Never before has the Massachusetts Golf Association taken its signature event, the Massachusetts Amateur, to a daily-fee, public-access facility.
That is scheduled to change. The MGA has reached an agreement with the City of Boston to bring the 2018 Mass. Amateur to George Wright GC and William J. Devine GC (commonly referred to as Franklin Park). Both are city-owned public courses, and each has undertaken a decade-long restoration, holding state and national qualifiers along the way, plus a pair of recent MGA championships that served as trial runs for someday hosting the state Amateur.
With a June 18 letter of confirmation sent by the MGA, someday suddenly has a date: July 9-13, 2018. The expected field of 144 will play the first of two stroke-play rounds at Franklin Park, with George Wright then serving as the site for the second round of stroke play, any playoff needed to cut to the low 32 players, and also the duration of match play.
“It’s really been talked about internally here at the MGA for the last couple of years, with the success of the two city courses, and the success of the events we’ve had there recently, to escalate this and consider the state Amateur,” said Jesse Menachem, the MGA’s executive director. “Seeing the transformation of the two courses and the city really focusing on improvements, conditions are really first-class. I know they’ve put in a lot of time and effort to get the courses to where they are now.”
George Wright hosted the 2012 Mass. Amateur Public Links (only 15 sub-par rounds and won by Andy Drohen), and earlier this year both courses were used for the Mass. Four-Ball, a team event that was won by Matthew Leger and J.C. Guthrie, who finished 8 under par for 36 holes. With the success of both events, the natural next step for George Wright and Franklin Park was landing the Mass. Amateur.
“We took that [Four-Ball] opportunity as a chance to really showcase, that we could host a tournament of that quality and that caliber. I don’t know if Jesse considered that a trial run, but we kind of felt that way, like this is our opportunity to present to the MGA that we are capable of hosting a tournament at this level, and that the positive feedback that you’d get from the golfers would be exceptional,” said Dennis Roache, who serves as manager of both courses as the director of administration for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. “Once we hosted that Four-Ball, and people were walking off the golf course and just praising the conditions, I think that’s when it was cemented in our mind that we were capable of hosting something like this.”
The prestige of holding the state’s top amateur event also will come with financial implications. The city is donating the municipal courses to the MGA for use in the tournament and will not be compensated, which is standard operating procedure, no matter the site. But in the middle of July, the decision to host might cost George Wright $40,000, the figure Roache estimates the course takes in during a typical five-day period in July.
“We know there will be revenue lost during the week, and we’ll also have to ramp up our maintenance operation for the weeks surrounding the tournament,” Roache said. “There is a financial commitment on behalf of the city, but it’s one we’re willing to make to kind of promote championship golf, to promote that George Wright and Franklin Park are committed to championship golf. We make those kinds of adjustments in the budget, and we hope that after the tournament, there’s an uptick in play because of the publicity the golf course gets.”
Between now and then, Roache said both courses will stick closely to their master plans for improvement, with Len Curtin the longtime superintendent at George Wright, and Russ Heller holding a similar role at Franklin Park. In anticipation for the 2018 Mass. Amateur, Roache said the maintenance focus will be on drainage issues, tee boxes, and bunkers.
This year’s Mass. Amateur is July 13-17 at Oak Hill CC in Fitchburg. Future sites include Taconic GC in 2016, and Charles River CC in 2017.
Then, history will be made in 2018, with the event finally coming to a daily-fee, public-access facility. It mirrors the move that has been made by the US Golf Association, which has brought the US Open to public venues such as Bethpage Black, Pinehurst, Torrey Pines, and Chambers Bay.
Franklin Park adds another accomplishment on Monday, becoming the newest location to offer First Tee of Massachusetts junior golf programs.
City residents will have access to multiple free golf clinics (nonresidents will pay a fee), learning the game and the nine core values taught by the national organization. For more information, or to register for any of the upcoming sessions, visit www.thefirstteemass.org.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.