Kip Tyler may have been gone – retired for a year after a legendary career as Salem Country Club’s golf course superintendent for an unparalleled 38 years.
But he has surely not been forgotten by his peers – fellow members of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of New England. (GCSANE).
The 500-member organization recently bestowed on the Newburyport resident and Ohio native its highest honor - the Distinguished Service Award - for 2021. He is only the second North Shore-connected individual to receive the award. The first was Kernwood’s Dean Robertson in 2011, capping a 30-year tenure as superintendent at Kernwood.
“I came to Massachusetts a long time ago, confident in what I could offer Salem,” Tyler, a graduate of the highly regarded Ohio State University turfgrass management program, said, “I’d gotten great experience at Medinah (in charge of No. 3, a major championship venue) and believed I could do a lot of good work at another great championship course like Salem.”
And that he did. With his predecessor, Cliff Nunes, staying on as his right hand man, Tyler accomplished his primary mission magnificently; that of getting Salem in tip-top condition for the 1984 U.S. Women’s Open championship, its first such event since Babe Zaharias’ historic victory 27 years earlier.
Tyler and staff delivered big time on two other occasions (as well as for several state and regional competitions over the years), the 2001 U.S. Senior Open, prior to which he earned the nickname “Miracle Man,” for getting the Donald Ross-designed course in championship condition by the last week in June after a brutal winter that caused extensive turf kill. He was at it again before the 2017 U.S. Senior Open that provided perfect playing conditions and record-setting scoring after a Tuesday night downpour Championship Week.
“I had a fantastic group of staff that helped me save the course in 2001,” Tyler recalled. “Mother Nature showed no compassion with that awful winter kill, but she gave us good weather in late May and for June when we needed it most.”
General chairman Ollie Cook, long-time Salem member, called Tyler “the hero of the Open” for leading the effort that brought back the course in time for the internationally-telecast tournament that was sold out a year in advance, a first for the Senior Open.
Tyler’s talents were recognized on a grander scale when Golf News magazine, a U.S.-circulated trade publication for Tyler’s profession, named him 2001 National Superintendent of the Year.
“Any kind of recognition is nice,” Tyler said. “Honors are unexpected yet appreciated. But I’m most proud of the job I did for the club all these years and my involvement with the GCSANE.”
The Salem membership said thanks by extending Tyler an honorary Life membership. The GCSANE delivered the Distinguished Service Award.
“Kip created marvelous conditions while at Salem and should be remembered for that most important,” says Don Hearn, executive director of the GCSANE and in earlier times Kip’s peer as course super at Weston Golf Club. “Kip has always been a nice, humble guy, always calm. He handled his work and life with a smile. He has always been a talented professional and a credit to our organization.”
Tyler served on the GCSANE Board for six years and edited the organization’s newsletter for three.
“I’ve always had a wonderful support system among my fellow superintendents in the area,” Tyler, 67, noted. “That’s meant a great deal to me. When I first arrived I was taken under the wing by people like Doug Johnson at Pine Brook, Steve Murphy at Gannon, Don Hearn, Dean Robertson and Paul Miller at Tedesco; a real talented group.”
But none more talented than Tyler, who served Salem and the GCSANE with distinction for nearly four decades.
It’s been a rough final season for Steven DiLisio playing for Duke University. His one truly solid showing was at the Seahawk Invitational in Wallace NC where he shot 210, 6 under par, and finished tied for third individually. His other finishes have been T-33, T-32 T-69 and 49th.
The Blue Devils still have the ACC championship and NCAA qualifying coming up.
Chris Francoeur, meanwhile, finishing up his final season for URI before transferring to Louisville for a graduate year of competition for the Cardinals, fired a five-under 65 in winning the Hartford Invitational. Both players competed for St. John’s Prep.
It’s also been tough going for Salem-born, Andover-bred Rob Oppenheim on the PGA Tour. He missed the cut last weekend at the Texas Valero Open. In 2021 he has one top 10 in eight starts, a T-7 at the Puerto Rico Open.
Gary Larrabee, a former Salem News sports staffer (1971-1995), has been writing about the North Shore golf scene for 52 years.