.
The staff didn’t expect business to boom for the rest of the year – but that’s exactly what happened.
“Once we hit June, it was off to the races,” DeNinno said. “People saw that ‘I don’t have anything else to do.’ You can’t go to a baseball game. You can’t go on vacation. You can’t do anything. We saw astronomical numbers of rounds, where we were pretty much at capacity every single day. There wasn’t room to put anyone else.”
With many of the restrictions now removed, DeNinno hopes to continue this success and continue to “grow the game,” something he feels a personal responsibility for. He said the club aims to provide an environment free from the stuffy, judgemental, elitist atmospheres sometimes associated with the sport.
That mentality keeps Nolte and Steiger coming back.
“It has a very municipal golf feel to it,” Steiger said. “It’s average joe, blue-collar guys who are out here. Everybody comes out after work and has a good time and plays somewhat competitive golf, but afterwards we’re in [the bar] giving each other a hard time and drinking beer.”