- Golfer Benefits
WILBRAHAM | LONGMEADOW, Massachusetts – The Massachusetts Senior Four-Ball Championship officially reached the quarter-century mark on Tuesday with the 25th playing of the championship taking place at Country Club of Wilbraham and Twins Hills Country Club for the first time. Despite the hot conditions with hazy, pollen-filled skies, 40 teams out of 171 finished 1-under-par or better, and eight teams are within four strokes of the lead.
After Round 1, the entire field is looking up at Claude Hoopes and Donald Anderson after they shot a 7-under-par 64 at Twin Hills Country Club. Hoopes, 72, and Anderson, 73, who both play out of The Kittansett Club, are attempting to become the second team to win the Senior Four-Ball Championship in the Super Senior category (both players 65 and older). Brothers Jon Fasick and Carter Fasick accomplished the feat in 2018.
Sitting 2-back at 5-under are Twin Hills members Todd Ezold & Mike Trombley as well as Neil Mack & James Ryan, who led the morning wave. The second and final round takes place Wednesday with tee times beginning at 7:30 a.m. Any playoff needed would be contested at Twin Hills.
Senior Four-Ball entries are open to two-person teams of amateur golfers who have an active Mass Golf Membership, have reached their 55th birthday by May 31, 2022, and who have a combined Handicap Index® not exceeding 12.0 (at the time of registration).
Claude Hoopes and Don Anderson have been playing partners for 30 years, and still these longstanding members The Kittansett Club continue to strive for new levels of success. After shooting a bogey-free 7-under 64, the pair is leading the way and will have a shot at winning their first Mass Senior Four-Ball Championship.
“Today we didn’t have a bogey and hung in there when we needed to,” said Hoopes, who shot 68 on his own ball to best his age by 4.
“Claude was super strong today,” added Anderson, who is a highly-esteemed senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Hoopes is seeking another Mass Golf victory after winning the Legends Division (Ages 70+) of the Super Senior Amateur Championship last year at Wianno Club. He got the duo started with a birdie on the par-4 11th (2nd hole of the round), but perhaps it was a sign that it was going to be their day when Anderson drained his second shot for eagle on the par-4 12th using a 9-iron.
“I hit a shot, and said ‘That’s perfect’ and sure enough it went in, so all of a sudden we’re 3-under through 3 holes,” said Anderson, whose squad found itself at 4-under through 9 holes.
Hoopes also carded birdies on holes 1 and 6, while Anderson had another on the par-4 2nd to go 3-under on their second nine. Tuesday’s round also mirrored the 2014 Senior Four-Ball when they closed out the championship with a bogey-free 7-under at Bayberry Hills Golf Club to finish T5. If they can manage a similar performance at Wilbraham on Wednesday, they’ll likely be a tough team to catch.
Leave it to a former MLB pitcher Mike Trombley and former minor-league catcher Todd Ezold to keep things interesting at a championship event. After the first round, they find themselves at 5-under after some impressive shotmaking throughout the round at The Country Club of Wilbraham. Now the Twin Hills members will play for a shot at the title on their own home course.
“We’re both former ball players, and we like getting the heart pumping,” said Trombley, a Springfield native who previously lived in Wilbraham and played in the Majors from 1992 through 2002. Throughout his 14 year career, Trombley played with the Minnesota Twins (1992–1999, 2002), Baltimore Orioles (2000–2001) and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2001).
Trombley, 55, was thrilled for the Senior Four-Ball to come here in his first year eligible, as his father was a member at Wilbraham when the family lived there in 1976. “I know a lot about that front nine,” he said. “It plays harder than you think. The greens are difficult, but we’re familiar with both courses which helps.”
On the 7th, a short par-4, Trombley holed out for eagle out of the bunker, and then Ezold almost aced the par-3 but tapped in for birdie. After a birdie from Trombley on the 11th, he capped the round with “a little luck” as he hit an impressive 25-footer for birdie from the back of the green to bring them to 5-under. Now they’ll be the first group off Hole 10 on Wednesday at Twin Hills.
Among the six teams at 3-under are longtime friends Jack Kearney (Westover Golf Course) and Frank Vana (Marlborough Country Club). The duo shot 3-under on the front nine and moved to 5-under through 15 before a pair of bogeys on 17 and 18 knocked them back to 3-under. Though Kearney live in Western Mass for years, he said it was his first time playing Wilbraham.
The remaining teams at 3-under: Bob Seiple (The Kittansett Club) & Rich Armstrong (Worcester Country Club); Colin Ahern (Indian Ridge Country Club) & Bruce Carter (Green Hill Muni Golf Course); Vin Sasso & Ken Dimaggio, of The Haven Country Club; Thomas McDavitt & T.J. Ryan, of Worcester Country Club; and Chuck Tryder (Bellevue Golf Club) and Tom Lennon (Wampatuck Country Club).
Jim Ruschioni (Wachusett Country Club) is playing this year’s Senior Four-Ball Championship with a heavy heart. In March, Ruschioni’s longtime friend and playing partner Paul Nunez died suddenly at age 74 while in Florida. Ruschioni and Nunez won the Senior Four-Ball four times together (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009) and last year won the Super Senior Division together in this event.
“I miss my buddy, that’s for sure,” said Ruschioni, after he finished his round Tuesday at Wilbraham. “He was well-liked. He was a class act, and he was a good family man. Everybody had a lot of good things to say about him. Paul and I ended our run together on a high note.”
After nearly two decades of playing together, Ruschioni was originally planning to sit out this year. However, his longtime friend John Fasick (New England Country Club) needed a substitute after his brother, Carter Fasick, withdrew due to illness. “John and I have been friends for a long time, and if it wasn’t him, I probably would’ve said no. But he’s done a lot for me so I said ‘Absolutely, I’ll fill in.'”
Ruschioni birdied the 1st hole, the pair’s 10th of the day, and Fasick made a 20-footer for birdie to put the pair at 1-under through Round 1. “It was nice to get out here and still be competitive and grind it out there,” Ruschioni said.
Talk about a happy reunion for Neil Mack (Salem Country Club) and James Ryan (The Links at Worthington). Both men attended high school in Springfield and went to UMass together, but now that they live on opposite sides of the state, they don’t see each other often, never mind play golf together. But when Mack’s partner had a conflict he called up his old schoolmate. “I’ve been texting him on and off about golf for the last 5-6 years because we enjoy playing,” said Mack, a member of Salem Country Club.
After Tuesday, they have plenty to talk about after they took the morning lead with with a bogey-free 5-under 67 at the Country Club of Wilbraham. Ryan, who lives in the Western Mass, took advantage of some local course knowledge as they kept the ball in the right spot and made putts at the right time. Ryan sank four birdie putts, including a pair of 20-footers on the back nine. Mack followed up with an important par save on the 9th with a birdie on the par-3 10th (152-yards) to give the team enough to maintain the lead through the morning wave.
Ryan is hoping for a similar second round performance last year when him and Michael Ryan shot 4-under 68 to move into a top 25 spot.
Defending champions Keith Smith (Franklin Country Club) and Steven Tasho (Thorny Lea Golf Club) so far have charted a similar path to their victory last year. For the second consecutive year, the pair shot 2-under in the opening round and find themselves in contention for the title, which they won after shooting 5-under in the closing round last year.
Smith, the reigning Mass Golf George M. Cohen Senior Player of the Year, carried the squad Tuesday with three birdies, including a 15-footer on the par-4 3rd. Tasho helped take the pressure off at times, as his 2-putt par on the par-5 18th (9th hole of the round), helped keep them at 1-under at the turn. Tasho nearly chipped in for birdie on the par-5 6th, but Smith made the putt to put them at 2-under.
Though they find themselves in a familiar situation, Smith and Tasho said it doesn’t get any easier heading into tomorrow’s final round.
“We’re probably going to have to all play really well tomorrow and get a couple breaks and make a bunch of birdies,” said Tasho, who won the Ouimet Memorial Tournament (Senior Division) last year. “The scores are probably going to be pretty good, and it’s a strong field. We just have to be on our games tomorrow.”
Kevin Carey and Joe Walker, of Dennis Pines Golf Club, who won the Senior Four-Ball together in 2019, find themselves at 2-under as well, thanks in part to a bogey-free 3-under 33 on the front nine at Wilbraham. … Alexander Lindsey is the most senior player in the field at age 82 and teamed with Bill Coletti, 77, to shoot 6-over 78 at Wilbraham … The back nine at Twins Hills played two stroke harder than the front nine on Tuesday (stroke avg. 39.19 vs. 37.23). … Did you know that Friendly’s Ice Cream was founded in Wilbraham?
Wilbraham opened in 1927 and is one of the few courses designed by Scotland immigrant Willie Ogg, who won the 1924 Mass Open. That same year, Ogg was instrumental in organizing the inaugural Ryder Cup at Worcester Country Club, his home course. Ogg also designed Green Hill Municipal Golf Course in Worcester in 1929.
The original nine at Wilbraham was largely untouched until the late 1980s when Geoffrey Cornish added fast, undulating greens and strategic bunkering. The back nine, which weaves tightly through woods and wetland, opened in 2002 and features many doglegs and some blind tee shots. Rowland Armacost designed the second nine shortly before his death that same year. Armacost is credited with designing Waubeeka Golf Links in Williamstown (1966) and Bas Ridge Golf Course in Hinsdale (1983).
When the back-nine opened in 2002, Wilbraham hosted both the Mass Father Daughter Modified Scotch Tournament and became a regular host of Western Mass high school championship events. The club has regularly hosted qualifying for Mass Golf championships
“This is the first event I’ve ever held as a championship,” said Matthew Kowal, who’s in his 11th year as Wilbraham’s golf course superintendent. “We’ve done many qualifiers, but this is pretty awesome.”
Today, the course continues to challenge those in the region. Inclined greens, challenging rough and edged bunkers are part of the course’s defense. But it’s very much a tale of two nines, as the front is much more open but has softer, sloppier greens, while the back nine is tighter, with bouncier, firmer greens that require precise accuracy. In addition to replacing the 28 bunkers on the course in the past couple years, the club this past weekend unveiled a new tee box on the third hole and has done extensive drainage work.
Kowal said the membership plays a key role in the course’s upkeep. “We call them the loppers,” he said. “They come every Saturday and Sunday from 10 to 12 with a project list that we make and they’ll do it so we can do other projects. One year they put in 800 hours during the wintertime.”
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