Joe Leary played his first-ever round of golf at Ponkapoag Golf Course in Canton, MA. Now, at age 52, the director of golf operations for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), is overseeing a multi-million dollar project to send Ponkapoag, as well as Weston’s Leo J. Martin course, back to the future. “Ponkapoag was designed by the legendary Don Ross in 1925 and construction began in 1930,” Leary explains.
“It is a classic Ross course, where you can step off the green right to a tee box. PGA pros played here in the 1940s and ‘50s because there were no throwaway holes. “The restoration of course #1 has been a delicate balance of historic restoration and infrastructure modernization for 21st century maintenance practices” said Nick Gove, Boston Region Director for DCR Insufficient funding and staffing levels sent the course into disrepair and abandonment. On Course 1, holes 3-8 and 11-13 have been closed for 11 years. Leary predicts those holes will reopen for play in the fall of 2015.
The restoration contract for course #1 at Ponkapoag was awarded to NMP Golf Construction, a company out of Williston, VT. “They were excited to take on the challenge because the golf business is down,” relates Leary. “No one is building new courses or renovating old ones. We’ve installed a new irrigation system on Course 1. Ponkapoag has long offered some of the most reasonable prices for all levels of local golfers. Will the upgrades change this? Leary responds, “Ponkapoag will always be a place where people can play a great course at a great price.” If Leary is the commander in chief of this master plan, then Mark Brady is his field general. Brady is the director of golf course maintenance for the DCR. At age 39, he has been in the course maintenance game since his teens with stops at Pleasant Valley, Whitinsville, Green Hill, and Burning Tree in Maryland. “I walked Ponkapoag for the first time when it was covered with an inch of snow, and I thought the layout was unbelievable,” says Brady, who started at Ponkapoag in 2010.
“A couple months later, I walked the course again, and thought it was unbelievably horrible. The tees were bare. The bunkers were filled with overgrown weeds. There were bare spots on the greens and tons of rocks.” Brady immersed himself in rebuilding the course and had a bit of help from a higher power. He relates, “Mother Nature gave us two incredible storms, and the course was flooded to the max. This allowed me to see all the drainage issues. “That summer, we had an awful drought, and I lost every blade of grass out there except for the greens. It was depressing, but because there was no grass to cut, I was able to focus on the bunkers and irrigation. The grass amazingly grew back on its own that fall.” As the man on the frontlines of Ponkapoag’s renewal, Brady is understandably excited. “We are the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and no sport combines nature and man’s love of sport better than golf. Municipal courses are the foundation of this game.” “We want to be a low cost provider of accessible golf opportunities in Massachusetts. The restoration of course #1 at Ponkapoag will provide an affordable, high quality golf experience on a historic layout,” said Nick Gove.