By Bill Brotherton
Middleton Golf Course, for 53 years a favorite of golfers of all skill levels, closed on March 31. In its last days, hundreds rushed to play the 18-hole, par-3 layout one last time.
The 52-acre site on Route 114 will be reborn as a town center. At a Special Town Meeting on March 19, residents voted to approve the $3.8 million purchase of the course. Plans are to build a fire station, with police headquarters, Town Hall and a senior/community center to follow on about 20 acres. The rest of the land will remain open green space.
The town was eyeing another parcel, about half the size at the same price, behind Angelica’s Restaurant, when the family of Middleton GC founder Bart Brown surprised town officials with its offer.
Initially the plan was to operate the course for two more seasons, but potential legal complications tied to the purchase and sale process forced the Browns to close sooner. Irrigation system issues also might have played a role in the decision to shut down.
Dozens of golfers from the course’s heyday were expected to reunite, play 18, and bid the course and staff farewell on its final weekend, just as North Shore Golf went to press.
While working at Polaroid, Bart Brown, a weekend golfer at Bellevue GC in Melrose, dreamed of opening a golf course. He and his wife, Peg, purchased the Johnson Farm on Route 114 in Middleton in 1965 and hired Geoffrey Cornish to design the course, the North Shore’s only 18-hole par-3 and one of only three in the state. John Theo was brought onboard as head PGA golf pro. The course opened in 1966 and was a success from Day One. At its peak, it accommodated 50,000 rounds a year.
Brown, who retired in 1988 at age 68, leaving his daughters and sons-in-law in charge, was a creative, savvy businessman. He presented clinics by nationally known teachers Bob Toski and Peter Kostis, hosted a yearly NEPGA pro-lady tournament and an annual North Shore junior championship.
Getting young people involved, especially the kids in the neighborhood, might have been Bart Brown’s greatest contribution.
Chris Costa, twice nominated for the NEPGA’s Teacher of the Year Award, started Middleton’s Junior Program, introducing thousands of North Shore kids to the game of golf. Many, including Jane Frost and Cathy MacPherson, went on to become pros themselves. Others, like Wayne Guyer, became excellent amateur players, winning club championships and competing successfully at the state level.
Gloucester native Costa was around for 44 of Middleton’s 53 years. He was working with Ron Ryan at Rockport GC when Brown offered him a job. There were five golf pros on staff at the same time during Middleton’s golden era, early ’70s into the ’80s.
“It was great working with Mr. Brown. He was a Harvard grad, smart, intelligent, with new and great ideas. He helped me so much. He really cared about people,” said Costa, who holds Middleton’s course record, a 7-under 47, circa 1976.
“The course might have been short, 3,200-yards, but it was still a challenge for the good player and a fun layout for the beginner.”
Brown, Costa and the longtime Middleton crew are held in great esteem. “We gave golf lessons, two or three each week, for the kids in the neighborhood. They picked up balls for me for a number of years. There were at least 20 to 25 kids who lived next door or across the street. Some of them became pretty good players.
“We would put notes on all the doors in the neighborhood, asking the kids to join us. That was one of Bart’s best ideas. It got them involved with golf. The kids got to play every day at no charge,” said Costa.
Costa’s daughter, Jennifer O’Connor, is in the business, too, as the owner of Holly Ridge on the Cape, which was formerly owned by the Brown family. Jane Frost has her teaching center close by.
The suddenness of the closing threw Costa and other staffers for a loop. Costa will work in two places this season, at Richardson’s range across the street and at Nahant Golf Club, offering lessons at both places. Nancy Hamson, another familiar face in the Middleton pro shop, will work in Nahant as well.
Wayne Guyer, who delivered a eulogy at Bart Brown’s funeral in 2015, is one of the neighborhood kids who was turned on to golf by Costa and the staff. He went on to win six Middleton club championships, and club titles at both The International and Salem Country Club, where he’s been a member for more than 20 years.
“Middleton has been a huge part of my life. I lived in the Brigadoon neighborhood adjacent to the golf course. I just crossed the street and walked past a couple of holes and was there,” said Guyer. “At least 10 of us went every day. Most of my group was really into it. … From 1972, when I was 10 or 11, I was there from dawn to dusk, almost every day. We were put to work, picking up balls on the range, filling the Coke machine. We got to play free golf. They were happy to share golf with me. Mr. Brown, Bill George, Chris Costa, George Lavoie, Steve Tricca … all solid people.”
Middleton has impacted his life in other ways. Guyer, who owns a successful insurance business in Danvers, insured the course for 25 years. He even met his future wife at Middleton when his doctor, Ed Sirois, showed up one day with daughter Jean in tow. Four years later Wayne and Jean married.
Employees at Middleton have been extremely loyal. Steve Tricca, who has served as course superintendent and/or general manager, arrived at the club in July 1966. Linda Lacroix arrived 37 years ago.
Lacroix, one of those neighborhood kids, said she “started here at 15, and years later my kids worked here. My first job was cleaning the toilets,” said the longtime president of Middleton Golf.
During one rainy Friday, Tricca reminisced: “So many people have come in here since we learned the club was closing, so many people who had played golf or worked here or both. Mr. Brown built a golf business that thought about people first. Through the ’70s and ’80s, it seemed every kid 10-12 years old from the neighborhood came over to play.
“Middleton attracted lots and lots of beginner players,” Lacroix added. Seventy percent of those were female, she said. More than 900 players had signed up for golf leagues. Lacroix worked to find all of them a new home course this season.
“It was a comfortable place. It’ll be missed. Everyone who’s walked through that door lately says it feels like a death in the family. So many people had a connection with Middleton Golf Course. … Special trees were planted by families in memory when someone passed away.”
Lacroix said the thing that most sticks in her head are the crazy events, such as the fall scrambles, when golfers dressed in Halloween costumes, and the glow-ball tourneys held as soon as darkness set in.
Wayne Taylor, an 8-year employee who held myriad jobs, summed up his feelings in two words: “This stinks,” adding he’s going to miss the job, his co-workers and the players.
St. John’s Prep and Masconomet Regional High held tryouts here. Prep golf coach Joe Rocha grew up nearby and played here. Tom Rourke’s North Shore Community College teams practiced here.
Jane Frost, the Beverly native who got her start here and will be inducted into the Ladies Professional Golf Association Teaching and Club Professionals Hall of Fame this fall, is saddened by the course’s closing.
“There is just so much history at Middleton and its place on the North Shore is so unique. For me, I am so connected with Middleton as a player and as a teacher. I started my Ouimet Marathon there and raised a lot of money. That event provided the seed money for the WGAM Scholarship Fund, so I feel that so many good things have happened not just to me but to so many people. I mean, we had one of the most popular pro-ams around with the Middleton Pro-Lady. I’m just heartbroken over this.
“I will always have a very special place in my heart for Middleton. And from some of the postings I’ve seen on social media, I am not alone.”
In a statement, the Brown family (daughters Sarah George, Katharine Brown, Janet Parker, and their children) said they are proud of what their parents and grandparents, Bart and Peg, planned and built. “They retired from active management of the business 30 years ago, in 1988, handing it over to a second generation that has now reached retirement age. For quite some time the value of this property has outpaced its commercial viability as a golf business, and the time has come to close up shop.
“The family is especially proud that Middleton Golf Course has been more than just a business. It has helped to preserve open space, clean air, water and other natural resources, while also being a recreational and educational resource for the community.
“Now, in 2019, the family is very happy that a substantial portion of the land will continue to provide green recreational space, as well as a central location for future municipal purposes. We feel that this would be the best use of the land, and we know our parents would approve wholeheartedly.”
The family had resisted higher offers from developers through the years.
In a letter to his local newspaper, Boxford resident Don Johnson wrote, “Many went to Middleton, young and old, to learn the game of golf. Many of us left with so much more than that.
“Bart Brown’s vision allowed people of all ages to learn the game, but it was the young in particular who learned not only how to “click” a golf ball but so much more, good sportsmanship, playing by the rules, how to conduct yourself on good and bad days, win or lose, high or low scores, lessons that carried far beyond the golf course. … I dare say these graduates of ‘Middleton Golf Academy’ hardly play a round of golf without thinking of the lessons learned at this very special place.
“I thank Bart, Mrs. Brown and the Brown family for what they have provided us over the years. The ‘Academy’ might close, but its spirit will live in many of us for a long time to come.”
By Bill Brotherton
When it comes to golf, no U.S. president has played the game better than Donald J. Trump. During his term, his handicap has wavered from 3 to 5. His scores are almost always in the 70s.
Granted, that might not be as impressive at the 38-under-par 34 reportedly shot by the late North Korean despot Kim Jong-il, but no resident of the White House has come closer.
Massachusetts’ favorite son John F. Kennedy had a single digit handicap, but odds are Trump would’ve cleaned his clock in a $10 Nassau.
Winthrop’s Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. Olympic Gold Medal hockey team, can attest to Trump’s prowess on the golf course. The Tedesco CC member recently teed it up with the president at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida.
In this Summer issue of North Shore Golf, Eruzione, a pretty fair golfer himself, talks about the man, the round, “presidential mulligans” and defeating Phil Mickelson in a closest-to-the-pin contest.
Gary Larrabee, in his Straight Down the Middle column, visits with the Murphy clan of Haverhill. Ted and wife Mary, who are celebrating the 50th anniversary as owners of Garrison Golf Center, look back and talk about how their four children embraced the game as well.
We also catch up with Bobby Baker, who is starting his 68th year at Lynnfield’s Reedy Meadows, and Winchester native/Heisman Trophy winner Joe Bellino, a former member at Hillview, Andover and Indian Ridge who now plays at Patriot Golf Club in Bedford.
In his Shades of Green column, Tedesco pro Bob Green, examines Tee It Forward, a joint initiative of the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association that’s practically been ignored by most golfers.
Also in this issue: For years, rock ‘n’ rollers were loath to admit their love for the game. As Jim Sullivan, the longtime music writer and now North Shore Golf columnist, writes “After all, the song doesn’t run ‘Sex and golf and rock ‘n’ roll!’ Alice Cooper, Huey Lewis, former Gang of Four drummer/Gloucester resident Hugo Burnham and other rockers share their thoughts about the game with Sullivan on these pages.
More local clubs have joined the PGA Junior League, which, local pros tell us, is succeeding in getting another generation interested in the game. Course owners and superintendents talk about the weird March weather that caused major destruction throughout the region. And, Town Meeting in Lynnfield shot down a development plan for Sagamore Spring GC; what does this mean for one of the North Shore’s most popular courses. There’s also plenty of breaking news in our Notebook, including reports on how our local players fared in numerous tournaments.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions for the magazine. Please let me know what you like, don’t like and how we can make North Shore Golf better.
See you on the links.
By GARY LARRABEE
I have observed them mostly from a distance lo this past half-century from my vantage points in Salem and Wenham. But now that I have given their legacy a closer look, I marvel at the dedication and commitment Ted Murphy and his family have given to the game in this golf hotbed of Haverhill.
“We’ve had a lot of fun,” said Ted Murphy, 82, who bought the sporty Garrison Golf Course on Hilldale Avenue in 1969. It is now known as Murphy’s Garrison Golf Center, as it has grown from simply a nine-hole course to a facility that also features instruction, a roomy driving range and a highly reputable junior program. “Every day I get up and go to the Center, approaching my work for what it really is – fun,” Murphy said.
The Murphys celebrate their 50th season at Garrison this year – a remarkable accomplishment in any business, let alone golf with its mix of loyal and fickle participants.
The “fun” perspective to golf – in work and play – has well-served Ted, wife Mary and the Murphy children (Kevin, Brian, Colleen and Maureen). The great game has embraced all of them profoundly. Mary, even while she raised the four little Murphys while dad spent 16-hour days at Garrison, spent countless hours in the pro shop, giving the kids the run of the place when they were old enough. Their home has always been an ancient farmhouse on the golf course property.
First-born son Kevin became the chip off the old man’s block, living and working the game as he grew up, captaining the state champion 1990 Haverhill High golf team that included Marc Spencer, Keith Cutler and Billy Drohen. After learning the golf business from his dad, Kevin turned professional and, five years ago, purchased the 18-hole, semi-private Bradford Golf Club with wife Kristin. Kevin has been Haverhill High golf coach since 1999.
Brother Brian lives in Connecticut and has been a Titleist sales rep for more than 30 years. Colleen is a physical therapist who plays golf regularly, as does Maureen, who works for DataTech and, prior to that, was a Titleist employee for 15 years.
“I’m thrilled that all my children love the game and three of them chose to work in the game,” said patriarch Ted, a Woburn native and graduate of the famed UMass Stockbridge School of Agriculture (turf management). Ted’s talent with grass was so obvious, his first job out of college was as course superintendent at Lexington Golf Club, a job he held for 14 years before making the big leap – at a cost of $100,000 – and acquired Garrison.
Ted and Mary’s extraordinary promotion of junior golf at Garrison and their endless support of the youth in the area were just two of the many reasons they were honored in 2017 at the Haverhill YMCA’s Legacy Dinner at Bradford Country Club.
Mary, 78, has volunteered at St. Joseph’s School and St. Joseph’s Church, served on the City of Haverhill Parks and Recreation Commission and as a board member of the Haverhill YMCA.
The couple has been big boosters of Haverhill High athletics and for nearly 50 years have co-sponsored the Haverhill Gazette Santa Fund Hole-in-One contest that has raised more than $200,000 for needy Haverhill children and adults.
Ted and Mary also have been honored with the Liberty Bell Award from the Haverhill Bar Association, as Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Business Persons of the Year, as recipients of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership Award and the Yankee Clipper Council Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizens Awards.
How soon is the city erecting Ted and Mary Murphy bronze statues?
Ted has done his thing for all these years owning and operating Garrison while providing a strong focus on junior golf. He remains a solid player in his 80s as well. He has, in effect, worn two big hats all these years at Garrison as its course superintendent and a member of the New England Section of the PGA.
“My dad’s as proud of one position he’s held as superintendent as he is of being a member of the NEPGA all these years,” says Kevin, an NEPGA member and heir apparent of the Murphy golf business. “He and our mom have inspired all us Murphy kids and I think we’ve made them proud.”
Bottom line: the Murphy clan, led by mom and dad, are one of the special golf families we are blessed to have here in Boston’s northern neighborhood. May they continue to thrive and champion the game we love.
By BILL BROTHERTON
Mike Eruzione, the longtime Winthrop resident who captained the 1980 Miracle on Ice U.S. Olympic Gold Medal hockey team at Lake Placid, had met Donald Trump many times.
“He has always struck me as a nice guy,” said Eruzione, a Tedesco CC member.
One day, the club pro at Trump International Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, where Eruzione is also a member, approached him and said, “Mike, the president would like to play golf with you.”
A date was set to tee it up at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, but a scheduling conflict meant Eruzione had to cancel. Yes, he canceled on the president.
“A few weeks later, we both were available. So, on Saturday, April 21, we played,” Eruzione said without a hint of awe. “Tiger (Woods) was supposed to play, too, but he canceled at the last minute. So it was Tiger’s business manager, a three-handicap, the club’s head pro, the president and me.
“It was a fun round, with lots of laughter. I never felt I was with the president. It was more like I was with the guy I met before. … except there were lots of Secret Service agents following us around.”
Eruzione said the par 72 championship course, designed by Jim Fazio, is unlike any other course in mostly-flat Florida. It’s hilly, and the elevation of the 18th tee is 58 feet above sea level. Opened in 1999, it’s been rated the No. 1 course in Florida by Florida Golf Magazine and is a top 50 course in both Golf Digest and Golf magazine rankings.
Trump, even at age 70, is considered by many to be one of the finest golfers to ever occupy the White House. During his term, his handicap has wavered from 3 to 5.
Eruzione said the 18 holes sped by in three hours. A lot of short putts were deemed gimmes and “presidential mulligans” were granted.
“He hit it well,” said Eruzione, adding that no one officially kept score. “The fast pace of play is important to him.”
Eruzione, who carries a handicap index of 8.6 and once played to a 3, said he had a “usual round, a lot of pars, one birdie and a few doubles. I lost one ball.”
Primarily self-taught, the 63-year-old hockey hero said he never played golf until his hometown gifted him with a free Winthrop Golf Club membership after the 1980 Olympics. “I still play with the boys there quite a bit. We have lots of fun and giggles. Winthrop is a really fun course. I caddied there, starting when I was about eight years old, and I can see the eighth hole from my house.
“I have four grandchildren, a ready-made foursome for Winthrop … or an illegal fivesome if they invite me along.”
By now, Eruzione must be supremely comfortable socializing with celebrities and all-star athletes. Before the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National GC in Minnesota, team captain Davis Love III asked Eruzione to address the players.
“Fostering a team concept in an individual sport like golf can be tough,” said Eruzione. “I was nervous at first, with (Jordan) Spieth and (Phil) Mickelson and others looking at me. I talked about our Olympics team and how teamwork made the difference. We may not have had the best players, but as a team we played better than everybody. It went over really well.”
Eruzione said after his speech, which took place in Norton, Mickelson approached and shook his hand, praising his talk.
He was invited to follow the team during the Ryder Cup matches. “During that Mickelson-(Sergio) Garcia match, I was right there inside the ropes. They both shot 63. The two made 19 birdies between them. It is considered one of the greatest matches of all time.”
That’s pretty impressive, but Eruzione jokes that he’s one-up on Mickelson. During a pre-Ryder Cup bonding session at Foxboro Stadium, a flag was placed on the football field for a closest-to-the-pin contest. Mickelson knocked it four feet from the makeshift hole. Eruzione said his shot was closer. “I have the photo to prove it,” he said with a laugh.