- Golfer Benefits
By Steve Derderian
Ken Olsen was once named America’s most successful entrepreneur for his contributions to the development and use of computer technology. Starting with $70,000 of seed money, he built the now-defunct Digital Equipment Corp (DEC) into a multi-billion dollar corporation. DEC pioneered, among many things, the Rainbow 100, a microcomputer released in 1982.
But one of his lasting legacies has nothing to do with computers. Instead, it’s a golf league of men and women that has met on a weekly basis during golf season for the past 50 years. It is now one of many Non-Real Estate Clubs affiliated with Mass Golf, which gives a Handicap Index to each of its members, among other benefits.
About half of its present-day members worked for Digital at some point and remember Olsen for his generosity to employees and his emphasis on recreational activities such as golf.
“He was very family oriented,” Mike Sigismondo, a long-time league member and current webmaster, said of Olsen. “We had outings at places like Canobe Lake Park. He encouraged employees to get together as a group to become a family. One way was encouraging golf and making people feel like they’re a family.”
DEC was headquartered at an old mill in Maynard, but its “family” was spread around offices throughout the Greater Boston area. Seeking activities for after work, many of DEC’s young employees began meeting weekly at Juniper Hills Golf Course in Northboro in 1973, which was centrally located to many of DEC’s facilities. The league was a hit, and Olsen’s company paid for virtually all expenses for the league to operate.
Sigismondo first took a liking to golf as a teenager but said health struggles prevented him from really excelling like his older brother. As an adult, he found a job in field service at Digital and was on call every week (sometimes getting calls in the middle of the night for work on site). One day his colleague invited him to join the league, igniting a passion for the game that has lasted more than two decades.
Among his biggest contributions to the league has been modernizing the scoring system. During the first week of the 2023 season, everybody’s scores were submitted by phone or by computer before the deadline, which wasn’t always the case in years past. He’s also introduced cloud-based software for custom printed scorecards.
At its height, the Marlboro Golf League had over 100 golfers on its roster split into six flights of two-person teams based on their cumulative Handicap Indexes. Numbers dwindled during the 1990s and early 2000s, as Digital was going through a significant transformation. The company was sold to Compaq in 1998 and was acquired by Hewlett-Packard (HP) four years later. Some employees were transferred to other parts of the country or moved on to different jobs. Still, the league “rolled with the punches” during that time, spreading to other working professionals by word of mouth.
Today, 64 regulars players and about 20 substitutes constitute the league, which is separated into four flights. These two-person teams compete head-to-head in 9 holes of match play for 16 weeks plus 2 playoff weeks, along with a year-end tournament.
In addition to bringing on players from other big companies, such as Staples and Banyan Systems, league president Dean Maher said secret to the club’s continuance has been implementing local rules (playing the ball up, etc.) that ease up some regulations on older and high handicap golfers, while also allowing the top flight(s) to enjoy their highly-competitive matches.
If everybody is looking forward to Monday afternoons at Wachusett, they’re doing something right.
“I wanted to make sure we remained a recreational league and by that I mean, we wanted to make it available to everybody, high handicap and low handicap,” said Maher, who has been involved with MGL for nearly 30 years. “It’s still fun to play in the league, which was always our intention. I think that’s what’s probably kept the league going the way it is now.”
One of its biggest changes occurred in 2021, when the league took a poll of its members, who overwhelming decided on a new venue: Wachusett Country Club. Starting 2022, the club has met there on Mondays from April-August. Despite the break from tradition, the move as been well-received by league members, who also play in other leagues as well.
“Wachusett’s course has been in great shape since day 1,” Sigismondo said. “The venue is wonderful. You can sit outside. Most members have a drink and dinner after. For the most part, we’re all happy with the move.”
While the league largely consists of men, there are women who play right alongside them. Kelly McDonough got her start five years ago when her friend Derreth Adams wanted to partner up. McDonough currently teams with Sandy Robichaud, who coaches golf at Westborough High School, while Adams plays with Eric Williams. By using the World Handicap System, matches are able to be conducted fairly, but more importantly McDonough said she’s always felt welcome in the league.
“We love playing with the guys,” said McDonough, who plays between a 7 and 8 Handicap. “Last year my partner and I were co-champs of the C Division. They bring up my game. They’re competitive. We don’t mind being the minority because they treat us as equals. Once they see us play, they knew we could hold our own. They’re a great bunch of guys, and I like playing with them.”
McDonough also plays in leagues at Highfields Golf & Country Club in Grafton, as well as Westborough Golf Club.
“I think playing consistently three times a week in different leagues and with different people gotten me better,” she said.
In addition to its 50-year bag tags, the club will be celebrating this fall when it hosts it’s end of year tournament at Oak Hill Country Club in Fitchburg for the first time. Sigismondo said hosting it at Oak Hill is especially sentimental.
“It’s personal for me because I caddied at Oak Hill growing up,” Sigismondo said. “Oak Hill is great. I’ve been there for Mass Golf Member Days; it’s really a wonderful course. We wanted to celebrate with a nice place and a good meal, so I figured this year we could do it.”
To learn more about the benefits of becoming a Mass Golf Non-Real Estate Club, please contact Jenna Walkiewicz, Mass Golf’s Assistant Director of Member Services: firstname.lastname@example.org