Nicole LaPerriere of Newburyport stripes a drive during her round. | Photo: Owen O’Rourke
By BOB ALBRIGHT
On Labor Day weekend in 1916, a scenic golf course was unveiled off the old Newburyport Turnpike in Newbury promising unparalleled views of the
winding Parker River Estuary and nine challenging golf holes. Flash-forward a century, and that description of Ould Newbury Golf Club still rings true today, but that doesn’t mean things have stood still off the golf course. To help celebrate its centennial last year, the club completed an ambitious clubhouse renovation project that gutted the bar area and was paid for solely by donations from its members.
“We raised about $60,000 through raffles and donations,” General Manager Ron Margeson said. “It was really important to do it on our 100th year, to really kick the whole thing off and get people excited.”
Typical of the tight-knit club, which sees its membership grab rakes, shovels and paint brushes each April to get the course ready for another season, simple sweat equity was a driving force in completing the project. Ould Newbury member Mike Meadows and his company, Meadows Construction, donated all the work to build the new bar. Fellow member Bill Jodz did all the finish carpentry.
“We wanted that old-fashioned look with the modern touch,” said Margeson of the impressive mahogany bar that already looks like it has been around nearly as long as the prodigious Hickory tree that guards the ninth green outside the clubhouse window.
With the inside of the clubhouse completed, Margeson and the membership have turned their sights on the outside of the building, installing new decking and railings this year.
To coincide with the renovations, Margeson brought in veteran executive chef and caterer Karen Butt, who has been wowing members and guests with her new pub-style menu and theme-oriented dinners. The renovations, new food service, along with a substantial TV advertising campaign, have all paid dividends for the semi-private club, which has grown from 165 members to 242 since the end of the 2015 season.
“We did run a television commercial that had a lot of people talking about the club, but I think the biggest thing has just been the word of mouth from current members telling people how much they love this place,” said Margeson, who has been a member since 2006. “Having the new bar and food service has been a big draw. A lot of couples have joined and we have built some special memberships for them as well as for members under 40.”
Margeson’s vision seems to be working.
“My whole thing was that I wanted to take this from being just a golf course to being a golf club once again,” he said.
Changes to the clubhouse and bar are not the only new development at Ould Newbury this year. Longtime course superintendent Nate Walker, who grew up playing the elevated greens at the testy nine-holer, has moved on to take over at Renaissance in Haverhill.
Filling the popular Walker’s shoes was a tough task, but Margeson thinks the club has found the right guy in Scott Godfrey, who served as the super at Little Harbor Country Club in Wareham. Godfrey started in April and quickly got a firsthand appreciation for the “all-in” spirit that has always embodied the Ould Newbury membership.
He actually came up for his interview on Member Cleanup Day,” said Margeson. We’re driving around and he saw 70 members with rakes in their hands and Jimmy Hilton, the head pro, drive by on a tractor. He said he had never seen nothing like it. I told him, ‘This is the kind of place you’re coming to.’”
Though it appears Ould Newbury is built to last another 100 years, another course up the road may very well be in its final season. The Newburyport Planning Board voted 6-2 in March to grant a special permit for a 38-lot open space residential development on the site of Evergreen Valley Golf Club.
The nine-hole course, which is situated on 36 acres off Boyd Drive, has been the subject of numerous development plans through the years. All have been fiercely combated by local residents citing traffic concerns and that the project would threaten nearby municipal wells.
If this summer is indeed the final season, it will be a sad end for the par-35 track right off I-95 that was built in 1993. With its large greens, laid-back nature and, most importantly, $10 green fees, Evergreen has been the ideal place for beginners of all ages to play their first rounds. My son, like so many others, recorded his first par on Evergreen’s very generous 215-yard, par-4 finishing hole.
Reports are the course should be open through at least September. Stay tuned.
Despite a soggy April, course superintendent Mike Mellon once again has Amesbury CC in top form. Amesbury’s Chris Francoeur will be looking for his third-straight club championship in July. Francoeur, who will be teeing it up for URI this fall after a great career at St. John’s Prep, ran away with last year’s tournament with a four-day, 1-under-par total of 279 (73-67-69-70). Other defending champions this summer in Amesbury include Rick Roaf (net champion) and Jeff Hume (member’s club champion).