Rewind: How Wollaston Golf Club Became A Winter Golf Hub - MASSGOLF

Wollaston Golf Club Was Once Named “Pinehurst Links Of The North” For Its Annual Winter Tournament

Golfers in recent years have taken notice of steadily warmer winters that have allowed for increased off-season play in certain parts of Massachusetts. Even in years with heavier snowfall, the golfer’s cry of “Go South” seems to have faded as a universal statement.

About a century ago, however, Wollaston Golf Club carried the moniker “Pinehurst Links of the North” for its longstanding tradition of hosting an open golf tournament on or around New Year’s Day as a way of opening the new golf season.

Doctor W.G. Kendall, a founding member of Wollaston – which until the early 1970s was located on the present site of Presidents Golf Course in Quincy on the present site of Presidents Golf Course in Quincy – was an avid golfer and bicyclist who continued both pursuits no matter how cold the conditions. With no other organized tournament being held annually at the time, Dr. Kendall decided to lead the charge. It started on an unseasonably warm Christmas Day in 1926 with an open tournament of 48 players competing in a best-ball format, starting a winter tournament tradition that would continue for decades. A Wollaston member – J.R. Rablin – aced the 15th hole that day from 125 yards.

John Daley, left, and Bill Baxter sport their winter caps for the playing of the 1949 New Year’s Day Golf Tournament at Wollaston Golf Club. (Boston Globe archive)

The land Wollaston once inhabited proved worthy of such a tournament because its greens remained open year-round. Despite the often-frozen turf, the natural draining facilities of the rolling terrain coupled with the sandy sub-soil gave Wollaston an edge in hosting events during the winter months.

Francis Ouimet was among Wollaston’s biggest admirers, having won the Massachusetts Amateur Championship at there in 1913, the same year of his historic U.S. Open victory at The Country Club. He also said the course was ideal for preparing for Walker Cup competitions in England.

“To me, it was a great place to train for British golf,” Ouimet wrote in Wollaston’s 50th anniversary book. “From experience, I knew that the wind could blow just as hard there as it could off the English Channel at either Sandwich or Deal or at St. Andrews, Scotland.”

This “frostbite tournament” continued in the ensuing years, and it didn’t take long for the Massachusetts Golf Association (predecessor to Mass Golf) to take notice. Under the guidance of then MGA leader Fred Corcoran, the tournament became sanctioned in 1929 with an 18-hole medal play format and awards to gross and net winners. Corcoran also used the event to sell Handicap Index cards to local golfers.

By making it a sponsored event, some of the state’s best players hopped on board. Jesse Guilford, the 1921 U.S. Amateur champion, won the 1930 event with a 78, edging out fellow future Hall of Famer Fred Wright by two.

Sledders pause to watch golfers, Dan Donovan, Edward Doyle and Leo Hart who competed in the 1954 New Year’s Day tourney at Wollaston Golf Club. (Charles Carey, Boston Globe archives)

From there, the event took off in popularity. The 1932 drew a field of 142 and 175 the year after. By 1937, that number reached 247, with over 100 more turned away that year due to course congestion. It was reported that many attended simply to give a proper sendoff to Corcoran, who would soon join the PGA’s executive team. Among his accomplishments, Corcoran doubled the number of PGA championship events and tripled the size of the purse over his first decade.

Back home, the winter event didn’t always go off without a hitch. In 1935 Ouimet registered for the event, only to withdraw after the event was previously postponed twice. When it was held, about 50 players competed over the weekend. However, the MGA only sponsored the first day due to a rule preventing it from sanctioning Sunday tournaments.

Fordie Pitts, left, and his brother Kenny wore New Year’s Eve hats during the 1950 tournament. (Ed Kelley, Boston Globe archives)

The event leveled off in the years that followed, and by 1950, Wollaston’s tournament wasn’t the only game in town around the new year. In addition to the tournaments at South Shore County Club, The Kittansett Club, and Needham Golf Club, Woodland Golf Club – Ouimet’s home course – established a new year’s event with proceeds benefitting the newly-established Francis Ouimet Caddie Scholarship Fund. In 1953, a percentage of the entires fees for Wollaston’s tournament were donated to the Ouimet Fund.

As the years passed, Mother Nature seemed to catch up with the Wollaston tournament, as sleds and toboggans became a more common sight than tees and clubs on the first day of the new year.

No matter how much time passes, golfers will always be subjected to some sort of randomness when it comes to outcomes. Whether they break in your favor or not, we’re still drawn to giving it a shot. It’s in that spirit that Wollaston kept trying year after year to make the first day of the year a true golf day, hoping it was a harbinger of many great ones to come in the weeks and months ahead.

 

 

 

 

“For a very modest sum, the ‘foreigners’ of other clubs are permitted the joy of donning heavy underwear and braving the wintery winds to demonstrate to our more civilized acquaintances that golf after all is a mild form of insanity. There are compensations however: the water hazards are frozen, results in a great saving of golf balls; the showers are really hot; and the gusto of the nineteenth hole in January has a charm never equaled in August.”  (John J. Burns, Wollaston member)

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