A Second Chance For Golf In The Blackstone Valley

by John LaPoint
Golf Facilities Consultant

For many years golf in the Blackstone Valley meant just one thing, the annual visit of the touring golf professionals to the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton. From 1962 to 1998, with few exceptions, there were yearly visits by either the LPGA touring professionals or the PGA Tour, and sometimes both, to the big, expansive golf course carved out of the apple orchard just off Route 146 in Sutton. As their marketing slogan stated, it was the “Golf Capital of New England.” And hundreds of thousands of local spectators and regional tourists came to Sutton to see the golf stars and spend tourist dollars in the Valley’s local shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Now, those big tournaments are just a Pleasant (Valley) memory, caught in a time warp of a sports marketing economy that no longer applauds the efforts of individual entrepreneurs like Cuzzie Mingolla, his son, Ted, and his grandchildren. Today Pleasant Valley is a thriving private golf club, still the scene of many exciting, but somewhat more quiet afternoons of corporate and member golf, with clubhouse and restaurant facilities recently refurbished and actively filled with everything from local Chamber of Commerce functions to high school proms, and a condominium development off the pretty 7th hole, that devilish Par 3 with the tiny green set just over the pond.

While Pleasant Valley will still host the prestigious Massachusetts Open Golf Championship this summer, (June 21 to 23) there is much to look forward to as golf in the Blackstone Valley enjoys a marvelous rebirth. Gone are the days when we were losing golf courses in the Valley faster than we were building them - small golf courses at Upton (Pine Ridge) Blackstone (Castle Hill) Millbury (Golfland Par 3) Burillville (Blue Eagle) and Cumberland (Farms) are gone. But there are several new, modern golf courses that have once again put the Blackstone Valley, both in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, right onto every New England golfer’s map.

Since the first nine holes of the now 18 hole award winning Blissful Meadows in Uxbridge opened in 1992, there have been three additional new eighteen hole public golf courses opened in the Blackstone Valley communities of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These include facilities at Grafton (MA.) (Highfields Golf & Country Club), Sutton (MA.) (Blackstone National Golf Club) and Burrillville. (RI) (Crystal Lake Golf Course) A fifth 18 hole course, Shinning Rock in the Rockdale section of Northbridge, directly on the Upton / Northbridge town line, is expected to open for play in 2005. These five new golf courses, along with highly rated municipal facilities in Worcester (Green Hill) and Providence (Triggs) have given the Blackstone River Valley corridor something to get excited about, and more importantly, maybe something approaching a critical mass of golf facilities to pull together and sell as a genuine destination golf package.

Complementing these new facilities are several traditional shorter courses, including Edgewood in Uxbridge, Clearview in Millbury, Country View and Melody Hill in Burrillville and Gloucester, RI., and Fairlawn, the area’s only Par 3 course in Lincoln. In addition to 13 public golf courses in the Heritage Corridor area’s 24 contiguous towns and cities, there’s another 10 private clubs, including such golfing icons as Worcester Country Club, Whitinsville Golf Club, and Pawtucket and Kirkbrae Country Clubs in Rhode Island.

What’s driving all this development? Partly demographics, higher income, better educated households. Residential development pressure moving westward off Route 495, and some just plain old good American entrepreneurship, individuals investing in and building golf courses. Significant sized tracks of land are still available in the Blackstone Valley for both stand alone golf courses and golf with residential housing developments, which are the key components to the new facilities at Grafton and Northbridge.

By itself, there are not enough golfers living within the Blackstone Valley to support all these new courses. But the ability to draw golfers into the Blackstone Valley from high density population areas that are not all that well served by existing golf courses along Route 495 and, to a lesser extent, from Northern Rhode Island where there are even fewer public golf courses, is seen as the key to supporting this newly emerging Blackstone Valley golf sub-market.

And what of the future? It appears that the current course boom is just about over, with the completion of the Shining Rock Golf Club projected in 2005, and the planned start of a permanent clubhouse at Highfields later this year. There is still some market potential seen for additional golf holes in the Valley, in proximity to Route 495 nearer to Milford and Mendon, where many new residents are concentrating because of the MBTA commuter rail service from Franklin into Boston. The golf market looks to be taking something of a “breather” to see if it can stabilize play levels at these newer facilities in the face of an ever fluctuating economy, overseas concerns, and now rising energy and gasoline prices.

As Blackstone Valley business interests look to stimulate tourism activity in the region, one of the areas to look at may be the formation of a strong, united marketing collaborative between the golf industry and the lodging industry. Such a marketing group, known as a DMO, or Destination Marketing Organization, is increasingly effective in areas around the country, but has never been successfully pulled together anywhere in the six New England States. The father of all golf DMO’s is the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina area, and it’s popular Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday packages. In recent years smaller but equally successful marketing efforts in the greater Atlantic City, New Jersey area, and in Ocean City, Maryland, have both developed after a critical mass of new golf courses were built by both public and private entities.

Golf marketing organizations range form the very creative to the not so good. The Cape Cod area has made several attempts to get just such an organization off the ground with somewhat limited success, in part because both the golf courses and lodging facilities have generally been chock full during the high summer season. The key to creating an effective golf marketing organization in the Blackstone Valley would hinge around learning the “how to” from one of these small, successful golf marketing organizations and trying to duplicate that effort here. The organization must be properly staffed, and adequately funded for maximum advertising exposure of the region’s golf identity through 1-800 telephone numbers, creative interactive web sites, and continuous print and television advertising in a variety of national and regional golf media. That's not something that can be done on the cheap (for example, just an 800 telephone number or a simple web site) and it goes without saying that the complete buy in and cooperation of the majority of the golf courses owners is critical to the success of the enterprise. But as tourism interests throughout the Blackstone Valley are beginning to better understand, tourist packaging is one of the important keys to identifying the traveling public's interests , bringing them into the Valley, and then bringing them back again and again, with their golf clubs in tow, for return visits. Not the easiest of challenges in a nationally competitive golf tourist marketplace!

Here’s a complete list of public and private golf courses in the 24 city and town Blackstone Valley region as defined by the BRV National Heritage Corridor Commission:

Public Courses

Massachusetts

Hillcrest Country Club Leicester 9 holes 508-892-0963
Leicester Country Club Leicester 18 holes 508-892-1390
Green Hill Golf Course Worcester 18 holes 508-799-1359
Clearview Golf Course Millbury 9 holes 508-754-5654
Highfields Golf & CC Grafton 18 holes 508-839-1945
Blackstone National GC Sutton 18 holes 508-865-2111
Blissful Meadows GC Uxbridge 18 holes 508-278-6113
Edgewood Golf Club Uxbridge 9 holes 508-278-6027

Rhode Island

Crystal Lake GC Burrillville 18 holes 401-567-4500
Country View Golf Club Burrillville 18 holes 401-568-7157
Fairlawn Golf Course Lincoln 9 holes 401-334-3937
Melody Hill Golf Course Harmony 18 holes 401-949-9851
Triggs Golf Course Providence 18 holes 401-521-8460

Private Courses

Massachusetts

Tatnuck Country Club Worcester 9 holes
Worcester Country Club Worcester 18 holes
Pleasant Valley CC Sutton 18 holes
Hopedale Country Club Hopedale 9 holes
Whitinsville Golf Club Northbridge 9 holes

Rhode Island

Lincoln Country Club Lincoln 9 holes
Kirkbrae Country Club Lincoln 18 holes
Pawtucket Country Club Pawtucket 18 holes
Louisquisett CC N. Providence 9 holes
Glocester Country Club Gloucester 9 holes

About the Author
John LaPoint is a golf facilities consultant in private practice located in Grafton, Massachusetts. He specializes in golf facility feasibility, appraisal and operations studies, training of golf course rangers and starters, and golf facilities marketing for clients in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions. He is affiliated with Golf Resource Associates, Inc. of Woodstock, Georgia, a national golf course consulting company. He previously served as a tournament director with golf associations in metropolitan New York and Toledo, Ohio. He is a member of the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce tourism and tourism marketing committees, and the Grafton Economic Development Commission and Grafton Historic Commission. His address is PO Box 534, Grafton, Massachusetts 01519 508-839-3367 or 508-735-5316 E-mail GLFJL@aol.com

 

 

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