EAST PROVIDENCE – We end this summer’s Golf Spotlight series in an appropriate location: Wannamoisett Country Club, a most prestigious par 69 test of subtle skills that has hosted the Northeast Amateur Invitational for 50 years, dating back to 1962.
The history of this club is a tantalizing tale that encompasses some of the great names in the sport. According to the club website, it starts back in 1898 when three men – Walter D. Brownell, Russell W. Knight and Frederick S. Phillips – met “to consider the advisability of organizing a Club for the promotion of the game of golf and other out-of-door sports.”
Rumford Chemical Works agreed to rent a portion of its property to the club on August 30, 1898. Later that year, the club hired Scotland native Willie Campbell to lay out the original 9 holes.
On May 3, 1900, eventual six-time British Open champion Harry Vardon played two 18-hole exhibition matches at the course. Vardon returned in 1913 to play two more matches with fellow English pro Edward Ray.
In 1914, the club bought 105 acres from Rumford Chemical Works to gain control of its own property.
In 1916, famed golf course architect Donald Ross completed the 6,500-yard 18-hole course. Six years later, famous American pro Walter Hagen (the Babe Ruth of golf during the 1920s) played an exhibition match at Wannamoisett.
In 1931, the PGA Championship tournament was held at Wannamoisett. Tom Creavy defeated Denny Shute in the 36-hole match play finals. The referee was Grand Slam winner Bobby Jones, the most famous and revered golfer of his day, and perhaps any day during the 20th century. Jones never turned professional, which is why he did not play in the professional golfer’s championship tournament.
In 1948, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the greatest female golfer of the 20th century, played an exhibition during Wannamoisett’s 50th anniversary celebration with proceeds going to the John P. Burke Fund.
In 1962, the first Northeast Amateur championship was played. Over the ensuing 50 years, the tournament would evolve into an invitational event featuring the best amateur golfers in the world.
Troy Pare, 35, has been Wannamoisett’s head golf professional for the past six years. A fine player in his own right, Pare appreciates the stature of the job he landed after predecessor Steve Napoli moved down to the new Carnegie Abby Links in Portsmouth.
“It’s a great job with wonderful members at a historic golf course,” Pare said. “What more could I ask for?”
Pare has one piece of advice that he gives to the members at a golf course where trouble lurks behind almost every blade of grass.
“I tell our members to be realistic about their scores,” Pare said. “This is a very hard golf course to shoot a low round on. I would say most golfers are going to shoot three to five shots above what they might shoot somewhere else. There is a combination of factors that play into this. The course still plays long on most holes. We have fairway bunkers that a lot of members are going to hit into from time to time. And then if they are hitting long irons into our greens, their shots may skip across the putting surface and nestle into some deep, gnarly grass right beyond the green.”
Pare plays golf courses throughout New England during his competitive season.
“But I always come back to Wannamoisett,” said Pare, who finished sixth in last week’s New England PGA Section championship, shooting a final round 69 at Pine Hills Country Club in Plymouth, Ma. “It is the most challenging and interesting golf course you will find.”
Wannamoisett now plays to 6,732 yards from the back tees. It was once ranked annually among Golf Digest’s Top 50 U.S. courses until the changing technology of golf equipment allowed modern elite amateurs to overpower many of the holes.
Peter Uihlein won the 2011 Northeast with a 72-hole total of 261, four shots lower than the previous tournament record, and 15-under par for the tourney. Until recently, the tourney record had been eight-under par, a mark shared by PGA Tour stars John Cook and Luke Donald.
Ben Crenshaw is the player who put Wannamoisett on the map, so to speak. He won the Northeast in 1973 and never failed to speak kindly of the experience, and the golf course.
“My memories of Wannamoisett are pleasant ones,” Crenshaw said in a statement posted on the club website. “I am not alone, by any means, for when a discussion of places to play comes up, the mention of Wannamoisett usually elicits a warm smile to those who are listening …
“In these days of blatant commercialism with respect to new courses, let me raise a toast to the par of 69 set beautifully on some 105 acres where everything has its place - where one comes away with the thought of how could anyone so talented as Donald Ross combine such clever strategy and yet include such a vast array of different situations and golf shots. And those fascinating greens!
105 acres was simply all the land that Mr. Ross had at his disposal, or needed; thus the par 69 has been Wannamoisett's 'Badge of Honor'."
Nobody has ever said it better than Crenshaw, who has always understood that Wannamoisett is hallowed ground, a place where members, elite amateurs and fortunate guests can test their games in an environment almost cathedral-like in its setting.