The Valley/The Gannon: Breeding Ground for Golf Processionals
No golf course in Massachusetts can boast of honor roll of amateurs-turned-golf professionals like The Valley/Larry Gannon. How about the kids who stayed home and became the perfect successor the Larry Gannon? One Mike Foster.
How about the kids from different generations who left Lynn for bigger game on the PGA Tour, one of whom led one year in the U.S. Open and won a record five New England PGA championships while serving at Pawtucket CC in Rhode Island; the other the Valley’s only full-time PGA Tourist for three years and the winner of two New England region majors? The late Les Kennedy, meet Paul Barkhouse. What of the Gannon youngster who became possessor of one of the most prestigious club pro jobs in America at Augusta National. Hi, Toney Sessa.
Then comes the rest of distinguished group of men who have done themselves, The Valley/Gannon and the game of golf proud over the years?
- Bob Green, career head professional at Tedesco.
- Jim Tobin, 25-year head pro at Bellevue and current president of the New England PGA.
- Paul Boland, current head professional at Vesper.
- John Boniface, director of golf at The Ridge Club.
- Brian Hamilton, head professional at Eastward Ho!
- Ross Coon, long-time head professional at Indian Ridge and one of the region’s top players for 20 years.
- The late Same Videtta, long-time head pro at Colonial.
- Peter Hyde, former pro at the prestigious Indian Creek in Miami.
- The later Henry Trepsas, the long-time pro at Long Meadow in Lowell.
- John O’Connor, head professional at Far Corner in West Boxford.
- Brian Gilchrist, the head pro at Orange Brook CC in Hollywood, Florida.
- Tom Shea, former had pro at Kittansett.
- Mike Shea, Tom’s brother, long-time teaching professional in the Palm Springs, California region.
- Dick Baker, director of golf for the Golf Facilities Management Inc. and based at Hillview CC.
- Chris Carter, head professional at Hillview.
- The Connolly brothers, Dan and Jim, who made their mark in Texas PGA sections.
- Lyman Doane Jr. and III.
- Jeff Baily, current pro at Norwood.
- New Jersey-based Lou Katsos.
- Norman St. Peirre.
- Stephen Ventre, instructor at Paradise Driving Range in Middleton
- And those who made a contribution, but did not remain in the game as professionals for their entire career: Bob Roche, Rick Tortolini, Ron Lavoie, Dave Travers…
We caught up with a few of these men to reflect on their times at The Valley/The Gannon. Kennedy and Videtta were acknowledged in our course history story.
Tony Sesssa remembers when his father, Bill (he was the “bill” of Bill’s Barber Shop in Wyoma Square), brought home the first set of clubs for his son, circa 1975, Foster’s first year as head pro after Gannon’s passing. “I was 7 or 8, and I was excited,” Sessa recalled. “I can’t tell you what it meant to me to be able to go up to the course with my father and play nine holes. We often played after supper. I loved every minute I could spend with the game. “Eventually I was old enough to spend my summers at Gannon and meet all my friends, Mike Foster made it easy for us as junior members. He ran a great program. He set up a little locker room for us. He ran tournaments, gave clinics, and all it cost for a junior membership was $50.” Tony’s first job in the game was with Foster, pulling carts at 5:30 in the morning. “I learned quickly that it was little glamour and a lot of hard work, often sun up to sun down, six days a week,” he said. After graduating from Lynn English and attending UMass-Lowell for one year, Tony decided his future was in golf. So he turned pro in 1993 and sought his fortune in Naples, Florida, where he got an entry-level job a Quail Creek CC. While at Quail Creek he worked a couple summers for Mike Foster’s management company at Hillview in North Reading. He later met another Foster, Eden Foster, no relation to Mike. Eden later became head pro at the renowned Maidstone Club on Long Island, New York. Sessa joined him at Maidstone for what turned into a five-year tenure. During the second year he met Dave Spencer, the head pro at Augusta National and latched on as an assistant in 1996. He’s been at Augusta National ever since, from October to may. He became co-head professional last fall. Adding a big fat juicy cherry to the top of this scrumptious sundae of a career, Sessa is head pro during the summer (his sixth season) at the exclusive East Hampton Club in Long Island, around the corner from Maidstone. “What I learned about the game and people from Mike Foster at Larry Gannon is a big part of why I’ve been successful in the golf profession,” Sessa, 37, said. “I can’t think of a better place for a kids to grow up with the game of golf.”
Paul Barkhouse was encouraged by his dad, Harry, a former Valley club champion, who got him caddying at the Valley when he was 12.” “I was in awe of the place the first time I caddied, and that was for my father, “Barkie,” as he is affectionately called. And to walk up 18 and see that big clubhouse behind the green was magical to me.” In its caddy heyday, there would be 80 loopers available at The Valley. “Everybody got out on weekends in the 1950s,” Barkhouse said. Barkie’s golf became magical. The hard swinging Lynner won the Massachusetts Open and New England Open, as well as the Opens of New Hampshire (2) and Maine (2), two NEPGA Senior titles and, while an amateur in 1960, the NEPGA Pro-Am Championship with Coon. “The Valley was a great place to grow up,” said Barkhouse. “I remember the Connollys (Jimmy worked in the cemetery along the fourth hole and would sneak in right from the cemetery), Jackie Blaser, Johnny White, Jackie Donahue, Dick Samuelson, Charles Hanes, and Larry Gannon Jr. “My dad ran the snack bar for a while and I worked behind the counter. I met Eddie Skalski at the course; on e of the funniest guys I ever met. He was the bartender at the Eagle Café. John Kane worked the first tee and always wore the same tie and socks. All the brothers were good players (Dave, Don, Dean, Dwight, Dexter).” After serving in Europe during the Berlin Crisis, he turned pro and worked at White Cliffs in Plymouth in 1965 and served as Gannon’s assistance at The Valley from 1966-69. After winning the 1969 New Hampshire Open and the NEPGA Player of the Year award, Barkhouse felt he was ready to give The Tour a shot. He got a group from The Valley to support him financially, people like Tom McGee Sr., (the future Speaker of the Massachusetts House), Bill O’Shea, Larry Gannon, Sam Smidt and Joe Cawlina (of bowling fame). “They gave me a nice send off at Anthony’s Hawthorne. I’m just grateful for the chance I got,” said Barkhouse. “I didn’t play like I could have, but it’s an experience I’ll never forget.” He made 12 of 50 cuts in a time when you had to qualify on Mondays just to get into the main event. Upon returning from the PGA Tour, Barkie worked at Unicord, Ferncroft, Steeple Chase in Ohio, Ipswich CC and Woburn, where he is currently the head pro. He called Gannon, “Silver,” a “real positive influence on me, a good motivator.”
Ross Coon was the Seve Ballesteros of the New England PGA before there was a Seve Ballesteros. His detractors called him rambunctious, devilish, cocky, a gamesman. His buddies considered him a free spirit, outspoken, a fierce competitor of the highest order. No matter how you perceived Ross Coon, he ranks among the three best players (with Barkhouse and Kennedy) who ever called Happy Valley home as a teenager. “The Valley was good for me,” said Coon, who initially tried the game at more sedate Lynnfield Centre. “I played with competitive guys who made me a better player; people like Henry Tresas, Tony Maltet, Tony Beatrice, Larry Dawson, Mike Beatrice and Jimmy Devlin.” Never lacking confidence, Coon turned pro when he was 19 and went from Walpole, to Hollywood, Florida, to Coonamessett on the Cape and the prestigious Canterbury Golf Club outside Cleveland, where he showed his first serious flashes of brilliance as a player. He represented Canterbury in the famous U.S. Open of 1963 at The Country Club and made the cut. He also worked at Seminole and Newport before coming the first had pro at Indian Ridge in 1966, a post he held for 25 years. “I had a good run at Indian Ridge,” Coon, who was known for wearing corduroys inn 90-degree heat and for never using a golf glove,” said. Coon also won two NEPGA Player of the Year awards.
Bob Green was a Swampscott kid, but Larry Gannon never held that against any non-Lynn youngster who wanted to experience “the game” at Happy Valley. “Larry didn’t have junior memberships for non-residents, but he worked us into the program anyway.” Recalled Green. “He bent over backwards to help any kids out. In my case, Mike Nygren had bought a membership, then got drafter into the Army, so Larry sold Mike’s membership to me for half price. I’ll never forget it. I got badge No. 200.” He developed new friendships with people like john McCarthy Jr., Bruce Hamilton, Tommy Newhall, Gerry Driscoll, Gerry Clement, Jack and mike Barry, Jim Tobin. Roger and Rick Lauzon, Barry Stevens, John Domey and Mike Nygren. “Mike was a good role model from us younger kids, just as Paul Barkhouse was,” Green said. Green dropped baseball and football when he reached high school age to concentrate on golf. “I played the Valley every day until the snow flew,” he remembered. “My grandfather drove me up every day before I got my license and he’d pick me up at dark. You could always find a game at the Valley.” Green was a fixture at the Valley until Les Dunn hired him as a assistant at Tedesco in 1970, in what has turned into a 35-year stewardship at the Marblehead/Swampscott club, minus an 18-month hitch in the service. He succeeded Dunn in 1979 and had been in charge ever since. “I understand I’m identified with Tedesco,” Green said. “That’s what 35 years does for you. But I’ll always say that if it had’t been for Happy Valley, and all the positive influences that came from that experience, I wouldn’t be at Tedesco. And Larry Gannon’s impact makes two. “Larry let me play in a few pro-ams with him when I was 14. Talk about thrills,” Green said. “And he more than once put my mind at ease about my golf swing. So what if the course was a rock pile in those days. We had access to the game every day. That’s what mattered.”
Ditto with Brian Hamilton, now in his seventh year at one of the top private clubs on Cape Cod, Eastward Ho! in Chatham, after 20 years at Concord (New Hampshire) CC. I grew up in Peabody and they didn’t have a course,” Hamilton said “My dad worked at GE in Lynn, and we lived in South Peabody, so it was a natural for my dad to drop me off at the Valley on the way to work in the morning during the summer. “But it was older brother Bruce who got me interested in the game. He started caddying at Salem ahead of me, brought home my first clubs and I was hooked.” Brian, a former ace on coach George Hennessey’s Peabody High powerhouses, remained at Happy Valley as a junior and regular member, as Bruce was, until he turned pro in 1976 and took an assistant’s job with Warren Birch at Wollaston. Two years there, then one at Kernwood under Cotton Dunn, got him to Concord and eventually Eastward Ho! “Happy Valley, the overall environment, made me a better player and person,” said Hamilton, a two-time club champion. “The competition, the social lessons. There were so many good players in those days and they came from all walks of life – lawyers, factory workers. I learned about golf and life from them – and from Larry Gannon.”
Brian Gilchrist, the director of golf at the 36-hole Orange Brook CC in Hollywood, Florida, will never forget his earliest caddy days as a 12-year-old, chumming with Brian O’Shea, Tim O’Connor, and brother Wayne Gilchrist. “We’d make our four bucks on Sunday and play as many holes as we could on Mondays,” he said. “And we all joined as junior members for only $30; couldn’t beat that deal. Mike Foster was Larry Gannon’s assistant and ran a great program. Mike was 19, maybe 20 and we thought he was an old man “In a few years Jack Morrison, Mike Cole, Rich Tortolini, Ron Lavoie and John Boniface were in the group. Tom Fabrizio ran a cleaning company. Modern Maintenance, when we graduated from high school and it seemed you had to be a 4 handicap to get a job. He had Dave Christie, Brian Hamilton, Lavoie, Tortolini, Bob Small, John O’Connor and me working for him.” Gilchrist, whose group loved street hockey as well, remained an amateur until he was 23, by which time he had won two North Shore amateurs. He turned pro in 1980 and worked under Barkhouse for five years at Ferncroft, returned to Gannon as Foster’s assistant for two years, worked a stint at Hillview, then got out of golf for several years. “One day I realized I was 38,” Gilchrist said, “and I needed to get back on track.” So he ran a driving range in Salisbury for three years, worked at a nearby Rangeway on Route 110 for a year, then sought his golf fortune in Hollywood, Florida, and hit the jackpot in 1997. He met a wonderful woman named Katie Grant, hooked on at Orange Brook and eight years later he’s director of golf. “Growing up at Larry Gannon made me a good player, helped me appreciate the game and what it could offer me,” Gilchrist said. “I learned a lot about golf and life from Mike Foster and got a second career chance, you could say, with this opportunity in Florida. You could call Mike a golf pro maker, there have been so many of us.
John Boniface was surprised one day as a 14-year-old when a buddy said of the clear blue, “Let’s go golfing.” So they went golfing at Larry Gannon. “That first time was OK, nothing great, but I noticed some good high school players around, and that made me stay with it,” said Boniface now in his 15th year at the Ridge Club in Sandwich. “I played with guys like Brian Gilchirst, Jack Morrison, Rich Tortolini, Ron Lavoie, Bob Small and Mike Cole.” Boniface became a full member at 18, at which point he was mixing it up with the Johnsons, Leo Tedesco, Pat Scally and the four Toms – Newhall, Gaffey, Laubner, and Fabrizio. He played four years at Merrimack College and on the day of his graduation, Cape Cod beckoned. The next day he was working in the New Seabury pro shop, where he was assistant pro for four years and head pro for five before beginning his stint at The Ridge Club. “I’ve traveled the work, taught and played golf in Japan, had a great time in the game,” admit Boniface, a five-time Cape Cod Chapter PGA Player of the Year. “It all started at the Valley, where the men are interested in helping the kids along, and head pros like Mike Foster are far and few between. He’s been the perfect bridge between the old days (Larry Gannon era) and the newer ones.
Jim Tobin is celebrating his 25th season as head professional at Bellevue GC in Melrose. But he doubts he’d have spend one year at the private nine-hole club, let alone 25, if not for his time at Happy Valley as a junior. “It was like a golden ear for junior golf at the Valley,” Said Tobin, Whose wife, Anne Marie Tobin, is the only seven-time champion in the history of the Women’s Golf Association of Massachusetts. “It was a great time for growing up. We’d play 36 holes a day during the week in the summer and caddy on the weekend.” Tobin, a Lynn native, started caddying as an 11 year old, while his dad, a Lynn policeman, was studying to become a lawyer, a pursuit which landed him the job as general counsel for the New England PGA. Anne Marie took over for her father-in-law. The impressionable youngster was moved by the stature and conduct of head pro Larry Gannon and assistant Paul Barkhouse. “Larry was s great guy, so good to us,” Tobin said. “He made us all junior members for $20 and Barkie hit the ball so far we wanted to be like him.” Tobin caddied until he was 17, then went to St. Anselm College to earn his bachelor’s degree. After graduating, he took a job working as Bill Flynn’s assistant at Thomson. “Another great role model,” Tobin said. He stayed five years, then ran Far Corner for three more before taking the job at Bellevue, one of the state’s top nine-hole clubs. “I couldn’t have asked for my career to develop any better than this,” Tobin said. “I owe much of it to Happy Valley and its golf staff and members. You can’t put a price on encouragement. With my dad, they gave me plenty.”
Dick Baker, the director of golf for Golf Facilities Management Inc. and based at Hillview, grew up in the Pine Hill section of the city and chummed around “The Valley” with Larry Gannon Jr., but denied chasing his two cute sisters. He’d been a junior member when his success playing football for Lynn English earned him a scholarship to UMass. “I loved golf. We’d bike from home and play 36 to 45 holes a day over three summers,” Baker recalled. “I caddied at Tedesco and Salem on their busy days, but football was my shot at the big time, or so I thought. But Baker, now 67, opted first for a four-year stint in the Air Force where he played a lot of “officer golf.” After discharge, Baker suffered a broken neck in two places in an automobile accident while visiting his brother in California. It put him in the hospital for 15 weeks and ended his football career. UMass pulled his scholarship. Unphased, Baker decided to give the golf business a shot. Thanks to a recommendation from Sam Videtta, veteran Tedesco pro Les Dunn hired Baker as an assistant. Five seasons of experience there led to his first head pro job at nine-hold Gloucester CC in Rhode Island, followed by 14 years running Locust Valley CC in Attleboro, six years at Beverly Golf and Tennis, a short stint at Mt. Hood and a Ohio course, and now Hillview. “The Valley got me going, thanks to people like Larry Gannon and his son, my friend,” Baker said. “Les Dunn convinced me I’d done the right thin, and now I’m in my fifth decade as a professional. It’s been a great time.”
Chris Carter, Hillview’s head pro, started walking to Gannon from his Ward I home when he was 10, attending Foster’s junior clinics for six years before getting hired by Foster as a pro shop assistant. He’s stayed in the game ever since, playing at Bishop Fenwick and Bryant College before turning pro in 1996. He assisted Foster for two years, then got the Hillview head job via GFMI and has been in charge at the North Reading course for eight year. He sharpened his skills with winter work the last eight years at Foxfire (1 year) and Marco Island (7 years) before he and his wife had their first baby, a daughter, in late 2004. “Mike Foster has been a great influence on my career,” said Carter. “He had faith in me, the members took a liking to me and it’s worked out great. Mike tested my by almost talking me out of the business a few times, but after studying to be a stock broker at Bryant, I knew golf was my future. I learned the business aide from Mike, some of the agronomy from Steve Murphy and I’m always learning stuff from Dick.”
Paul Boland, took a less traveled route than most of this “kindred spirits” from the Valley in chasing a career in professional golf. He fooled around with the game at Happy Valley for one year, when he was 12, then steered clear of the frustrating sport until he turned 16. “That’s when I got the bug,” said Boland, in his second year as head professional at Vesper CC outside Lowell. “Some of my hockey buddies were playing on the golf team so I tried out, made it and had Ben Foote as coach for two sports.” Boland, enlightened as well about the game by older brother John, who remains a Gannon member to this day, was a natural. His handicap was down to five at Larry Gannon his senior year at Lynn English. Paul was good enough to play on the couple of George Jacobson’s Salem State NCAA teams, and after graduation took a job at General Electric, Lynn’s number one employer. Two years later he was laid off in 1986. “Best thing that ever happened to me,” Boland recalled. “I’d always wanted to get into the golf business. This was my chance.” And he took advantage. Boland played all that summer with Gannon friend Tony Sessa, followed Sessa to Quail Creek CC in Naples, Florida, got a job through Sessa’s connections, roomed with Sessa for four years, and the rest is history. Sessa became co-head pro at Augusta National and head pro summers at East Hampton. Boland, after getting his PGA Class A club pro card, took a job under Tom McGuirk at Vesper in 1995 and 1996, returned to Naples as head pro at The Vineyards, a job that lasted seven years, then succeeding the retiring McGuirk at Vesper. “It’s a dream job here at Vesper,” said Boland, cousin of Salem CC head professional Kevin Wood. “Looking back, Tony and I learned more from Mike Foster while handing around Larry Gannon that I ever realized; how to present yourself, how to handle members and public players alike, how to grow the junior programs; how to always make visitors to your course welcome.
And now Boland, Sessa and friends work some of the best golf clubs in America.
What a nice reflection on all that is Larry Golf Course.