As the first golf course and golf club created on the North Shore (1893), Essex County Club in Manchester By-The-Sea holds many distinctions. Chief among them is the fact this weekend it will be holding its 100th Essex Invitation Fourball on its magnificent Donald Ross-designed course.
We believe it’s the first club in Greater Boston to reach such a milestone.
Why it took so long (1915, first champions Charles M. Amory and Benjamin W. Estabrook) for the popular competitive format to get instituted, is a mystery. But since then, Essex has celebrated its Invitation Fourball for all except the World War I (1918) and II (1943-45) years.
“It’s a great tournament,” says tourney chairman Hollis French. “We welcome not only teams made up of Essex members and their guests, but also teams from a variety of clubs in Massachusetts, New England and the east coast.
“Most important we have maintained the traditions that had made it a very special weekend (4-day) event, such as 64 two-player teams straight into match play, all walking, no carts. These aspects add to the tournament’s appeal.”
The invitation fourball concept has lost its luster in recent years because of the time commitment required, but the show goes on at several of our other tradition-rich clubs: Salem (June), Tedesco (last weekend) and Myopia (Labor Day weekend) included.
An important historic aspect is that the aforementioned Eastabrook and long-time Essex pro and course superintendent Eugene “Skip” Wogan, according to George C. Caner, Jr., author of the Essex centennial history book in 1995, ensured the tournament would not be a one-and-done format by introducing in the inaugural year the consolation flight. Their consolation concept guaranteed all players would compete for at least two, if not three, days. Virtually every club picked up on Essex’s consolation concept, a critical part of the event’s allure, wherever it is played.
No one has enjoyed the Essex Invitation Fourball more than Bill Dore and Mike Moonves, the only three-time champions in the event’s 99 years of competition. Dore-Moonves triumphed in 1985, 1989 and 2000.
“I’m proud just to be talking about those wins after all these years,” said Dore. “I believe we won half of those 18 matches on the 18th hole. To survive six matches in four days you need a lot of luck, and Mike and I had our share in those three particular years. But win or lose, and I’m sure most teams share this feeling; every year we’ve played, over 35 years, we’ve always had fun and a fulfilling experience. It’s a serious but friendly competition that makes memories every time we’ve participated.”
“For Bill and I, sure, the wins have been special beyond words, but nothing tops the lasting friendships we’ve developed from one year to the next,” added Moonves. “We’ve also been proud, as Essex members, to observe year after year the level of respect every player has for the event and where it fits in our club’s wonderful history.”
Moonves will never forget how their first championship run started in 1985. “Very first match against former winners (but not with each other) Charlie Jenney and Bob Borden, they hit each other’s balls on the very first hole,” Moonves recalled like it was yesterday “Loss of hole. We won that match 1 up — and won our next five matches too.”
Fast forward to 2000, and Moonves shares another gem of a memory and captures a unique experience that year.
“We beat Toby Coffin and Matt Mason in the final match with Toby’s son Ben and Bill’s son Will on the bags,” Moonves said. “Even before the first ball was struck, the six of us knew the day was special.
And now, to be able to play yet again in the 100th anniversary Fourball is doubly special.”
Adds third-year head professional Jack Davis, a former No. 1 assistant at famed Shinnecock Hills, “This is the coolest member-guest event I’ve ever seen: the format, the genuine excitement, the way the event marks a high point in the competitive schedule here at Essex. When I first arrived here in 2017, members introduced their friends as their fourball partner. They have a strong sense of the Fourball’s place in Essex history.”
This agent had the pleasure of covering the Fourball more than a dozen times over the years and was always flattered by how excited players were to relate their victories. As much as we all savor winning at golf individually, there has always been something unique I’ve sensed in talking to these two-man teams after a hard-earned win, maybe in the title match.
Nothing topped my recollection of interviewing Salem CC’s Hank Ramini and Bob Mattson when they pulled off a surprise championship win in 1983. Ramini, who delivered more than 3,000 babies at Beverly Hospital, and Mattson, a cosmetic and restorative dentist, were nearly at a loss for words after their upset victory. It ranked among the late Ramini’s greatest thrills as a golfer.
Essex boasts many claims to fame in the golf world. A U.S. Postal Service snafu is the only reason Essex was not a founding member of the United States Golf Association in 1894.
The most unique Invitation Fourball scoreboard format and design also became the standard by which invitation fourballs are recorded far and wide.
Essex was the last “club” job (1910-1914) professional/course superintendent Donald Ross held before settling in permanently at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina and becoming the most prolific golf course designer in American history. During that stretch, and again during frequent visits from 1914-17, Ross redesigned the Essex course, making it one of the purest layouts in the land.
Essex was the summer home club of the Curtis sisters, Margaret and Harriot, who between them won four USGA Amateur titles (Margaret 3, Harriot 1). They also donated a commissioned Paul Revere bowl to create an international competition, the Curtis Cup, comparable to the men’s Walker Cup, between amateur women teams from the United States and Great Britain/Ireland. Two of those events have been held at Essex, in 1938 and 2010, both won by the United States.
Essex head pro Joe Lloyd won the 1897 United States Open, the only North Shore-based pro to win the event.
“We’re proud of everything historic about Essex County Club, the way we’ve supported golf and shared our outstanding course over the years,” French declared, “especially our Invitation Fourball. With an excellent head golf professional in Jack Davis and excellent course superintendent in Eric Richardson in place, we’ll start the second one hundred years of Essex Invitation Fourball in great style as well."
Reading the Greens is a weekly column on North Shore golf by Gary Larrabee, a former Salem News sports reporter from 1971-95. He has covered golf locally and beyond for the last 50 years.