- Golfer Benefits
It’s called a quasquicentennial. For those unfamiliar, it’s literally an invented term for an institution celebrating its 125th anniversary. As you can imagine, only so many golf clubs in the United States have reached that milestone. But in Massachusetts, five clubs spread out across the state — Meadow Brook Golf Club, Northampton Country Club, Oakley Country Club, Sharon Country Club, and Tatnuck Country Club — have reached another distinguished anniversary year. To recognize this feat, Mass Golf will profile each one and how their historic grounds have served and continued to serve the golf community to this day.
Over the past 125 years, Sharon has evolved from a sleepy town within the Greater Boston area to a bustling suburb along I-95 between Boston and Providence. Yet in that same span, time has stood relatively still at the town’s first golf course, which remains one of the oldest in the region.
Golf got its start at Sharon Country Club (not to be confused with the Cape Club of Sharon) in 1898 when three holes were laid out on the pastures of a dairy farm owned by George O’Leary. Fittingly, the cows then were responsible for the turf care, and there were fences to keep them from wandering onto the greens. In 1914, nine men formally organized Sharon Country Club, with a stated purposed of maintaining golf links, tennis courts, and owning, establishing and maintaining a place for social meetings.
Nine years later, the club officially purchased the property from the O’Leary family and began the process of shaping much of the course as it stands today.
The private club is tucked within the trees a short drive from downtown. It currently has 10 holes used for regular play, most of which were designed by Wayne Stiles and his partner John Van Kleek, who joined Stiles in 1924 and designed several courses up until the Great Depression began in 1929. Stiles is also known for designing nearby courses such as Thorny Lea Golf Club, Pine Brook Country Club and Marshfield Country Club.
Sharon features several small circular and egg-shaped greens that have been largely untouched since they were built (Holes 1-6 & 9). True to Stiles’ form, players often hit to elevated greens with bunkers ready to swallow up errant approach shots. The first green, for example, is a 30 paces wide, requiring precision to land safely on it. The club uses a different finishing hole for each nine, with the course’s 10th hole being used as the 18th. From the white/blue combination tees, it plays at 6,583 yards to a par of 72.
Paul Doherty has tended to the course as the head superintendent since 2002, doing his best to keep the conditions firm and fast and maintain the course’s beautiful mounding around captivating native areas.
“You can see the history of the club when you go play,” said Brian Hayes, the head golf professional at Sharon Country Club. “We’ve got the rock walls since the 1920s, and remnants of above-ground irrigation systems used throughout the years.”
Brian Silva and Geoffrey Cornish have done renovation work on the course, but it maintained the same nine holes until the turn of the century when three more holes were added. There were also plans to expand to 18 holes, however, the club membership put a greater emphasis on building a new clubhouse and making room for a driving range and a short-game area.
One of the original Stiles holes, the par-3 8th, which played about 170 yards over a large pond, was among those replaced. Similar to how the 11th hole at this year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club was re-introduced for the championship, Hayes said each year he’ll hold a few tournaments featuring the original 8th hole. One of those is a par-3 tournament, where temporary tees are introduced in the middle of fairways. Between glow-ball night tournaments, league play, and the ever-popular three-day member guest, there’s plenty of fun, organized golf taking place at this club throughout the year.
Hayes said there’s members with friends who belong to Norton Country Club and over the past decade-plus members from both clubs have joined together for a four-ball match play event playfully referred to as ‘The Shnorton’, a portmanteau of the two clubs.
“There’s always a trophy on the line for the winning club,” said Hayes, who became head pro in 2015.
One of the first high-profile golfers to play the course was non-other than Francis Ouimet. On July 29, 1928, a large gallery arrived on-site to watch the 1913 U.S. Open champion team up with his older brother, Wilfred Ouimet, and play a four-ball exhibition match against Ray Ouimet, the younger Ouimet brother, and club president Hamilton Mansur. Wilfred and Francis won the match, 2-up, despite Mansur shooting 74, edging out Francis by two strokes.
The Kirouac family also brought tremendous pride to Sharon Country Club as Walpole native Ed Kirouac won the 1932 Mass Amateur Championship at Kernwood Country Club and turned pro in 1938. Kirouac became the head pro at Sharon in 1946 where he stayed for 20 years. At just 13 years old, his son Robert qualified for the 1956 U.S. Junior Amateur at Taconic Golf Club, an event that featured Jack Nicklaus. Robert also made it to the final of the Mass Amateur in 1963 and 1967.
The club community also came together in 1954 when Sharon Country Club made the bizarre move of joining the Western Golf Association, made up largely of golf clubs from the Midwest. But they did so to support one of its young members, Russ Wallace. At 18, Wallace was a promising young golfer but didn’t have the funds to attend college. But with a $35 investment by all members, Sharon was admitted to the WGA, which allowed Wallace to apply for the Chick Evans Golf Scholarship, the nation’s largest scholarship program for caddies. Wallace was then accepted into Northwestern on a full scholarship. (Nowadays, the Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund and the Evans Scholars Foundation annually co-sponsor a handful of scholarships for caddies from Massachusetts.)
By the 1990s, access to private clubs in Greater Boston were in high demand, with many initiation fees surging into five figures. While Sharon never had a reputation for being an easy club of be admitted to, a 1997 article in the Boston Globe included Sharon as among clubs that are, “one of the best bargains for golfers looking for a private place to play,” listing initiation at $2,000, and annual dues at $1,000.
“It was still a hard place to get into,” Hayes affirmed.
Currently, Sharon Country Club stands at about 300 members and a couple dozen individuals on the waiting list. The club opened a brand-new clubhouse on Super Bowl Sunday in 2020, replacing the previous dairy barn that served as the clubhouse from 1923 through 2019. With new locker rooms, a fresh bar area, and a patio overlooking the first tee, it’s a comfortable place to relax after a round of golf.
Plans are still being discussed for the 125th anniversary, but in the meantime having a classic course with new investments in facilities help ensure the club can continue to foster a strong community and celebrate more anniversaries down the road.
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