Gary Larrabee 2022 column mug.jpg

Gary Larrabee

Kernwood Country Club, another great Donald Ross-designed golf course on the North Shore (along with Salem and Essex), has completed its first major restoration project in more than 50 years with dramatically positive results.

Robert McNeil, the club’s long-time contemporary architect, said the work “has turned out awesome. It started with a tree management program that exposed the golf course over the last few years in stunning ways, providing new vistas of the overall property and the Danvers River.

“It continued with restoring all the bunkers (43 of them), significant fairway contouring that had been lost over the years, and changing the area around the 18th green (removing the towering oak and deep bunker on the right side). We also pushed out some greens that had lost their original shape and removed the bunker on the left side of the landing area on No. 7 and moved it to the right side, changing that fairway’s contour in a positive way.”

Frank Cole, the club’s sixth-year Green chairman (though better known among the region’s hockey cognoscenti as the director of officiating for NCAA Division 1 hockey), said the project had been in the works since the gas pipeline installation went through the property around 2000.

“We pulled out reports/recommendations we’ve gotten periodically from USGA visits (by Jim Skorulski) and determined it was time to take action,” said Cole. “The project took five years, but we believe it’s been a huge success. “

The project came in three phases: tree trimming, full bunker restoration and No. 18 green alteration.

“With our veteran head professional (Frank Dully) providing some vital input too,” Cole, a 41st-year KCC member, said, “we focused on the course’s historic integrity, health (especially tree health) and playability and aesthetics. We looked at historic aerials that we found and realized we had done a lot of tree planting over the years that should be eliminated.

“Bottom line was we wanted to return the course to as close to what Donald Ross built for us between 1913 and 1918 as possible,” he added. “We removed a few bunkers and converted them back to their original grassy hollow condition. We also added back bunkers that over the years had been removed, like on the right corner of the dogleg 15th. It was also a major plus that John Eggleston, our course superintendent, was a talented course construction professional before coming to Kernwood.”

Eggleston, who came to Kernwood at the end of 2004 and just began a new five-year contract extension, said he feels Ross would be happy with what they’ve done to the course.

.“We had outstanding partners to work with, including Jerry Deemer (Country Golf course shaping), Slater Farms (for new sand) and Cheapscapes (construction) and a wonderful team right here at Kernwood. I’m proud to have been part of the team,” said Eggleston.

Which was a similar sentiment expressed by Dully, the 25th-year head pro.

“I was proud of all the results of the project, but especially with two areas where I made recommendations,” said Dully. “The first was the way we opened up the tree line behind 14 green so players could see to the water.

“Second was the way we altered to the right of 18 green. After playing Seminole I realized their 18th green is similar to our 18th; once we removed the deep bunker and big tree that was on the right. Now 18 remains a real challenge with the elevated, turtleback green, but now it’s much more playable. You still want to miss your approach, if at all, to the left, but if you miss it to the right you have a pitch back up to the green – still a tough shot – but nothing like what had faced the player for all those years.

Dully made note of a danger facing all golf courses every day -– safety.

“I’ve been at Kernwood 31 years total,” he said, “and a year has not passed when a significant limb has not fallen from one of our beautiful, but aging, trees. With this project, we removed every tree that was showing signs of aging, not just to protect the golf course but also to protect our golfers. We’ve had several close calls of that kind over the years.”

“Some members initially felt this project,” added Cole, “would change the integrity of the golf course.” It is considered by state and regional tournament organizations as the second-best championship venue on the North Shore after Salem CC.

“But in fact, this project brought the course back to its original, glorious form as provided to us by Donald Ross. We hadn’t done such a project in so long, maybe ever, that it may have been a shock at first to some of our more senior members. But now that they’ve had the experience of playing our restored course, they’re pleased.”

In turn, Kernwood officials will be prepared to receive an increase in requests to hold, state, regional and charitable tournaments on their North Salem layout of 120 aces. In the last 16 years it has hosted a Massachusetts Open, New England PGA championship. a U.S. Senior Open qualifier, and this year a Massachusetts Open qualifier, among other events.

Another is the Simpson Cup regional qualifier, this year set for August 2-3, in which injured American servicemen and veterans who play golf try and qualify for the 13-person U.S. team for their meeting with a team from Great Britain. This year’s final is set for Baltusrol Aug. 30-31. The regional qualifying has been held at Kernwood since 2015.

Another safety issue the club continues to address, Cole offered, is the shoreline with the Danvers River on holes 5, 6, 7, 8, 15 and 16.

“We got Conservation Commission approval to remove trees right on the edge of our property up against the shoreline that were leaning to a dangerous degree,” he said. “We will be going back for more approvals for the same reason in different areas abutting the water line.”

On another plus side, this tree trimming gave healthier exposure to beautiful trees that were being strangled by other trees that needed to be cut down. And we’ll be looking at our trees on a regular basis, most important for safety issues.”

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Salem-born Rob Oppenheim is making progress on the Korn Ferry Tour of late. After missing two straight cuts, he has finished T-19 and T-12 most recently and stands 33rd on the points list in which the top 125 on the list at the end of the season in late August gain a PGA Tour card.

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Congratulations to the four local players who qualified for next month’s 114th Massachusetts Amateur at Concord. Bass Rocks’s Colby Mitchell was medalist with a sharp two-under-par 70, while Alex Landry of Indian Ridge and St. John’s Prep shot 73. Salem State golf coach Kevin Daly, playing out of Salem CC, returned a 74, as did Ould Newbury’s Cael Kohan. Landry’s Prep teammate Ian Rourke just missed at 75 with fellow Ferncroft member Peter Gardella ... Ferncroft’s Steve Camara made the grade with a 74 at Cape Cod CC ... Congrats to the following women’s teams that won their respective MassGolf Spring Cups: Essex posted a 5-0 record in winning the Fifth Cup; Larry Gannon teams won the 11th (5-0) and 22nd (4-1) Cups, with Myopia winning the 14th (4-0) and Rockport the 123rd and final Cup (4-1).

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Ferncroft’s Frank Vana and Westover’s Jack Kearney finished T-2 with a seven-under 136 at the 25th Massachusetts Senior Fourball at Wilbraham and Twin Hills...Kernwood’s Frank Dully and Michigan State freshman-to-be Aidan Emmerich placed T-4 at the NEPGA Pro-Am championship at Wollaston and Blue Hill scoring a five-under 139...We mourn the passing of Dan Hourihan.

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