By GARY LARRABEE
We’ve finally made it to 2017, a huge year for our resurrected North Shore Golf publication and our golf-crazy region.
Nothing looms larger than the area’s hosting of the 38th United States Senior Open championship, set for Salem Country Club in Peabody June 26 to July 2, featuring the greatest players in the world age 50 and older.
If the golfing gods are with us, the field will include Fred Couples, Tom Watson, Rhode Islander Billy Andrade, Tom Lehman, John Daly, 2016 Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, defending champ Gene Sauers, newcomer Steve Stricker (who turned 50 on Feb. 23) and the cream of the international contingent: No. 1-ranked senior Bernhard Langer (Germany), Ian Woosnam (Wales), Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain) and Colin Montgomerie (Scotland), the 2014 winner.
Jeff Maggert,the 2015 champ, and Kenny Perry,the 2013 title holder, also should be in the field. Brad Faxon, like Andrade a regional favorite, will not play because of his duties serving as a lead commentator for Fox Sports, the network that will be providing four-day TV coverage starting on the first day of the competition, June 29.
Last year’s top 10 at Scioto Country Club outside Columbus, Ohio, were Sauers, Jimenez, Billy Mayfair, Woosnam, Michael Allen, Kevin Sutherland, Paul Goydos, Joey Sindelar, David Frost and Loren Roberts. Let’s see how many return to the top 10 at Salem.
In addition to being up-close witnesses of golf history as spectators, North Shore residents can get even closer as volunteers, working on the golf course or behind the scenes, many assignments of which can lead to direct encounters with the 150 players. To get involved, contact the championship office at 978-818-6006 or via the tournament website at 2017ussenioropen.com.
Hard to believe Championship Year has finally arrived – and that, 16 years later, the world of big-time championship golf is returning to the North Shore; and that the Senior Open is returning to the East Coast for the first time since 2002.
The championship means hundreds of jobs,temporary as they are, as well as millions to the region’s economy, maybe as much as $15 million.
The man on the hot seat, as he was in 2001, is Kip Tyler, the dean of North Shore course superintendents, in his 36th year on the job at Salem and the unsung hero of both the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open and 2001 Senior Open held at Salem.
Ohio native Tyler had been hired away from Medinah, outside Chicago, in 1982 specifically to ready the course for the ’84 Women’s Open;the club’s first occasion in the USGA spotlight since 1954. Tyler did a great job with his staff getting Salem ready in ’84 and then successfully fighting a heat wave that struck tournament week.
In 2001, Greater Boston suffered a difficult winter that led to a large portion of Salem’s fairways and greens suffering ice-frozen turf, better known as winter kill. The famed Donald Ross-designed layout was closed to members for most of the spring. When defending champ and course designer Hale Irwin stopped by for media day on April 30, he doubted the course could be ready by championship week the end of June. “If he (Tyler) can get this place in shape for the Open,” Irwin confided to a few attendees before departing the property, “it will be a miracle.”
Tyler became a miracle worker. Based on the exceptional condition of the turf during championship week, one would never have known the grasses had struggled into late May. Tyler could not open any greens until May 25, when 10 were opened. The other eight opened in early June. In stark contrast, the Salem greens were open for play in 2000 by March 24, in 2002 by March 16. What were the odds the near-catastrophe would occur the very winter leading into the 2001 Senior Open? Mother Nature plays no favorites.
“When we realized the extent of the damage back in 2001,” Tyler recalled, “I gave myself a few minutes to mope, then it was time to get down to business. We did nothing magical; just used sound agronomic practices and they paid off.”
Here’s hoping that by the time you read this dispatch, the Salem CC grasses will have come through a normal winter in excellent condition. Tyler deserves as much.
There is a second “major” tournament coming to the North Shore this summer, providing another treat for fans who enjoy watching professional golf. The 97th New England PGA Championship will be held at Turner Hill in Ipswich and Renaissance in Haverhill August 21-23.
Lastly, a special welcome to the North Shore for new head professionals Jack Davis at Essex CC, coming from the No. 1 assistant’s post at U.S. Open site Shinnecock Hills on Long Island; Michael Bemis of Myopia, a longtime top assistant to the retired Bill Safrin at Myopia and the first head professional at Renaissance before he returned to the South Hamilton club; and Jeffrey Wirbal, who has succeeded Eric Stevenson at Bear Hill following Eric’s 25-year tenure.