By BOB ALBRIGHT
Of all the possible ceremonies discussed as part of Winthrop Golf Club’s 100th anniversary this summer, there was one that proved to be a no-brainer for the centennial committee: rename the club championship trophy for the guy who has won 20 percent of the titles in the club’s 100-year history.And on July 15, Winthrop GC president Joe Ferrara was more than happy to do just that at the club’s gala event as he summoned John Donohue out of the crowd of 250 and handed him the new towering trophy bearing his name.
“I just said, ‘Geez, you usually wait until someone is dead to do something like this,’” a slightly-choked-up Donohue,70, said with a chuckle. “It was a really nice thing for them to do, and it caught me completely by surprise.”
Situated just two blocks from the ocean and right across from the new Winthrop High School, the course was originally laid out in a marsh area as a six-hole track back in 1917 designed to give local veterans a place to play. It was later expanded to nine holes.
Since its inception, Winthrop GC has been private and operated on a series of leases with the town. Given its history, it seems fitting that a lifelong Winthrop resident, who is also a veteran, and who literally grew up on the course, should have his name on the club’s most prestigious trophy. Caddying at Winthrop as a boy for top-notch members like Eddie Krovitz and under the watchful eye of head professional Larry Hesenius, Donohue joined the club in 1971 and won his first club championship a decade later.
After beating Frank Andre for his first of 20 titles in’81, Donohoe won 11 of 12 crowns from 1992 to 2003. His lone loss in that span came to the pride of Winthrop himself, Mike Eruzione, in 1997, but he quickly got revenge on the 1980 Olympian by beating him in the finals the following year.
“It was incredible, they did everything they could to him,” longtime head pro Jim Bruce marveled. “One year (the tournament) was stroke-play, one year it was match play, but it didn’t matter, they couldn’t stop him. He is one of our top guys down here, but with his personality he is one of our most respected players as well.”
Bruce, 48, landed at the friendly golf course by the airport in 2000 and it’s safe to say he has never thought of taking off since. In many ways, he found the same golf home that he knew as a boy growing up in the caddie yard at Oakley CC in Belmont.
“A fun and relaxed atmosphere”
“I always tell people that this is a nine hole Oakley,” said Bruce. “There are a lot of characters over there and they are always doing crazy and fun things, and it’s the same here.I enjoy the membership. I enjoy the feel of the course.It’s a fun and relaxed atmosphere.”
In recent years, both Bruce and Donohue have been buoyed by an influx of younger members who have brought more social events to the club.
“They had a Kentucky Derby party where all the ladies wore different hats. They have a Nine and Dine league. They even had a ’70s disco night,” noted Bruce with a smile.
“We understand that it is a golf club and we are about golf, but we are trying to do more on the social end as well.”
Perhaps nothing typifies the tight-knit and inclusive flavor of Winthrop than the long-running Mosquito League, which has been a fixture on Tuesday evenings since the mid-’70s and culminates with a championship in August. “The membership loves it and we suggest that all of our new members play in that because they rotate the matches,” said Bruce of the league that features a 15-match schedule. “If you are a new member, by the end of it you are going to play with 60 different members.”
“A pretty good test”
Bruce still has to smile when he sees first-time players stroll into the pro shop, take one look at the seemingly benign scorecard and head out confidently, only to come back often with crumpled scorecards a few hours later.
Ron Hayes set the long-standing course record of 63 on the par-70 course, which plays to 6,140 yards for 18 holes, back in the ’70s and Bruce doesn’t know of anyone who has shot below 65 in his 18 years.
“It’s a windy golf course with small greens,” said Bruce.
“We have canals that are on three or four of the holes that are right about 200 to 220 yards off the tee. You go out there with the rough up and the wind blowing and it’s a pretty good test.”
A test that has been both confounding and delighting golfers of all abilities in Winthrop for 100 years.