Preview: 115th Massachusetts Amateur Championship - MASSGOLF

The Massachusetts Amateur Championship Returns To Essex County Club, A Place Few Golfers Have Seen In Its Current form

MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA, Massachusetts – In an era of significant transformation for golf, Essex County Club remains a timeless wonder. Frankly, they don’t make them like this anymore.

Founded in 1893, its mesmerizing and unparalleled layout is one of Donald Ross’ earliest and has been the stage for some of the greatest championship finishes in Mass Golf’s history. Among them is Flynt Lincoln‘s 1993 Massachusetts Amateur Championship triumph, which featured a 40-hole final match, the longest in event history. Massachusetts Golf Hall of Famers have also won titles here, including Fred Wright (1928 & 1938), Frank Vana Jr. (2005), in addition to Margaret & Harriott Curtis and Joanne Goodwin on the women’s side.

As the 115th Massachusetts Amateur Championship makes its pilgrimage to Essex County Club after 18 years, it will be the first time since the layout has undergone a full-scale restoration to restore original Ross features, now spearheaded by superintendent Eric Richardson. The most notable is the tree thinning, especially along the “mountain” that features what many argue is the best hole 17-18 combo in New England. And like many places, bunkers and greens are being restored to original shape.

“We feel like we have a special golf course, and part of having a special golf course is having special events,” said Jack Davis, head golf professional at Essex County Club. “The golf course is 110 years old, and what’s really cool is the technology has not outraced this golf course. You still have to do all the right things.”

The competition begins with 18 holes of stroke play on both Monday and Tuesday to determine the 32 match play spots available. First- and second-round matches will take place July 12, followed by the quarterfinals and semifinals on July 13. It will conclude with a 36-hole championship match July 14 to determine the winner of the Massachusetts Cup.

Live Scoring will be available during all rounds.

Spectators are encouraged to attend, and admission throughout the event is FREE OF CHARGE. Additional food & beverage service (including bar service) will be available to all players, caddies, spectators, on the verandah at the individual’s expense.

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The Course

The current layout comes courtesy of Donald Ross, which he debuted in 1917 after years of work. With its challenging and uneven terrain, all of its holes make up one compelling puzzle. While the courses stretches to about 6,500 yards — anything but a stretch for modern-day mashers — there is little margin for error. Fairway finders will almost always lead to the safest and simplest way to the green.

Par is a perfectly acceptable score anywhere, especially with the lone par-5s being holes 3 and 5. Essex’s No. 3 is a 623-yard behemoth featuring the oldest continuously used green site in North America. Its deep depression in the left-center portion has been dubbed “the bathtub.” Followed by the 233-yard par-3 4th and the final par-5 5th, players head to the par-4 sixth (335 yards), which is drivable in the right conditions. The par-4 eighth features a blind tee tee shot into a mulit-tiered fairway with a raised green in the distance.

“The first four holes are very difficult,” Davis said. “If you can get through those first few holes around even or 1-over, you’re in good shape.”

An overhead view of the 7th green, which is the shortest hole on the course at 142 yards. (Mass Golf)

While the front nine (3,465 yards) has plenty of character, the shorter back nine (3,090 yards) sets Essex apart as one of the best courses in the country. The 11th might be one of Ross’ finest one-shotters. Playing uphill, the right side of the putting surface features a high bank that will kick balls to the left while that left side features a steep falloff that sends balls into the trees.

After circling the base of the hilltop with the 18th tee at its summit, players are faced with two tricky par-4s (15 and 16) which play in front of the yellow house that Ross himself raised his family. The crescendo is a blind tee shot uphill on the 17th, followed by the highly-anticipated 18th tee shot that plays 75 feet downhill to a fairway and snakes between two hills all the way down to a tight green defended in front by a brook.

“It’s going to be a hard golf course, and it’ll be hard to press,” Davis said. “In match play there will be more chances to be aggressive, but either way, par is wonderful.”

With new drainage and turf, plus the aforementioned tree removal, Davis anticipates a more fun and difficult golf course compared to 18 years ago. And when golfers do miss the fairway, he advised it’s better to attempt an up-and-down in the fairway rather than take a risk from out of position.

“The more somebody has played here the better,” Davis said. “There are a handful of very important shots, if you pull off a shot versus failing, it feels like the difference is more than a stroke or half-stroke. If you’re successful at taking those shots on, you can score here. If you’re out of position, give yourself a chance to get up-and-down from 70 yards in the fairway instead of staying out of position and being short-sided into the green.”

Essex County Club’s finishing hole provides an absolutely breathtaking view of the property and is one of the most dramatic shots in golf. (Mass Golf)


Out of more than 1,100 entries accepted, 144 advanced to the Championship Proper, including a handful of exempt players. The 32 players who made match play last year at Concord Country Club are among those who earned full exemptions.

As Davis said, the golfers who will really know the course are those who have played it before in competition.

Chief among them is Molly Smith (Vesper Country Club), who is making history as the first known female to compete in century-plus history of the Mass Amateur Championship. An incoming first-year at University of Central Florida, Smith played in the 2020 Mass Women’s Amateur at Essex, qualifying for match play. As a 5-time host of USGA women’s championships, most recently the 2010 Curtis Cup, Essex is a fitting place for this groundbreaking moment.

“I think she can be successful here,” Davis said of Smith, who has been an excellent ball strikes off the tee. “It’s wonderful she made it, and it’s another part of our history.”

Molly Smith, who will attend the University of Central Florida in the fall, is set to be the first known female golfer to compete in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship. (Teddy Doggett)

Ten past champions are playing, including last year’s winner Conner Willett (Charles River Country Club), whose emotional victory captured the attention of both local and national media. Frank Vana, Jr. (Marlborough Country Club), a 2016 inductee into the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame, is also competing. He won in 2004 & 2005, the latter being at Essex. Brendan Hester, who competed in the 2023 U.S. Senior Open, will also compete, 22 years after his title victory. Bill Drohen (Brookmeadow Country Club) won in 2009, but prior to that he made the semifinals at Essex in 1993 and played in a semifinal match against Vana in 2005.

Other past champions in the field: Steve Tasho (Thorny Lea Golf Club)-1981&1985; Mike Calef (Pine Oaks Golf Club)-2012&2013; John Kelly (Twin Hills Country Club)-2014; Nick McLaughlin (Far Corner Golf Club)-2015; Matt Parziale (Thorny Lea Golf Club)-2017; and Patrick Frodigh (Dedham Country & Polo Club)-2018.

Conner Willett, right, will be back to defend his title. His best friend Ethan Whitney will try to make it back to match play once more. (David Colt, file)


A collection of notable players in the 115th Massachusetts Amateur Championship:

MOLLY SMITH, 18, a Westford native and member of Vesper Country Club, will be the first known female to compete in the Massachusetts Amateur Championship. Smith, who qualified June 6 at Andover Country Club, won the 2021 Ouimet Memorial Tournament (Women’s Division) and won the 2023 MIAA Girls’ High School Golf State Championship. Smith and her older sister Morgan played in the Mass Four-Ball Championship earlier this spring, finishing in the top-third of the field.

NICK MACCARIO, 31, a Haverhill native and member of GreatHorse, is competing in the Mass Amateur for the first time since 2020 when he played in the final match at The Kittansett Club. Since then Maccario shot a 56 at his hometown course of Bradford Country Club and advanced to the semifinals of the 2021 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Sankaty Head Golf Club on Nantucket. This year, he played in the Jones Cup Invitational and was top-3 in the Norfolk County Classic and Hornblower Memorial Tournament.

JAMES IMAI, 22, a Brookline native and member of George Wright Golf Course, is making his first Mass Amateur appearance since 2020, when he finished T6 in stroke play and advanced to the Round of 16. Imai, who just finished his senior year at Northwestern University, won the 2021 Massachusetts Amateur Public Links Championship.

RICKY STIMETS, 32, an Osterville native and member of Worcester Country Club, finished as low amateur in this year’s Massachusetts Open Championship at TPC Boston, closing with rounds of 68 and 69. Stimets has finished top five in stroke play in each of the last three Mass Amateurs but has yet to make it past the Round of 16 in those attempts. Stimets also finished second this year in the Hornblower Memorial Tournament as well as the Mass Four-Ball Championship with Kevin Blaser.

JOHN BRODERICK, 19, a Wellesley native and member of Dedham Country and Polo Club, finished his first year on the Vanderbilt University golf team in the fall after being recruited as the top-ranked golfer in the Bay State’s Class of 2022. Broderick won the 2020 New England Amateur and won the 2022 Massachusetts Junior Amateur Championship, and was runner-up in this year’s Norfolk County Classic.

CONNER WILLETT, 20, a Wellesley native and member of Charles River Country Club, won the Mass Amateur for the first time last year, just days after his father passed away unexpectedly. Willett played 138 holes over five days, taking down his best friend turned caddie Ethan Whitney in the process. He will try to be the first person since Mike Calef (2012-13) to go back-to-back.

RYAN DOWNES, 17, a Longmeadow native and member of GreatHorse, made history last year as the youngest-ever player to compete in the final match of the Mass Amateur. Downes, a rising senior on the Longmeadow High School golf team, has since verbally committed to Vanderbilt University. He also won the 2022 Ouimet Memorial Tournament, with the first two rounds played at his home club.

FRANK VANA, JR., 60, a Boxford resident and member of Marlborough Country Club, won the 2005 Mass Amateur at Essex County Club, the last time it was played at the course. Vana, a 9-time Mass Golf Player of the Year and Hall of Famer, won the 2022 Mass Senior Amateur Championship. In the 2021 Mass Amateur at Brae Burn Country Club, Vana qualified for match play and advanced to the Round of 16.

JAKE SHUMAN, 27, a Boston resident and member of Blue Hill Country Club, finished as medalist in the 2022 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Erin Hills (WI). The former Duke standout was medalist in the 2016 Mass Amateur, and regained his amateur status in 2022. Last year at Concord, he advanced to the Round of 16.

BILL DROHEN, 50, an Easton resident and member of Brookmeadow Country Club, won this year’s Norfolk County Classic. The 2009 Mass Amateur champion qualified for match play last year after joining Ricky Stimets as the only other player to shoot even-par 70 in the second round. Everybody else was over par. Drohen faced Frank Vana, Jr. in the final match of the 2005 Mass Amateur at Essex and made it to the semifinals in 1993, also at Essex.

CHRISTIAN EMMERICH, 22, a Swampscott native and member of Kernwood Country Club, earned the final spot in match play at Concord last year but made it to the quarterfinals where he fell to eventual champion Conner Willett. A week later in the New England Amateur, Emmerich shot a course record 62 at Alpine Country Club (RI). He also played in the 2022 U.S. Amateur. A standout at Holy Cross, Emmerich is transferring to Boston College for his final two years of eligibility.

BRANDON PARKER, 34, a Boston resident and member of Worcester Country Club, qualified for the 2022 U.S. Amateur two months after competing in the U.S. Four-Ball Championship with Kyle Tibbetts. Parker made it to match play last year but fell to Tommy Parker (not related) in the opening round.

JOEY LENANE, 19, a Dedham native and member at KOHR Golf Center, was the New England high school golf champion in 2021 and recently finished his first year at North Carolina State. Lenane led the first round of the Mass Open this year at TPC Boston after opening with a 6-under 66.

JACK BOULGER, 24, a Walpole native and member of TPC Boston, finished T7 in this year’s Mass Open at his home course, highlighted by his opening round of 67. Boulger, a University of Southern California graduate, made the semifinals of the 2019 Mass Amateur at The Country Club, but has missed his last two match play cuts in the Mass Amateur.

MATT PARZIALE, 36, a Brockton native and member of Thorny Lea Golf Club, is one of eight previous Mass Amateur champions in the field. The eight-time Mass Golf Player of the Year honoree won the championship in 2017 and has been in the Round of 16 nine of the past 10 years, including the 2021 championship match. Parziale’s resume also includes appearances in the 2018 and 2019 U.S. Open Championships after earning exemptions by winning the 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship.

ETHAN WHITNEY, 20, a Leominster native and member of Oak Hill Country Club, has made it to match play two of the past three years in the Mass Amateur. Last year, the Temple University standout went head-to-head with his best friend Conner Willett in the Round of 16 and after losing that match, caddied for Willett the rest of the way.

AIDAN EMMERICH, 19 a Swampscott native and member of Kernwood Country Club, won the 2023 Hornblower Memorial Tournament at Plymouth Country Club in difficult conditions. Emmerich, who recently finished his first year at Michigan State, was runner-up in the 2022 Mass Junior Amateur, one week after advancing to the Round of 32 in the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship at Bandon Dunes.

CHARLES DOAR, 38, a Needham native and member of The Country Club, is the varsity head coach of the Belmont Hill School varsity golf team, and has coached players in the field, such as John Broderick and Conner Willett. Doar qualified for the Mass Amateur for the first time since 2017.


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