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FALMOUTH, Maine – From dawn until well after dusk this week, competitors and spectators at the 89th New England Amateur Championship can find Dan Venezio on the Portland Country Club property. Whether he is assisting the New England Golf Association (NEGA) staff with tournament operations or providing guidance to volunteers on course, Venezio is a permanent and welcoming presence in Falmouth.
Since 2016, Venezio has served as head golf professional at Portland Country Club. It is a position that he accepted after working nine years as an assistant golf professional at Myopia Hunt Club. During his nine-year tenure at the Hamilton (MA) facility, Venezio also spent the winter months working at John’s Island Club in Vero Beach.
“I learned a bit of everything,” said Venezio, an Albany, New York native and Penn State graduate. “We ran events for our membership, so I got to see a smaller club with no tee times and a big caddy program and then went down to Florida to a 54-hole facility with a bunch of carts and a lot of activity and tee time system. I had the best of both worlds. I had a smaller New England club, and I saw a big production club.”
Venezio’s experience, unparalleled commitment to his profession and his affable manner made him a perfect fit for the Donald Ross facility, which was established in 1895, is nationally renowned and annually touted as the only, private golf course in Maine to be designated as a “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary” by Audubon International.
“I grew to love New England and the New England golf scene and the opportunity came up and fortunately I was selected,” said Venezio when asked about his journey to Falmouth, a place which he now calls home. “I love interacting with people. You get to see a five year old and then you get to see an 85 year old and everyone in between. It is fun to come to work every day. It is a great setting and most of the time people are coming here to enjoy themselves and have a great time. I love that interaction with the members.”
Since the New England Amateur Championship was introduced in 1926, Portland Country Club has opened its doors to this event a total of seven times – in 1930, 1936, 1949, 1964, 1976, 1988 and 2018 – which is two more than Rhode Island Country Club (RI) and Manchester Country Club (NH) which have hosted five times each.
“Portland Country Club takes great pride in hosting amateur golf events,” said Mike Pierce, a longtime member of Portland Country Club who also serves as NEGA president. “The club has hosted the New England Amateur now seven times which is more than any other club and we are very very proud of that. To host a major amateur event with winners gaining World Amateur Golf Ranking points is truly a privilege for the club.”
The commitment to amateur golf by the club staff and membership can be further told by the fact that Portland Country Club will be hosting the three-day Maine Amateur Championship next season to help celebrate MSGA’s 100th playing of its amateur championship.
Hosting two major championships in a two-year period for a seasonal Maine course is not only unique but also a significant undertaking and sacrifice by the membership.
“It has been part of their heritage to give back to the game in the way of hosting amateur championships,” explains Venezio, an accomplished player himself who competed at the 2015 PGA Championship held at Whistling Straits Resort. “Whether it is the Maine Amateur or the New England Amateur or Maine State Days, they really try to give back to the game in that way. We don’t do the Monday outings and shotguns that you will see at some other clubs. It is a decision that they made when they decide to offer up their course they do it for these events.”
The fact that the field has an opportunity to play this historic Donald Ross layout that underwent a major restoration over the past few years is special and one that competitors are truly appreciating.
One competitor who was especially fond of the host site is defending champion Bobby Leopold who has seen his fair share of golf courses over the course of his career. Earlier this year, the Surrey, England native was selected as a member of the Great Britain & Ireland team which competed in the 2018 Concessions Cup.
“It is a tale of two nines really,” said Leopold of Portland Country Club. “The back nine is like being back in England, and the front nine is very coastal and more exposed to the wind. It is a really good test of golf. It tests every club in your game and every shot you have. You have to hit it both ways and sometimes you have to play to the front of your green and take your par and move on.”
Adding a helping hand and cheering the competitors on along the way – even despite inclement weather experienced on Tuesday – have been a dedicated crew of club volunteers who are manning score stations every three holes.
“We made our first call to volunteers in mid June which was five weeks away,” said Venezio. “We understand that people have schedules and filled half of our volunteer positions in the first day of me sending out a notice… Even members how aren’t volunteers have been coming up to me and wishing that they had volunteers. They are coming out to watch and spotting on holes where there might be trouble and are really proud of their club and happy to be out here.”
A happy field of competitors coupled with a supportive membership and a dedicated head golf professional makes this week a victory for all.