By Rod Lee
Driving up to Pleasant Valley Country Club on Armsby Road in Sutton on one of those goldenhued summer mornings the Chamber of Commerce likes to brag about, I didn’t know what to expect.
I hadn’t been on the grounds of the onetime 350-acre apple orchard-turned-annual tournament home of professional greats Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Paul Azinger and a host of other elites of the game since the Magill family bought the club in a foreclosure auction for $5 million in 2010. I also hadn’t reconnected with Bob Recore, my boss at the Telegram & Gazette and now membership chairman at PVCC, since we both retired from the newspaper at about the same time.
Given that debt-ridden Pleasant Valley was on the verge of going from a celebrated venue to a modern-day Theodore Dreiser-like “American Tragedy” before it was rescued by the late John H. Magill of Grafton (“Irish Johnny Magill” during his boxing days), there were the obvious questions.
“Would the place be as spectacularly landscaped with flowers everywhere?
“Has it remained a spot where you can literally walk—as the club’s promotional literature still contends--ʽin the footsteps of golf’s legends…among deep green rolling hills, sparkling brooks, ponds and covered bridges’?
“Will the clubhouse emit the same charm and warmth? Or has it fallen to ruin?
“What has happened to Dimples (the restaurant offering great eye-level views of the course)?
“Does Bob Recore, now approaching age seventy, possess the same competitive spark that drove the quest for advertising revenue within the ranks of the sales department on Franklin St.?”
A guided tour of the building’s premises (including the women’s locker room, preceded by a knock on the door and a loud call from Mr. Recore, “anyone in here?”), and then the course itself, at his side, in a golf cart, erased any doubts.
In a word, Pleasant Valley has never looked better. The clubhouse—the function rooms, the areas set aside for brides-to-be and what is now “Champions” instead of Dimples—is a showpiece. Outside, there is not a blade of grass out of place.
“Everything they touch is first-class,” Mr. Recore said of John H. “Jay” Magill Jr. and his sister Elizabeth L. “Beth” Shropshire, who have taken the dream their father had of saving PV and made it their own (Mr. Magill was a longtime member). They have in fact brought the same pursuit of excellence to PV as the family did to Highfields Golf & CC in Grafton. Crucial to the assumption of ownership by the Magills from Ted Mingolla was the decision to keep the club private—but more affordable, with no initiation fee. Important too was the hiring of Mr. Recore, a true-blood Suttonite who lives nearby.
“Membership is fine. It has tripled” under the Magill regime, he told me. Work continues to keep PVCC one of the region’s and the country’s premier business-andrecreation facilities.
“You can’t change this place in five years,” Mr. Recore said. “It’s a ten to fifteen-year project,” addressing such must-do’s (which the public doesn’t always notice) like gas, sewer and installation of “an elaborate fire-suppression system. There was a lot of catching up to do.”
The right people are on the spot, for sure. PGA Head Professional Paul Parajeckas and Superintendent Nathan Henry first and foremost.
The Magill family may be publicity-shy but Beth Shropshire took a few minutes to tell me how proud she is of the work “Superintendent Henry and his crew” have done to restore PV to its former glory and in fact beyond that threshold; and to earn renewed respect.
“It was rough at first, winning the trust of the community,” she said. “It’s taken a while to get the name back.”
Now, membership is spiking. Weddings, bar mitzvahs, anniversary gatherings and corporate meetings are being booked. Palatial $800,000 homes that sprinkle the rim of the course (“The Villas,” highlighted by the Augusta and Cypress models) continue to be built. The course is in demand; a recent tourney to benefit the nation’s wounded warriors sold out and raised $200,000—in its second year. There is even talk of a PGA, LPGA or senior-tour event at PV again.
Wouldn’t that be something?
Rod Lee is a career journalist, author, longtime observer of the Blackstone Valley scene and current president of the Webster Square Business Association in Worcester. Email him at [email protected].