The Lynn Woods Reservation A quick primer on the magnificent piece of land within which is situated Larry Gannon Golf Course:
- Founded in 1881.
- The property is in parts of Lynnfield and Saugus, but the vast majority is in Lynn.
- Designed by the legendary landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead.
- Covers 220 acres, the second largest municipal forest in the United States after Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.
- The acreage makes up one-fifth of the entire land area of the city.
- The property’s jurisdiction and management is shared by the city’s department of public works, park commission and Lynn water and sewer commission.
- It’s earliest settlers were Pawtucket Indians.
- Caucasian men arrived in 1629.
- Larry Gannon Golf Course covers 180 acres.
- The property accumulated over a number of year by various means, including donations from private citizens and the Lynn City Council ($30,000), the purchase of 815 acres by the city, the condemnation of 114 acres that had unknown ownership and by annexation (304 acres covered by ponds, wetlands, swamp).
- Among the leaders of the campaign to organize and protect the land were Cyrus Tracy and Philip Chase (donated $20,000).
The Valley Breeds Two Starts –
The First of Many The Valley’s full 18 holes had been opened exactly two years when its two young amateur stars, Les Kennedy and Sam Videtta, played a club championship final that is part of Valley legend.
As related by Matt Rillovick in a 1977 Lynn Sunday Post golf column, Kennedy appeared to have the title firmly in hand, having Videtta dormied on the 15th tee. But Videtta won the next four holes forcing sudden-death. Videtta used “stymie” ball on the 19th hole to prevent a clear Kennedy Birdie bid for the win, then Videtta won the title on the 20th hole.
Videtta and Kennedy became two of the top golf professionals in New England, Videtta serving most of his career at Colonial, Kennedy at Pawtucket in Rhode Island.
Kennedy’s tenure at Pawtucket included an exceptional playing career. The son of a Lynn police officer, Kennedy won a record five new England PGA championships, two Vermont Opens, one Maine Open and one New Hampshire Open. Before joining the club pro ranks, Kennedy tried the fledgling PGA tour in 1942 and was named “Rookie of the Year.” A mediocre 1943 season led to his decision to go club pro full time, but he made the national scene later. He led the 1949 U.S. Open at Medinah after the first round and played in the 1950 Masters. He was elected to the NEPGA Hall of Fame in 1998, two years before he passed away at the age of 83.
Kennedy and Videtta were the first two of a long line of outstanding Happy Valley/Larry Gannon amateurs who went on to impressive careers as professionals, very likely inspired by the examples set by Videtta and Kennedy.
The Valley Moves on as War Rages
Despite the far-from-ideal timing of the course’s opening – when the North Shore was suffering like the rest of the country through a painful Depression – golf persevered at “The Valley” and everywhere else on the North Shore.
President Roosevelt’s New Deal and WPA programs helped everyone get by. Local golf courses, including “The Valley,” got enough business to remain open, but not by much. Just when it seemed the U.S. economy was hitting its stride again in the late 1930s, Hitler and Mussolini began their rampage in Europe, FDR watching with grave concern. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the President’s concern turned into a declaration of war. “The Valley” and other North Shore courses, be they public or private, struggled, but survived until World War II ended in 1945.
“Those were not easy times,” Larry Gannon told this writer during his early years covering the game for The Salem Evening News.” “But we always found a way to keep the courses operating. We knew all too well that there were hundreds of thousands of fellow Americans fighting the war in several parts of the world while we were back home.
Years of Prosperity and course Improvements
“The Valley,” like virtually all of its sister courses in the region and beyond, experienced profitable years in the later 1940s and early 1950s as the country returned to normal and enjoyed sustained growth. “The Valley” got lots of play but was neglected by the city and its condition deteriorated, primarily because it never had a watering system.
But that changed when the city approved the installation of an irrigation system at a cost of $60,000. The system was operational in 1965, thus starting a series of initiatives spanning three decades that made Happy Valley/Larry Gannon one of the best conditioned municipal golf courses in the country.
The club had always used dirt tees, but with the introduction of artificial turf playing surfaces for baseball and football fields, the course’s overseers, the park commissioners, decided to install Astroturf tees in 1968. They were easier to the eye than dirt tees, but the turf eventually became an eyesore from the pounding it took from the heavy play.
The inefficiency of the Astroturf tees and other nagging maintenance issues motivated the park commission to take a historic step in 1976: the hiring of its first accredited course superintendent; a person provided turf management training from one of the country’s top golf agronomy schools, Stockbridge at the University of Massachusetts.
Steve Murphy’s Arrival Changes Everything
As a kid growing up in Ashland, Steve Murphy, began caddying as a 10-year-old at Framingham CC. Six years later he got a job on the grounds crew working for Bernie Keohane, who in 2005 is in charge of all ground maintenance at Harvard University.
“I liked golf and I liked the work involved in keeping a golf course in good condition, so Bernie suggested I check out the Stockbridge School,” Murphy said. He applied, got in, and during his college education worked a full season internship at The Country Club in Brookline.
Upon graduation, he took a job at Pine Crest GC in Holliston, where is four-year tenure included the addition of a second nine holes. A short stop at Cedar Glen in Saugus and one season a Presidents in Quincy gave him the right background to be chosen by the park commission as its man for the newly names Larry Gannon GC.
“The men before me had done a good job with limited funds, manpower and equipment,” Murphy remembered. “But everyone agreed it was time to upgrade the course and the way it was maintained, and I was delighted to be the person given that opportunity. We had along way to go, but I loved the challenge.
Murphy started in April 1976, making this, 2005, his 30th season in charge. “First, we got the irrigation system operational after doing a number of repairs,” Murphy said. “Then we used $50,000 in community development funds and $12,000 in additional funds from Mayor (Tony) Marino to build 18 grass tees (earlier tees had gone from dirt surface to clay and for a short time cork).”
The membership and public were euphoric – grass tees. “We put in cart paths, we added about 20 bunkers, giving the course 23 total,” Murphy, a student of golf course architecture, said. “We got an aggressive aeration and seeding program under way. We had to rebuild several tees and a few greens. We dredged the ponds on 14 and 18. We removed some big boulders.
“It’s an ongoing process, but we’ve come a long way the last 30 years and expect to keep improving the property every year I’m here.
Murphy and Mike Foster have made a spectacular team running the golf operation for three decades, but Foster is the first to admit that the golf course, above all else, makes for a successful municipal golf business.
“Steve had a colossal challenge,” says Foster, “but he was able to prioritize from his very first day. He was able to get better equipment, good people to work for him and results. It’s no secret that the biggest step the commissioners ever took was hiring Steve. In three, four years the golf course changed dramatically. He’s kept the course in great shape year after year and kept doing front end and back end stuff that adds shine to the property.”
I’ve gotten wonderful support from the park commissioners,” Murphy notes. “They’ve always cared about Larry Gannon since I first arrived. It all started with the support of the commissioners, like George Cole and Billy O’Shea, and Gene Dooley, my first boss at superintendent of parks. We all appreciate what a beautiful place Larry Gannon is; how much the property means to the city and its residents.”