By BILL BROTHERTON
Salem Country Club and its members mean the world to Bill Sheehan. The club and the friendships he has made through golf at the Peabody site has played an integral role in Sheehan’s life and success.
“I started caddying here as a kid in 1965,” said Sheehan, who grew up in Peabody. “I loved it, everything about it.” That led to his being awarded a Francis Ouimet Fund Scholarship. As most golf lovers know, the Francis Ouimet Trophy is given to the Senior Open champion.
“So that’s significant to me and to Salem, too,” said Sheehan, a 1970 St. John’s Prep graduate and member of that school’s Hall of Fame. The Senior Open will be held at Salem June 26-July 2. Sheehan is serving as general chairman, succeeding Salem member Ollie Cook, who served in that role for the 2001 Senior Open, the 1984 Women’s Open and the 1977 USGA Senior Amateur championships.
“Ollie and I met here at Salem,I carried his bag as a caddie,” said Sheehan, a Rowley resident. Upon his graduation from Boston University Law School in 1977, Cook and Jack McNiff, also a Salem CC member, hired the young attorney to their Peabody law firm. Sheehan rose to partner. He is now a shareholder in the Peabody firm of MacLean Holloway Doherty & Sheehan.
“I learned from the best, Ollie Cook,” said Sheehan. As general chairman, Sheehan estimates he’s volunteered thousands of hours. But then he joked, “The best decision I made was to not keep count.”
“It was 2009 when we started discussions with the USGA about coming back to Salem,” said Sheehan, who carries a 6 handicap and was club champ in 2006. “The 2001 event was very successful, and by 2009 nice changes and improvements had been made to the course,the greens the practice area,the clubhouse and more.”
The contract between the United States Golf Association and Salem CC was signed in 2013, “and we’ve been getting ready ever since,” said Sheehan, with a smile. The executive committee has been meeting regularly, as have 43 chairpersons who report to the committee. Sheehan and his committee members have attended various USGA championships every year since 2013 and learned from the hosts, including last year at Scioto Country Club in Ohio. Gene Sauers won the title and will be at Salem to defend.
The executive committee is comprised of Andrea Bruno (Hospitality), Joe Mahoney Jr. (Accounting and Finance), Andy Campbell (Corporate Hospitality Sales), Dan Doherty (Championship Services), Wayne Guyer (Player Services), Walter Nugent (Scoring Services), Mike Tripoli (Spectator Services), Steve Freyer (Volunteer Services) and Sheehan (General Chair).
The Committee meets regularly with Executive Director Eddie Carbone of Bruno Event Team, SCC General Manager Greg Cincotta and SCC Vice-President Ron Mini, who serves as the liaison with the Board of Governors.
When discussing the improvements to the golf course, Sheehan is enthusiastically giddy. “Bringing the greens back closer to Donald Ross’ original design has added a shot-and-a-half to your score every round. A higher premium has been placed on the short game.
“The 16th and 17th greens are a little smaller. Jack Nicklaus was tricked by the 16th in 2001. (The Golden Bear bogied the hole and his troubles around the green may have cost him the title.) The hole is not the same now,” and Nicklaus’ decision making back then would likely not come into play with the new configuration.
“The championship 9th and 18th holes have also been lengthened significantly, making the placement of the ball off the tee more important,” added Sheehan. “Salem is a second shot golf course. Staying below the hole is paramount.”
Matt Sawicki, director of championships for the USGA, said “Salem Country Club has been a phenomenal partner with the USGA. Ollie Cook, the chairman when the 2001 championship was held here, and Bill Sheehan, chairman of this championship, and I have become good friends.”
Sawicki said the USGA has been impressed by the club’s commitment. “You needa great course to host a championship. This is one of the best. The club did everything needed to prepare for it. As a golfer, I love the course. The first time I came up here I was blown away. The club restored it back to the way it was, the way Donald Ross designed it. Its strength is on the greens. If you have no short game, chip or putt, you’re in trouble. But it’s a course you can play every single day and have fun. It’s a special place.”
Photo: Spenser Hasak