George Wright: A Revival

By Michael J. Fay

In the Hyde Park section of Boston sits one of the greatly forgotton Ross courses, the George Wright Golf Club. George Wright is named after one of the original members of the Cincinnati Red Stockings professional baseball team. Actually, George Wright was the first legitimate baseball star.

In 1869 he hit .633 with 49 home runs in 57 games. Wright went on to be the manager of the Boston Red Stockings and led them to a number of Championships in the 1880’s. After his stint in professional baseball, Wright established a sporting goods store known as Wright and Ditson. Wright also laid out the first public golf course in New England at Franklin Park in 1890. Wright and Ditson imported golf clubs that were sold at the store. Francis Ouimet worked at Wright and Ditson while pursuing his Amateur career.

In the late 1920’s a group of citizens in Boston came into the control of the Grew estate in the Hyde Park section of Boston. Their intent was to have the City of Boston build a golf course that would actually be a private club. Donald Ross was commissioned to design the course. When the market crashed in 1929 the project was abandoned.

The Grew estate was not particularly suitable for building a golf course. It was a mix of ledge and swamp. There was a good deal of speculation whether a course could be built there.

In 1932, Walter Irving Johnson, who had worked for years as an Associate of Donald Ross took on the project as an engineer for the MDC. George Wright became one of the great feats of engineering and building in the annals of golf. Before completion, 60,000 pounds of dynamite were used to excavate the ledge, 72,000 cubic yards of dirt were spread to raise the ground above the swamp level and 57,000 linear feet of drainage pipe were laid to drain the property. The WPA provided the funds to build the course, estimated at $ 1,000,000 by completion in 1938. At one time 1,000 men worked on the project. By completion George Wright sported a full sized 18-hole golf course as well as a six-foot rock wall that encircled the entire 156-acre site. In addition, a Norman-style clubhouse of mammoth proportion was constructed at a cost of $ 200,000.

George Wright was doomed to be the Grande Dame who missed her debutante ball. The course opened in 1938 and was briefly employed for it’s original intent. The Second World War ensued and golf was not on the minds of the citizenry. After the war George Wright started to fall into disrepair. Neglect and lack of funds caused the property to fail and in the early 1950’s the City of Boston considered closing the property. The course limped on continuing to deteriorate until it was finally closed by the city in the early 1970’s.

The stonework at George Wright is not to be believed. Walter I. Johnson was a great believer in using native materials. The stone removed in the excavation was employed not only in the building of the surrounding stonewall but also in the framing of tees and walkways. Even parts of some of the streams are still girded with stonework. The intricate steps and walkways from the back of the clubhouse are magnificent and still as square and plane as they were 66 years ago. In essence the stonework at George Wright could not be replaced today.

In the early 1980’s the course was leased by the city to golf course manager Bill Flynn. Flynn reconditioned the course as best he could with limited funds and made George Wright a playable venue. Flynn operated the course prudently through the eighties and into the nineties putting a good deal of the revenues back into the restoration of the golf course. His proper stewardship proved to be his downfall. By the mid ‘90’s George Wright was doing a good deal of business and making a suitable profit. The City of Boston saw this as an opportunity to enhance the City coffers. In the mid 90’s the City put the property out for lease. The lease idea, while good for revenues, was disastrous.
Operators after Flynn did not show the same respect for the property that Flynn did. They collected the fees, paid the City, cut the grass twice a week and put the difference in their pockets.

The deterioration of the George Wright property, like all other Ross courses began on opening day and continued until Flynn made improvements. Meanwhile the greens shrunk, trees proliferated, turf grass problems erupted, bunkers eroded and the general grounds showed marks of age. After Flynn problems got worse, so much so that Bradley Klein in “Discovering Donald Ross” rightly described the course as decrepitude.

The new operators of the course were finally sent packing at the end of their lease. Parks Commissioners came to the property and saw the error of their ways. The only improvement made by the operators was the installation of an irrigation system. During the installation of the sprinkler system the contractor broke hundreds of feet of the original drainage system, creating pond on four of the lowland holes. Some improvement!

The current Parks Commissioner, Toni Pollack, has put together a new team for George Wright. Matthew Edgerly was appointed the Business Manager to oversee the property. PGA Professional, Scott Allen, has been appointed the PGA Professional. Scott has been the professional for three years and is extremely knowledgeable about the property. Len Curtin who left the Lexington Country Club after eight years was appointed as the Superintendent. The food service in the wonderful old clubhouse has been leased to Deliscioso a catering operation.

George Aldoupolis a principal in Deliscioso has created a great pub atmosphere in his new Club Café. The interior of the clubhouse has already shown great improvement. Old carpets have been removed uncovering wonderful stone artwork and beautiful hardwood floors. Scott Allen has spruced up the pro-shop and offers a full line of golf equipment. The grounds surrounding the clubhouse have been cleared and cleaned up.

The new Superintendent, Len Curtin, has a well-versed background and fully intends to use his talents to restore the old course. The commitment of the City of Boston to enhance the property should allow the new overseers the use of the course-generated funds to revive the property.

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The Friends of George Wright

A number of the neighborhood people in Hyde Park led by long time two “George Wright” ladies Blake Norton and Carolyn McNeil, have banded together to form a group of concerned citizens known as the “Friends of George Wright”. This organization intends to aide the City in the restoration and preservation of this priceless asset.

On April 8, 2004, the “Friends of George Wright” held their first meeting at the partially refurbished clubhouse. The membership and long time players at George Wright were invited to the soiree to meet the new management team, Park Commissioner, Toni Pollack, Councilman, Rob Consalvo and Mayor Thomas Menino (a Hyde Park resident). The featured speaker was Michael Fay, Ross Society Founder and Executive Director. The Ross Society President Walker Taylor IV of Wilmington, NC, took the time out of his busy schedule to venture to Beantown for the day and endured an eight-mile, ninety-minute cab ride from Logan. Long-time Ross Society Board Member, Dr. Terry O’Malley of Boston, who has a personal connection to George Wright, was also in attendance. Ross Society Member and Golf Architect, Tom Devane was there. Tom was the Architect who worked with Ron Prichard on the rebuilding of the bunkers at the Wilmington Municipal, a very successful project that saw the City of Wilmington appropriate $ 230,000 to finish the bunker work that the Ross Society helped kick off.

George Aldoupolis of the Club Café treated the 100 or so people who attended the event to a station buffet of wonderful items. Parks Commissioner Toni Pollack opened the festivities with a promise to work at returning George Wright to its rightful position as one of the great public venues anywhere. She passed the microphone to Matthew Edgerly who introduced Scott Allen and his Assistant Joe Leary, Len Curtin and George Aldoupolis.

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Walker Taylor IV was then introduced and announced the gift of $ 1,000 to the “Friends of George Wright” to hardy applause. Mr. Taylor introduced Michael Fay who made a presentation on Donald Ross and restoration.

Many of the slides the speaker showed were of recently restored holes in the Boston area. Fay spoke to the attendees about the priceless nature of their course and promised that the Donald Ross Society would help them bring back the original feel of the golf course. Fay was followed by Walker Taylor IV, who along with Tom Devane showed a very poignant slide show of the before and after of the bunkers at the Wilmington Municipal. The startling difference in the beauty and playability of the new bunkers really got the crowds’ attention. Mayor Thomas M. Menino then arrived and gave some strong words of encouragement to his neighbors. His Honor believes that the George Wright facility is a great asset and wants to aide in continuing the improvements. Ross Society Member, Rosemary Jennings presented His Honor with a Donald Ross Society cap to remember the event. The spirit of the attendees was rather upbeat. The movement of the “Friends of George Wright” is well on its’ way.

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