As Blackstone National Golf Club owner Mike Gordon put it, a perfect storm of challenges sent his facility reeling in 2010.
First, it was the uncertain economy and a resulting downturn in the number of rounds played. Then came a disastrous summer, with drought conditions plaguing the Northeast. Finally, an employee was alleged to have made off with some $100,000 from the company at a time when that kind of money was badly needed for operational functions.
“We were dealing with what has happened to the entire golf industry in the last few years with the slackening of interest,” said Gordon. “Then we had one of the most difficult summers weather-wise that we have ever had with virtually no rain for two months. The fact that an employee took $100,000 from us was the third thing that hit us. It marked a 24 to 30 month period of Blackstone and me getting punched around.”
But, Gordon said, he and his course, considered by some one of the finest in eastern Massachusetts, “popped out the other side.
“The fairways took a beating last year and it was difficult for some people to realize what was happening. They think if you have irrigation the course should be green no matter what the weather conditions are. But you can’t go without rain for 60 days and not feel the effects even though we irrigated. We made a decision to save the greens and tee boxes. Having no rain for two months and high temperatures for 19 days in a row literally cooked the place. I hadn’t killed a blade of grass in 10 years but it happened last year. We had to make a decision and picked our poison and we decided to let the fairways suffer and not lose the greens and tee boxes, because those take so long to get back. I wasn’t the only one to suffer.”
Indeed, almost the entire eastern seaboard stumbled under drought conditions, as courses wilted from the heat and lack of rain.
“But, while some in the industry were going into a cocoon, we have chosen to invest in Blackstone,” said Gordon. ‘The golf course is about 80 to 85 percent back to where it was before last summer. We have also cut an enormous amount of trees to allow golfers more room to play and invested money in bunker restoration.”
He added, “We survived last year and we are prospering with memberships actually up a little. The spring has been rough, again because of the late start and lousy weather, but we are expecting a great bounce back year in 2011.”
The sound reviews that Blackstone National, located in Sutton, Ma., has received over the years, not only for the routing by Rees Jones but also for the conditions the course had always boasted, was both a blessing and a curse, especially when the weather slammed the club last summer.
Said Gordon, “People looked at the fairways and were so used to seeing pristine conditions that they wondered what was going on. Some people think irrigation is the end all but it isn’t when you have the weather conditions like we had last summer. We had to take our licks, which is what we did, but we have bounced back brilliantly.”
He added with confidence, “In the end, this really is a feel good story that readers can relate to.”
Gordon said the matter involving the employee’s alleged theft is presently in the courts.
One must remember that whatever happened to playing conditions at Blackstone National last summer they had no impact on the Jones routing, considered on his best works in the Northeast. If you like a visually stunning playing experience mixed with challenging holes, then Blackstone National Golf Club is for you.
Tucked in the wooded countryside of the Blackstone Valley area of southwestern Massachusetts, not far from Worcester and Boston and only 25 minutes from Providence, R.I. , Blackstone National GC is an aesthetically pleasing track that winds easily over a hilly landscape, through mature forests, and past old stonewalls that give the course a sense of permanence and place.
There are only a few forced carries at Blackstone National, and Jones incorporated large fairways into the layout, which allows mid- and even high-handicappers to enjoy the experience. The ample fairways allow a player to stay in the hole even after a less than perfect tee shot. There is bunkering guarding rather large greens, making it important to choose the proper club to find the target.
The club continues to open up the course a bit to make it less penal off the tee and on approaches to the medium-sized greens.
Some of the best holes at Blackstone National, which can stretch to almost 7,000 yards from the tips and plays to a par of 72, are the par-threes. One of the most stunning is the 173-yard 11th, which demands a tee shot over a small pond.
But the par-fours are also very good, as evidenced by the mammoth 486-yard 15th, which bends to the left after a large ridge that cuts across the fairway. If you hit your tee shot to the right side of the fairway, the ball will tumble down the hill and shorten the hole by 50 to 100 yards. The drop from tee to green is almost 80 feet, creating a nice view from the tee box.
The 18th at Blackstone National is a good finishing hole. It’s only 485 yards from the tips, but the par-five is loaded with all kinds of trouble if you wander. The tee shot must be true to find a landing area protected by wetlands and woods. Big hitters can reach the putting surface in two shots after a strong drive, but the approach is uphill and there are a number of deep bunkers guarding the putting surface. The smart play, especially if you have a good round going, is to lay up in front of the green and knock the ball onto the putting surface with a wedge.
There’s a little extra pressure as you finish your round on the 18th. A crowd usually gathers on the veranda hovering above the green to watch the groups come up to the clubhouse. Good shots are rewarded with cheers.
Said Gordon, “Our fairways and overall conditions are back to what our members and guests have come to expect from us over the last dozen years.”