- Golfer Benefits
NORTHBRIDGE, Massachusetts – On a day for candy and costumes, there was one final competition to be played, as this year’s LaBonte Four-Ball Tournament rounded out the Mass Golf event schedule for the season. A total of 33 two-women teams took to the course on a picture-perfect Monday in the fall at Shining Rock Golf Club.
The tournament utilizes a four-ball format, where players hit their own ball and the best score on the team is recorded. The event dates back to 1950, and in 1972 was renamed the “The Eleanor I. LaBonte” Tournament. LaBonte served as Executive Secretary of what was formerly known as the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts (WGAM) for over 25 years and was Handicap Chairperson for 33 years. The tournament is open to two-women teams with both players having up to 54.0 Handicap Index.
And in the spirit of Halloween, there were some sweets on the tee boxes and even some players dressed for the occasion.
There seems to be a pattern forming in the LaBonte Four-Ball. Every three years, Rita Bedard (The Tour) and Christine Gagner (Bedrock GC) emerge victorious in the tournament, now having won titles in 2013, 2016, 2019, and 2022. In their fourth victory, the Bedard and Gagner made seven birdies to shoot 3-under 68 for a four-stroke margin of victory.
“We’d prefer to win it more often…it would be nice if we were back to back on occasion,” Gagner said.
Bedard and Gagner said they usually struggle at the start, but starting on the 7th hole in the shotgun format, the team made birdie on two of their first three holes. Gagner birdied the par-3 8th, followed by Bedard making one on the par-5 9th. After finishing the 18th at 3-under, Bedard and Gagner fell back to even-par with a double bogey on the 3rd, but Gagner made a near ace that just rolled past the flagstick on the short par-3 4th, and Bedard made birdie on the 6th to close out the victory.
With the wind up at times and leaves falling from the trees like rain, Bedard said club selection was key.
“The course was playing a little bit longer than we thought,” said Bedard, who played four years on the LPGA Futures Tour up until 2002. “We were pulling slightly extra clubs all day, but we figured it out.”
As for what they enjoy most about playing together as a team: “We have a blast, an absolute hoot,” Gagner said. “We don’t get down on ourselves, we enjoy our time out there, and it’s worked out well for us all these years.”
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Kristen Henderson (Bedrock GC) and Elizabeth Derwin (The Tour) finished second overall in the gross division, with Henderson making a key par save on the final hole (13th) as the team finished 1-over 72. Henderson also made birdie on the par-5 16th, while Derwin made one on the par-5 9th.
The married couple of Angela Woodridge and Meagan Finneral won the Net title with a score of 11-under-par 60 for their first victory in a Mass Golf event. After finishing 6th last year in Net scoring, their goal was to beat the mark. This year they joined Sterling National Country Club, which they credited for their success Monday.
“We play a lot more since last year’s tournament,” said Woodridge, who sank a birdie on the 2nd hole for a net eagle, adding to the team’s nine net birdies on the day. “It’s a really nice feeling to win this, and it means the practice we’re putting in is worth it.”
Woodridge, who played tennis growing up and picked up golf five years ago, has worked her way up to a 15 Handicap, while Finneral currently is a 20. “She’s just a natural athlete, and switching to golf just translates well,” Finneral said of Woodridge.
Christine Torpey and Patti Tanaka, of Acushnet River Valley Golf Course, won the tiebreaker for second low net, starting the round with a birdie on the par-3 4th.
Shining Rock Golf Club is newest of the esteemed public golf courses in the Blackstone Valley region of Central Massachusetts. Opened in 2010, the semi-private course is built around native rocky ledges, and in its first year, Golf Magazine ranked it the No. 4 new course in the country. The name comes from the 80-foot granite formation located by its signature hole, the par-5 16th, which can play up to 648-yards from the back tees.
In 2018, the club co-hosted the Mass Senior Four-Ball Championship with Hopkinton Country Club. Last year, Shining Rock also hosted the MIAA Division 3 fall golf state championship.
Golf’s popularity has been booming over the past couple years, and with the increasing demand for 9-hole and more time-efficient golf experiences, Shining Rock has launched a project to meet the demand — The Acorn. Located off to the side of the course’s driving range where a large cellphone tower rises through the sky, land has been cleared for a 9-hole, par-3 daily-fee golf course, a short-game range that can be used for golf lessons and club fitting, and a large practice putting green. There’s also plans for two indoor hitting bays that can be used year-round.
This project, which is the brainchild of course owner Joe Pasquale, takes inspiration from some of the famous golf resorts across the country, such as The Cradle at Pinehurst or The Punchbowl putting course at Bandon Dunes. While this new project creates more options for golf, head golf professional Mike Stacy envisions golfers playing 18 holes in the morning, eating lunch and then spending the afternoon on the par-3 course. Part of the plan is to create replica greens of some of the most popular par-3s in the world, including Pebble Beach No. 7 and No. 17 and Augusta National No. 12.
“We saw range usage and golf entertainment venues like Top Golf on the incline, so we’re trying to try to stay ahead of the curve in terms of being accessible for everybody,” Stacy said. “This is largely a senior community, and a lot of them are going to start growing out of being able to play the main course, so we want to have an avenue for them, plus beginners and juniors. Those are all needs required to meet the demand with our current club.”
Stacy said the practice range is set to open next year, with the goal of opening the daily-fee par-3 course in 2024. The new facility will have its own membership, so golfers can join for only access to The Acorn or for both facilities.
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