I can’t describe how happy I was as a teenager when I heard a golf course was being built in Danvers across Route 1/I-95 back in 1967, a mere mile from my home.
We were going to have a first class private country club, designed by the famous Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (actually, the very first design by his son Reese) and funded by the Mass family who owned Alfalfa Farm across the highway.
It opened in late 1969 as Topsfield Country Club. The Masses, Joseph, wife Henrietta and son Leonard, had lofty goals for the property, parts of which also stood in Topsfield and Middleton. But as a Danvers boy I always used my hometown as the primary identification.
A half century later, following more turmoil, business transactions and owners than I can count, Ferncroft Country Club (its name for more than 40 years), stands proudly, powered by an active, supportive membership and an exemplary owner in Affinty Management of Charlottesville, N.C., and its leader, Damon DeVito.
The club, which became fully operational in 1970, was destined for greatness from the outset. It did not take long to make its mark.
The Greater Boston golf community promptly took notice when the. Masses hired New England PGA champion and former Boston Bruin Bill Ezinicki as their head pro and local favorite Peter Dalton as assistant professional.
Per their game plan, the Masses successfully got their golf course on the tournament map, hosting the New England PGA Championship in 1973, the first of four successive NEPGAs at now-named Ferncroft.
Financial difficulties had forced the Masses to step aside by this time, with the Radisson hotel chain taking control of the club and hotel atop the hill overlooking the course. At the same time the NEPGA, led by George Wemyss, had relocated its headquarters to the hotel as well.
More championship history took place with Ferncroft hosting the New England Open from 1976-79. The Section championship returned in ‘79 for another 4-year run. The Boston Five Bank and the Ladies Professional Golf Association came calling in 1980 for an 11-year run of the Boston Five Classic.
“Ferncroft became the focus of Greater Boston tournament golf for a lot of exciting years,” says North Shore golf legend Paul Barkhouse, who served as head pro at the facility for 12 of those years. “We had some prominent members who brought in special guests, like baseball Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Willie Mays, among others. Great times all around.”
Once the LPGA left after the 1990 tournament, Ferncroft concentrated on being a members club. It has enjoyed a resurrection of sorts under Affinity and DeVito, whose firm in recent years finally delivered to the membership a first-rate clubhouse.
It boasts several outstanding players these days, led by Boxford’s Frank Vana Jr., a nine-time MassGolf Player of the Year, two-time Massachusetts Amateur winner, 10-time Massachusetts Mid-Amateur champ and frequent USGA competitor. Past standouts include Walter Sharis, Walter Brown and Warren Nelson.
Its head professional list includes current boss Phil Leiss and predecessors Tim Frazer, Toby Ahern, Barkhouse, Mickey Herron and Steve Caldwell.
Leiss, in his 15th year at Ferncroft (13 as head pro; now as director of golf), is most proud of Ferncroft’s recent years focusing on junior golf initiatives.
“It’s been most gratifying working at a top private club where the membership and ownership embrace junior golf in different ways,” Leiss said. “We’ve developed a lot of fine junior players. Most recently our ownership established a junior scholarship program for needy youngsters, as well as staged clinics for boys and girls clubs from Salem, Stoneham and Lynn. We also provide dates for local golf teams from Danvers, Masconomet and St. John’s Prep to use the course.”
The Phil Leiss/Mike Cassidy (course superintendent for 20 years) team has been huge plus throughout.
“We at Affinity are grateful to have been associated with a special club and membership like Ferncroft,” said DeVito. “After the many years of uncertainty the membership experienced, we’ve been happy to provide a level of stability, part of which has been upgrading the golf course substantially and a $5 million clubhouse expansion.”
Affinity has spent $12 million on Ferncroft, and it shows every way you look at the facility.