Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chicopee Country Club to Celebrate 50th Anniversary

So you're Chicopee Country Club and what do you do to celebrate your 50th anniversary? You do what you do best.

The club will run a first-class outing, at a reasonable rate  . . . and on a terrific golf course.
"Chicopee has always been a great deal,'' current head golf professional Mike O'Neill said. "With its price point, the location, conditions. And, from the back tees, it's a helluva challenge for the best players.''

The 50th anniversary event takes place Saturday, May 30, with a short dedication ceremony at 8:45 a.m. The four-person scramble starts with a 9 a.m. shotgun, with a lunch buffet to follow.
Cost for golf, cart, lunch and prizes is $50, and $30 for the season pass holders at the municipal course on Burnett Road.

"It's going to be a great day,'' O'Neill said. "We've invited everyone . . . past commissioners, city councilors. It's all about Chicopee Country Club.''
Chicopee CC has long had a reputation of being a well-conditioned, challenging golf course and very affordable.

"Since the early days, Chicopee had pretty good acclaim because of its reasonable rates . . . and that has never changed,'' said Jim Low, a longtime golf committee chairman who has played golf there since its opening. "The course was built during that boom (early 1960s) and that lent itself to competitive rates.
"And it was a home run for a public golf course.''

It all started in 1965, when city resident Bob Leitch hit the ceremonial first shot off No. 1.
"The mayor and his group didn't show up on time and the starter was getting nervous,'' said Leitch, now retired from a longtime career at Channel 22. "The media was in the next foursome and he said 'Who wants to go?' I got ticket No. 1 and (the late) Rollie Jacobs took No. 2.

"I held the course record, I think 78, until the fourth foursome came in.''
Low and longtime Chicopee CC golfer Tom Robak said improvements and maintenance on the club's facilities and grounds have always been done on minimal budgets.

"So many people and businesses have volunteered to help with anything,'' Low said. "It's a special place. I even proposed to my wife (Linda) on the 18th tee 41 years ago.''
There have also been only six superintendents, with Mike Bach being the most recent. Dick Lussier, Sammy Theroux, Max Mierzwa, Donald Nunes and Ray St. Peter have also held the post.

In recent years, the city has contracted with International Golf Maintenance, Inc. to handle its maintenance. Their efforts have helped improve and maintain a Geoffrey Cornish design that has both its challenges and quirks.
"He wanted to do things like extend the ninth hole, pushing the tees back another 60 or 70 yards,'' Low said of Cornish. "And he put three pines, which had grown pretty tall, in the middle of the fairway on 7. Over time, there's only one left.''

The course is bordered by Chicopee Memorial State Park and Westover Air Base, with parts of the fourth and fifth holes in Ludlow.
Chicopee's layout has undergone a few changes over the years, most notably a shortening of the fifth and 12th holes due to safety issues of bordering residential properties.

And the eighth green, once too severe in its slope and undulations, was re-constructed 30 years ago.
Chicopee has hosted its share of state and regional championships and qualifiers, and the course record is "shared'' by amateur Steve Bys and Elmcrest CC head pro Dan Lapierre.

Bys posted a 10-under-par 62 on the "old course,'' when the 12th hole played as a par 4, in June 1991. He made 10 birdies, lost a stroke for an unplayable lie and carded 31s on each side.
Lapierre's 62 was a 9-under effort from the blue tees, with a pair of 31s in April 2003.

"There have been so many great players here . . . Bys, Mike Lempart, the Lapierres, the Wightmans, the DiRicos, the Grochmals, the O'Neills,'' Low said.
O'Neill is one of only six head professionals at the course, the first being his uncle Roy O'Neill. Others to follow were Ed Rubis, Paul Ryiz, Mark Jamrog and Tom DiRico. "And you go to any clubhouse, the name Ed Rubis is on a plaque somewhere,'' Mike O'Neill said.

League play has helped the club thrive, a loyalty that Mike O'Neill said is the club's "bread and butter'' along with its outings. Uniroyal, Tigers A.C. and Chicopee Elks are among longtime leagues at the course.
And with most any businesses, location has played a big role in the club's success.

"Our location is super,'' O'Neill said. "We're right off the Mass. Turnpike (Exit 6), 30 to 40 minutes from Worcester and 20 to 30 minutes from Hartford and Connecticut.''
DiRico has the honor of being the only golfer to make a "2'' at the par-5 seventh hole, a feat he accomplished in 2005.

The par-4 ninth hole is driveable for longer hitters and has yielded holes-in-one to Chicopee residents Adam Demarsh, Jeff Cyboron and John Glynn of Holbrook.