Phil Leiss never doubted his career goal. He wanted to be a golf professional.
The former Danvers High and St. Michael’s College golf team captain never wavered from that career path, either — and his dedication has paid off handsomely.
Leiss is now in his 15th year as the 'man in charge' at Ferncroft Country Club, marking 13 years as head professional and now two years as director of golf.
“It’s a dream come true to be here at my hometown club,” said Leiss, who recently turned 50 years old. “I truly am living the dream, even though it all happened by chance.”
Management and membership at Ferncroft feel the same way.
Working under the veteran Toby Ahern as head professional for those first 13 years, Leiss learned from the best. Ahern, the Lynnfield native and St. John’s Prep grad, was involved with the Ferncroft golf operation for 25 years and is the club’s longest serving professional. Leiss is No. 2 on that service list, Paul Barkhouse (12 years) third.
“I had no intention or plans to land at Ferncroft,” said Leiss, who lives in Topsfield with wife Charlene and their four children. “But it worked out that way and I couldn't be happier about it.”
His golf journey easily could have taken a turn away from Ferncroft. After graduating from St. Michaels as Vermont Collegiate champion, Leiss worked at the Country Club of the Rockies in Vail, Colo. for two years, then returned to the North Shore and worked in golf operations at Beverly Golf & Tennis for two more years, remaining an amateur throughout.
At this point he was ready to enter the PGA Apprentice program under Steve Carter at Ipswich Country Club, where he worked six years and learned the ropes of the club professional business. Carter left Ipswich to become head golf professional and general manager at Firestone CC in Akron, Ohio in 2008 and now is in charge at The Pepper Pike Club in Cleveland.
“I’ve learned from two of the best in Steve and Toby,” said Leiss, who worked two winters at Monarch CC in Stuart, Fla., before joining Ahern’s staff at Ferncroft in 2005. That was one year before Virginia-based Affinity Management purchased the club in 2006. Affinity and Leiss, with course superintendent Mike Cassidy, have been a superb team ever since.
“I hope I have been successful in passing along to my assistants as much of that knowledge as possible.”
Leiss and his staff are service-oriented professionals, gearing all their efforts every day to their members and their guests. “That’s what makes a maximum efficient golf operation,” he said. “That’s always been my approach, and it’s helped me progress in my career to where I am today.
“At the same time, I’ve tried to adapt to change wherever I’ve worked. If you are able to change on the fly, you’re going to be a better professional and serve your members and their guests better.”
Then there is his relationship-building approach to running the the Ferncroft program, said Leiss.
“Keep all your relationships positive, from members and their guests to vendors, your bosses, your female players and junior members, the related staff, and you can’t go wrong,” he noted. “I’ve also tried to build on those positive relationships.”
Congrats to Bob Schmeck and Lauren O’Brien for winning their respective club championships at Beverly Golf & Tennis — Schmeck for the first time, O'Brien for the third time.
Schmeck shot 75-75-75-76 for 301 and a four-stroke margin over runner-up Mick Suttle (76-75-79-75-305) and a six-shot advantage over former Beverly High hockey coach Larry Jacobs (78-76-76-77-307). Schmeck’s consistency made the difference; Suttle paid the price with a 79, Jacobs with a 78, while Schmeck’s worst round was 76 on the rolling Beverly layout.
O’Brien overcame an 86 middle round with rounds of 79 and 77 for a 242 total and a four-shot margin over Riki Allen (80-84-82-246) and an 11-shot advantage over Pam Cote (79-84-90-253).
In other flight action, Arthur Athanas won his second straight Class A title, while Jim Danforth won B, Tom Sideri the C crown and John Gallagher in Class D. On the women’s side, the four class winners were Carmen Madore, Allyson Danforth, ageless wonder Mary Berman and Jeanette Fitzgerald, respectively.
Wenham CC club champs are: Pat Scanlan, his second title, over eight-time champ Bob Eastwood; Martha Field, her 11th title since 1989; John Paddol in the new division, his second, occurring 10 years to the day after his first win; and Dave Leonard, his third senior title.
We mourn the passing of Jim Hannon and Sandra Neil.
It won’t be the same at next month’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot, with Gary Woodland defending.
With no spectators allowed, this will be the first Open at Winged Foot that Beverly's Ollie Cook, the sage of Salem Country Club and semi-retired Peabody-based legal beagle, will have missed attending since he watched Billy Casper win the 1959 Open.
He can blame the pandemic, of course.
Cook also was on hand when Hale Irwin won in 1974, Fuzzy Zoeller in 1984 and Geoff Ogilvy in 2006.
Golfweek magazine’s annual ratings of the top 100 'classic' courses in America (those built prior to 1960) were, as usual, kind to our best layouts on the North Shore — though I disagree in the order in which they are ranked.
Myopia moved up three slots from last year to No. 31, just ahead of Pasatiempo and U.S. Open venue Olympic Club. Essex is ranked No. 41, up two spots from 2019, and Salem is listed at No. 74, three spots down from a year ago.
The only Massachusetts classic course rated better than Myopia is The Country Club in Brookline, venue for the 2022 U.S. Open, at No. 25.
My local list ranks Salem tops, followed by Myopia, Essex and Kernwood. That’s not by coincidence three Donald Ross courses out of four. The other, Myopia, was designed by Herbert Leeds, the only course he ever designed and magnificently accomplished for the 1890s. Ross did Kernwood between 1914-18, the same time he did the complete redesign of Essex. He and brother Aeneas finished Salem in 1925.