These golfers are determined to play America’s top 100 public courses

By Stacey Marcus

Long before Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman teamed up in the movie “The Bucket List” to play a couple of aged curmudgeons determined to fulfill their life’s fantasies, James Motzkin and his friends were embarking on their own dream journey: to play the top 100 public golf courses in the United States.

Their road map, which ranks America’s greatest golf courses, was established in 1966 by Golf Digest and is published biennially. The group, most from the North Shore, have been hitting the links across the country for more than two decades and, according to Motzkin, have the bucket about 75 percent full.

Motzkin, a Georgetown resident and founder/ president of JRM Hauling and Recycling, reflects on the genesis of his golf trips while pointing to a plaque behind his desk at his corporate office on Route 1 in Peabody. Peter Gamache of Peabody gave him the plaque with pegs and a list of the top 100 courses; he decided to make it his mission to play them all and share the joy with a group of friends.

“We are not interested in becoming professional golfers, we are just enjoying the moment,” said Motzkin, who plays to an 18 handicap at Salem and Kernwood and meticulously plans the trips to include three key elements: many rounds of golf, fine restaurants and points of interest.

Son Jimmy loves the annual tradition. “We have a lot of of fun times and lots of laughs. I enjoy spending time with everyone, especially my father,” he said. His favorite course is Bethpage Black on Long Island, N.Y.

Each trip is unique, galvanizing large and small groups. In addition to the Motzkins, members include Mitch Marcus (Marblehead), Art McCarthy (Reading), Peter Gamache (Peabody) and Tom Flanagan (Reading).

“Jimmy (senior) does an incredible job targeting the golf courses he wants to play, organizing a great trip, inviting friends both old and new, and making sure that everyone has so much fun they want to come back for the next trip!” said McCarthy.

“I went on my first golf trip well over 15 years ago, to TPC Sawgrass outside of Jacksonville. Mitch Marcus was the only guy I knew well from this group of eight golfers. I became fast friends with the other six and continue to play golf with them all to this day. What I remember most about that first trip was Jimmy making a birdie 2 on the famous par-3 17th hole. He hit his tee shot to within 10 feet of the pin on the island green and then drained the putt to clinch the match, defeating me and my partner that day,” said McCarthy, with a chuckle.

McCarthy’s favorite golf course is Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina. It’s James Motzkin’s, too. It is the first course Motzkin played on his cross-country journey and he speaks with great affection of the challenge the course presented, the fine accommodations and a setting that reminded him of a New England village. The fact that Motzkin eagled a hole at Pinehurst certainly helped earn its top spot on his list.

Other treasured courses include Pebble Beach in California, TPC in Phoenix, Ariz., Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Ore., Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisc., Bethpage in N.Y., Sea Island Golf Club in Georgia, and Crumpin-Fox in Bernardston, Mass.

Throughout the years, Motzkin and his posse have traveled by motor coach, plane and car to golf around the country. Once, when the New England Patriots were playing in Minnesota, they flew out to watch the game and scratch Interlachen and Hazeltine golf courses off the list. A trip to play Bethpage State Park in New York was paired with a trip to the Empire State Building.

“I’ve been to every state in the country,” noted Motzkin; the last state on the list was North Dakota.

“It is like being a kid at Christmas,” said Gamache, who notes the trips keep getting better and better.

“Imagine four grown men singing in the car throughout the state of Oregon,” joked Motzkin.

Marcus said that the scenery on the way to Bandon Dunes was breathtaking. One of his most memorable times is when they played Dancing Rabbit in Mississippi
and he bought a round of drinks to celebrate their round. One of the women in the lounge, listening to the music being played, asked. “Do you know who this lady is? It’s Nicki Minaj and she is going to be the next big rap singer?”

Marcus notes that months later his daughter was playing music and she said,”I love Nicki Minaj!”

“We share an inexplicable camaraderie that cannot be put into words,” said Motzkin. All golfers understand what he means. Motzkin took his then-4-year-old grandson to play golf in Palm Beach, Fla., but thinks he is a tad young to join in on the golf trips. “He likes to chase the golf cart most of all,” said Jimmy the younger.

When it comes to comparing one course to another, Motzkin notes that although the courses are diverse, the crew has one tradition they practice at every course. “Before we hit the ball, we look around and remember how blessed we are to be in this situation.”

So what classic track is next on the bucket list? Undecided, said Motzkin, who will begin planning it soon.


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