Superb courses, fabulous players and shining moments are all part of the golf experience in New Hampshire. Golf’s greatest luminaries have also played our courses and left their imprint (but replaced their divots).New Hampshire is a long way, in both distance and climate, from Pebble Beach or Palm Springs, but our country clubs and golf courses have been home to some rather impressive golfers and visited by celebrities from the world of sports, entertainment and politics.Golfing great Gene Sarazin made Lake Sunapee Country Club in New London his home course during the summer years of his retirement and former Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski, ex-Bruins’ star Derek Sanderson and former Celtic Don Nelson are among those who have played the course. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were among the greats who put on exhibitions at the Manchester Country Club in Bedford. And on the “Wall of Fame” showcasing famous visitors at The Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch, a picture of the great Ben Hogan is prominently displayed, along with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Ronald Reagan. There is no date for the Hogan picture, but Rick Toland, the resort’s director of golf and tennis, believes it was sometime during the 1940s when Hogan arrived.“Before Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods, before golf became a huge television sport, the pros used to make money traveling around, putting on exhibitions and clinics,” says Toland. “People would pay to come and watch them.”The game has come a long way from its modest beginnings in the Granite State in 1894, when three women at Colby Academy in New London laid out a five-hole course on the school grounds and persuaded a local blacksmith to attach metal plates to field hockey sticks. According to Bob Labbance and David Cornwell in “Golf Courses of New Hampshire,” the women found the rules of the game in the Encyclopedia Britannica. A year later, a six-hole course had been established in Exeter and the following year a nine-hole course was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. The Beaver Meadow Golf Club was founded in West Concord in 1897 and drew an initial membership of 120 players.Today, New Hampshire’s golf courses dot the countryside, from Colebrook to Salem and Lebanon to the Seacoast. The New Hampshire Golf Association lists more than 100 member clubs, including several founded in the last 10 years.Great Golf CoursesMANCHESTER COUNTRY CLUB180 So. River Rd., Bedford, (603) 623-8270 Opened in 1923, the golf course at Manchester Country Club is one of several in New Hampshire with “a classic old Donald Ross” design. But golf pro Joel St. Laurent is quick to point out that the legendary architect personally came to the Bedford site where the course was built. “I believe this is one of the few courses in New Hampshire where he was on site,” says St. Laurent. The course features include false fronts to elevated greens that make the chip shots more of a challenge and run-off areas that provide both good drainage and hazards to be avoided on the way to the green. The back nine are especially challenging, with a long, uphill 16th that runs 220 years from the back tees and is rated a Par 3. “If you miss the green, you’re going to be in the rough or at the bottom of the hill. It’s very difficult to get a par,” St. Laurent says. “If you’re going to shoot a good round of golf, you’ve got to be in good shape after the first 14 because the last four holes are very difficult.”Manchester Country Club recently embarked upon a million dollar restoration project to expand the floor plans of the club house and improve drainage. Golf Digest magazine named it one of the state’s top five golf courses in 2009 and they hosted last year’s National Amputee Golf Association Tournament.PORTSMOUTH COUNTRY CLUB80 Country Club Lane, Greenland, (603) 436-9791 Ask New Hampshire golfers about their favorite places to play and you will invariably hear Portsmouth Country Club in Greenland mentioned among the top two or three. The course, a Robert Trent Jones design, runs along Great Bay, with the 12th green at the end of a peninsula that juts out into the bay.“There are definitely some pretty holes there, especially when the tide’s in,” says Concord’s Bob Mielcarz. But the wide-open course poses a whole new set of challenges when a strong wind blows in off the water. “There’s a lot of exposure,” says Mielcarz. “There are not a lot trees to block the wind.”“The scenery is really nice. Its long greens are very puttable,” says Dana Harrity, a member of the nearby Abenaqui Country Club in Rye. “The only negative thing is that it’s wide open and when the wind is blowing — oh, my God! — it’s just a crazy golf course.”PANORAMA GOLF COURSEThe Balsams Grand Resort, Dixville Notch, (800) 255-0600 The last 18 holes before the Canadian border are on the Panorama Golf Course at The Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch, where golf has been played since 1897. The original course was redesigned and expanded in 1912, with golf architect Donald Ross personally supervising the construction. Built on the side of Mount Keazar, the Par 72 course runs slightly more than 6,800 yards and features Ross’ trademark sloping fairways and hilltop greens. And, as the name indicates, there are spectacular views stretching out into Canada, Vermont and New York. The wide-open spaces of Dixville Notch lend themselves to a course that blends in with the natural beauty around it, notes Rick Toland, the resort’s director of golf and tennis.“It’s built right into a natural area,” he says. “There are no housing developments. It’s beautiful for its lack of development, its lack of traffic.”While most of the players are hotel guests, the Panorama is a public access course, located two miles from the hotel. The Coashaukeee 9-hole course on the hotel grounds is “great for juniors and beginners,” says Toland, and features a learning clinic.Great GolfersBOB MIELCARZThe winner of a record nine New Hampshire Men’s State Amateur championships and twice the New Hampshire Golf Association’s Player of the Year, Concord’s Bob Mielcarz has earned a place of distinction among New Hampshire’s outstanding golfers.“Big fish in small pond, I always tell people,” Mielcarz, 60, laughs when reminded of his titles. When he won his ninth State Am at the Bretwood Country Club in Keene in 2000, he broke the record of golfing icon Tommy Leonard that had stood for 48 years. “I consider it my small piece of immortality,” he says.But Mielcarz has fared rather well in larger “ponds” as well, having made it to the quarterfinals in the U.S. Golf Association Senior Division competition in 2007, making the final eight from a field of 2,500. But he sees the competition getting stiffer, both in New Hampshire and around the country.“Especially on the national stage, there’s a whole new group of good golfers turning 55,” says Mielcarz. “I figure I don’t have too many more years being competitive in the senior circuit.”DANA HARRITY Dana Harrity considers herself “a late bloomer,” though her golf career has blossomed into 14 New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association State Amateur championships.“My father wouldn’t let me on the golf course until I was 12,” says Harrity. “And, of course, he was a male chauvinist,” she laughs. “I didn’t break 80 until I was 19 or 20.” But the UNH graduate became more serious about the game when she met her future husband, Peter Harrity, a dedicated golfer who has won two men’s State Am titles.“He is very competitive and he had me practicing really hard. I was practicing every day and getting better.” Peter is now co-owner of two golf clubs, Candia Woods and The Oaks Golf Links in Somersworth, where Dana manages the pro shop.Their daughter Maggie, a Clemson University graduate, is pursuing her nursing career in North Carolina and proving that the love of golf is not necessarily hereditary.“She hates golf,” her mother says.Great Young GolfersJAKE NUTTER, 17Jake Nutter of Bedford started playing golf at age 7. By the time he was 13, he dropped all his other sports activities, including baseball, football, basketball and soccer. “I enjoy golf so much more than any of those other sports that it was an easy decision to make,” says Nutter, now 17. The Bedford High junior is already captain of the golf team and last year won both the Manchester City Tournament and the New Hampshire Junior Amateur competition. He plans to go to college “somewhere in the South” and win as many tournaments as he can before he seeks to drop the amateur label and qualify for the PGA tour.“That’s every junior golfer’s dream,” says Nutter. “Anyone who plays golf and loves it as much as I do wants to make it to the top level.”MEGAN MANGONE, 23Megan Mangone, the current Women’s State Am champion and a three-time Juniors champion, can’t remember the first time she took hold of a golf club.“I guess it would be the day I began to walk,” she says. ”Or even before. There are pictures of me with my dad holding me up and I’ve got a golf club in my hands.” At Salem High, she was the only girl on the school’s golf team until her younger sister Becky also joined the squad. Yet Megan captained the team in her senior year and was three times named its most valuable player.The 23-year-old graduate of Florida’s Lynn University is working at a pro shop at the Trump International Golf Club at West Palm Beach and hopes to become a teaching pro at some point. The possibility of playing professionally was something she thought about in college, but is not interested in pursuing.“Now that I’m not playing in all those tournaments, I’ve learned to take the game as fun,” she says. “I’d rather play golf and have fun than making it be how I feed myself at the end of the day.”Two Holes in OneAustin Eaton Jr. of Spofford tells the caller he’s not the golfing “Ace” of the Eaton family.“Unless you want to talk to someone who’s 69 years old with an eight handicap,” laughs the father of Austin Eaton III, better known as Ace. The younger Eaton, 40, is a two-time winner of the New Hampshire State Amateur competition and a winner of the U.S. Mid-Am, for golfers between ages 25 and 50. But Ace’s father is no slouch on the links, either. In August 2007, he shot two holes-in-one in a single round of golf.It was at the Lake Sunapee Country Club in New London. “It was absolutely crazy,” he says. “Both landed on the left side of the green. I pulled them both, but they landed there and went in … It was terrific, but do you think I was aiming there? No-o!”“As soon as I could stand up, my dad put a club in my hand,” Ace recalls. “He’s been a tremendous influence on my game and on me.” Now there’s an Austin Eaton IV, age 3 1/2, who’s already hitting golf balls.“We keep it going,” says his proud grandfather.Golf Course DesignBrian Silva Design, DoverGolf course architect Brian Silva found himself with an interesting mission when he was hired to restore the 18-hole golf course at the Omni Mount Washington Resort a few years ago. Someone at the resort had found the plans that Donald Ross had drawn up for the redesign of the original course back in 1915. “His plans suggested it either never got built according to his plans or it had changed significantly over time,” says Silva. “We rebuilt each tee complex, every greens complex and re-bunkered the fairways in accordance with what we found in the original plans.”It was another in a long line of golf course design and construction assignments Silva has carried out in a career that began in partnership with noted golf architect Geoffrey Cornish in 1983 and led to the establishment of Brian Silva Design, the company he started in Dover in 2005. His first original 18-hole design, for The Captain’s in Brewster, Mass., was selected by Golf Digest as the country’s Best New Golf Course for 1985. His design for Shaker Hills in Harvard, Mass., was chosen runner-up in the same classification. Silva’s work in New Hampshire includes Breakfast Hill in Greenland and Shattuck Inn in Jaffrey. He has worked on four golf courses in Italy and one in Guatemala, as well as throughout the United States.A Quick Look At College GolfAspiring to play college golf? Or maybe you have a son or daughter who is interested in playing? If so, Coach Kevin Gibson of the women's Dartmouth golf team shared a few things with us that you may want to consider.
"A lot of high school events are played from a yardage a lot shorter than we play from. I would tell a high school student to play from a minimum of 6000 yards as much as possible. They all hit the ball well, so it usually comes down to their short games. Constantly work on short games."
Coach Greg Scerbinksi of the Franklin Pierce University golf team added, "Play in competitive golf tournaments to develop mental toughness and the ability to focus."
The women's team at Dartmouth plays four events in the fall, starting September 7 through October 15. Come springtime, five more events take place from March 1 to April 25. Don't be mistaken; snow does not equal vacation time. The off-season (winter and summer) consists of working out, lifting weights, as well as practicing chipping, putting and hitting balls indoors. While in season, NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) rules allow a team to practice and compete 20 hours per week; About the same time you may spend working a part-time job.
Established in 1979, the Northeast-10 conference is a NCAA Division II conference consisting of 16 institutions throughout the Northeast, Franklin Pierce University being of one them. After the team was picked to be last in the conference in a preseason poll, they ended up finishing in 9th place, an accomplishment to be proud of.
A good athlete is always practicing, and always improving. One such improvement that Dartmouth's Coach Gibson has noticed is his team's ability to lower its scores each year, and continually break its 18 hole and 36 hole scoring records. It's improvements like these that keep an athlete going and the team going.Dartmouth Men's Golf
Dartmouth Women's GolfFranklin Pierce Golf~Alyssa Dionne
This article appears in the May 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine