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Waiting game is par for the course

Blackstone Valley golf-course personnel have no such luxury as the little varmint known as Punxsutawney Phil to help them predict when they can open for the season, come spring.
Instead they have to rely on the judgment of seasoned grounds professionals like Michael O’Connell who is superintendent at Highfields Golf & Country Club on Magill Drive in Grafton.

I caught up with Mr. O’Connell at Highfields’ maintenance facility, which is actually a long, onestory former barn a short drive from the course, on April 1st. The building once housed approximately three hundred cows. Now it is home to Highfields’ grounds-keeping staff, which swells from the three or so who are on-site during the winter months to upwards of twenty full and part-time workers once the weather breaks. Mr. O’Connell and his handful of aides spend the cold months attending seminars, updating their education on turf issues, painting and cleaning and taking care of equipment.

“But you can only do so much of that,” he said.

We talked on a sunny, 45-degree morning on April 1st—a precursor of good times ahead for all of the golf enthusiasts out there who have been patiently waiting for the snows of 2014-15 to
melt and for the pins and flags to go in. The thumb-twiddling is the same at Highfields as at such other links as Whitinsville Golf Club in
Whitinsville, Blissful Meadows in Uxbridge and Blackstone National in Sutton.

“There’s just no way of knowing” for sure when the first ball will be struck, Matt Griffith, head pro at Whitinsville, said. “Last year it was mid-April.”

At Highfields, “on average, we have opened anytime between St. Patrick’s Day and the first week of April,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Sometimes we push it.”

Staff at Highfields and all of the courses in the Valley have every reason to be eager. Once the year starts, they are straight out.

“We do a phenomenal business up here,” he said. “From 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. there’s always someone out here on the course. Being a public course,” he added, “there’s a lot of pressure
[on us] to open. So we’ll say ‘̒let’s open, make it presentable and go from there.’ From a turf perspective, the turf is in excellent shape.”

Highfields Head Pro Roger Adams concurs with his superintendent’s appraisal of conditions, while noting that Highfields will definitely open later than it did last year (April 5th).

“You can guess at it, is the best I can say,” Mr. Adams said while stocking the pro shop with new inventory. “At the moment we have no bare ground on holes No. 3 through 6.”

The pro shop is just getting back into the swing of things. “We shut down at Christmastime,” Mr. Adams said.

The John Henry Tavern at Highfields is set to reopen on April 15th.

There are no worries about a lack of golfers, once the green light is given.

“Leagues-wise, we’re full,” he said. “We have close to four hundred league players a week.”

Highfields is situated within a housing development that is in Phase Two, with homes lining both sides of the road into the course. The course itself plays to 6024 yards from the white tees
and 5024 from the green (women’s).

Mr. Adams came to Highfields in April of 2002 (the club opened that September), Mr. O’Connell the following winter.

They are ready to go, as soon as Old Man Winter eases his grip for good.

Rod Lee is a long-time local writer and observer of the Blackstone Valley scene and current
president of the Webster Square Business Association in Worcester. Email him at
rodlee.1963@gmail.com.