Even the most diehard of diehard golfers – those who ignore the calendar when deciding whether to hit the links – were forced to put the clubs away when Gannon Golf Course closed for the season the morning of Dec. 24.
Gannon head professional David Sibley spent the day before Christmas buttoning up the course for the winter.
The closing marked the end of his first season as head pro at Gannon and Golf Facilities Management Inc.’s first year running the course under a five-year contract it signed with the city in Dec. 2013. “I feel like it was a pretty smooth transition from the past administration to this one,” Sibley said. “The goal wasn’t to change things just to change things … overall I’m very excited by the way the year went. It’s such a collaboration between the city, the members and the people who work here.”Sibley said they wanted to take time to see what worked, what made sense and what could be made a little better. He said one of the most noticeable changes involved streamlining the procedure used to make reservations for tee times.
Chris Carter, who co-owns GFMI with Steve Murphy, said he’s very happy with how things went the first year.”I’m 125 percent thrilled and happy with how the season went,” Carter said. “Dave Sibley had a big pair of shoes to fill (former head pro Mike Foster retired in late 2013 after 44 years at Gannon). He walked in, took charge and got things organized.”
GFMI also operates Beverly Golf & Tennis Club in Beverly and Hillview Golf Course in North Reading (Carter is the head professional at Hillview). Both Sibley and Carter, a former Lynner who grew up playing golf at Gannon and went on to play at Bryant University, said it was important to keep things like the free junior clinic in the summer and the junior membership program up and running. Carter said Murphy was busy all summer making a number of physical improvements to the course including remodeling (re-loaming, resodding and re-contouring) the sand traps, doing one hole every week or so. He installed new cart paths on the first and fifth holes, increasing the area where you can take a cart.
GFMI brought in 75 new golf carts, replacing the old fleet. The new carts have a self-braking mechanism that makes them safer going downhill. Carter said membership numbers have increased with some former members coming back and some new members joining. Carter said some of the new faces are in the under-30 age group, which is encouraging. Carter said he has also been pleased with Diamond Catering, which does the food for the functions, and with Gannon Building Association, which runs the 19th hole (the bar).Other improvements included the replacement of irrigation heads and tee-box resodding (the first and sixth holes). “We continue to try and improve on the old irrigation system, which has been there since 1960,” Carter said.
One of the things GFMI, as the winning bidder to operate the course, had to do was fund a master plan study. Mark Mungeam of Mungeam Cornish Golf Design, which specializes in older golf courses, got the job. Carter said the plan is about 90 percent completed and will be put before the Park Commission, most likely in April. It will outline what needs to be done in terms of capital improvements to the course and the buildings so that when the city is ready to invest there is a plan in place.