John Peterson has been a member of Tatnuck Country Club since 1966. Believe it or not, those 57 years represent less than half of the Worcester club’s existence.
Tatnuck CC was founded in 1898 on Pleasant Street up the hill from Tatnuck Square, and it’s celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
“Over the years I’ve been there,” Peterson said, “there’s been a tremendous transition from a very clubby, exclusive kind of organization, very gradually morphing into a more diverse membership. It’s become a much more democratic club than it might have been 25 or 30 years ago.”
‘We’re looking to start a tradition here’: Tatnuck CC set to host first Worcester County Women’s Amateur
Peterson, 91, of Princeton believes he’s Tatnuck’s oldest member who regularly plays, although not by much. He plays nine holes twice a week in a foursome with Jack Keenan, who is also 91 and only two months younger than him. The other members of their group are Joe Oakley, 90, and Bill McKenna, 87.
Keenan, by the way, was a reserve infielder for the 1952 Holy Cross baseball team that won the College World Series. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play in the CWS because he joined the Marines.
“When they went to Omaha,” he said of his teammates, “I went to Parris Island.”
Tatnuck’s membership has increased in recent years, but Peterson appreciates that the club isn’t very busy at times. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, there was only one other group playing on the course besides his foursome.
“It gives you the feeling of having reserved the course for yourself,” he said.
Rosamond “Binky” Bennett, 75, of Worcester has belonged to Tatnuck CC all of her life and believes she’s been a member longer than anyone else.
“I’ve been a member since in utero,” she said.
Bennett said it isn’t mentioned in the history of Tatnuck CC, but she has documentation that her grandmother, Katharine Higgins Riley, was among those who financed the founding of the club.
Bennett grew up swimming in Tatnuck’s pool and began playing golf at age 16. She used to golf two or three times a week, but she hasn’t played the last few years. She remains a member even though she can’t play this year after undergoing back surgery. Her brother Peter and sister Becky won numerous club championships at Tatnuck. They both live in Florida now.
In the early 2000s, she had a granite bench installed on the first tee in honor of her father, Dr. Robert Bennett, a longtime member of the club who died at age 84 in 1999. Bennett joked that her father, a prominent obstetrician, must have delivered half of the babies of Tatnuck CC members. Her late mother, Rosamond, was also a longtime member.
Bennett is a member of the 125th anniversary committee and in charge of the women’s platform tennis competition that will take place on Oct. 20, the anniversary of the corporation of Tatnuck CC becoming official.
“I think it’s because of the values that it was built on,” she said of how the club has lasted for 125 years, “which were family, friends and it’s like your second home. It’s a very welcoming place.”
“It’s a fun culture,” head pro P.J. Breton said. “The members are very passionate about their club.”
Tatnuck CC president Mike Robbins has belonged to the club for more than 20 years.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Robbins said. “It’s a beautiful property. It’s like a park in the city. A nice membership, very friendly people, impeccable golf course, great food.”
Many people don’t even know where Tatnuck CC is located.
“It’s really hidden,” Bennett said. “You can’t see anything from the street and the sign is very small.”
Tatnuck CC hosted the inaugural Worcester County Women’s Amateur this summer to help celebrate the club’s 125th anniversary. The club also had tennis and pickleball events and a family cookout to celebrate the anniversary.
On Thursday, a 125th anniversary clock was installed behind the first tee, and it will be dedicated on Saturday, Sept. 9, when the club will hold a 125th anniversary golf tournament and gala event. The golfers will be urged to wear knickers and scally caps as they did at the turn of the century and to use Gutta Percha golf balls and hickory shaft clubs from that era on the par 3s.
Andy Higgins, 65, has belonged to the club for nearly all of his life and plays golf two or three times a week. He’s also a member of the 125th anniversary committee. His son, Drew, and his brother, Jay, also belong to Tatnuck.
Higgins described Tatnuck’s 125-year legacy as “mind blowing” and believes the club offers more than most other golf clubs.
“Tatnuck is a social club with a very nice, nine-hole Donald Ross golf course,” Higgins said. “I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s a very family oriented place and it’s been fun for me and my kids, and it was clearly fun for my parents. It’s been an enjoyable place for a long time.”
In addition to a Ross nine-hole layout, the club has a clubhouse with fine dining, driving range, short game area, pool, and tennis and pickleball courts.
Tatnuck was one of the first 100 golf clubs established in the U.S. A few clubs in Massachusetts, including The Country Club in Brookline and Essex County Club in Manchester-by-the Sea, are older, but Tatnuck is the oldest in Worcester County and one of five golf clubs in the state celebrating 125th anniversaries this year. The others are fellow nine-holers Meadow Brook Golf Club in Reading, Sharon CC and Northampton CC, as well as the state’s first 18-hole course, Oakley CC in Watertown.
For its 125th anniversary, Tatnuck CC commissioned Ryan Gabel Design of Beacon, New York, to design an alternate logo for 2023. The logo contains a bi-plane with the year the club opened, 1898, and a nautical flag with the number 9 printed on it, representing the number of the club’s golf holes.
The bi-plane represents nearby Worcester Airport. Tatnuck had considered building another nine holes, but in the 1940s, the city of Worcester took that land from the club via eminent domain to construct the airport.
Scotsman Willie Campbell designed the club’s original routing. In 1893, he designed the first nine-hole course in New England, Essex County Club, which Ross expanded to 18 holes while he was head pro there. Campbell also designed Myopia Hunt Club in South Hamilton and the expansion of The Country Club and served as head pro of both clubs.
Campbell’s nine-hole layout of Tatnuck stretched to only 2,300 yards, and the holes ran mostly from east to west so the sun often shone in the eyes of the golfers.
In 1912 and 1913, Ross redesigned the holes to run largely north-south and extended the layout to about 3,000 yards. He lived in the Tatnuck neighborhood at the time.
Ross later designed Worcester CC, which opened in its current location in 1914 and went on to host the 1925 U.S. Open and the first Ryder Cup in 1927.
Last year, Tatnuck hired Ross expert Bradley Klein and architect Matt Dusenberry to restore the course to what Ross envisioned when he designed it. Trees were removed, especially behind the ninth green and aside the third fairway. So from the clubhouse, you can now see the first, second, third, seventh and ninth greens.
Also, bunkers were renovated, removed and added, and chocolate drops — Ross mounds — were built. Eventually, more tees will be added and lengthened.
Tatnuck, a par 70, is only about 6,100 yards, but some narrow fairways, ponds and undulated greens present a challenge.
“It’s a very tricky little golf course,” Higgins said. “People take it for granted because it’s so short, but it’s a lot more difficult than people give it credit for.”
The clubhouse also underwent extensive renovations in 2021.
The improvements helped boost membership from 175 to 275 over the past two years, Robbins said.
On the clubhouse wall hangs a photo of golf legend Byron Nelson at Tatnuck on June 28, 1939, and his signed scorecard for his round of 67 that tied the course record. Nelson had recently won the Mass. Open at Worcester CC and played in a best-ball exhibition at Tatnuck with head pro Arthur Gusa, Worcester CC head pro Willie Ogg — the original designer of Green Hill Municipal Golf Course – and 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1941 Mass. Open champion Harold “Jug” McSpaden. Needing to sink a 12-foot putt to earn $25 for breaking the course record, Nelson came up six inches short.
A 1906 Tatnuck CC menu hanging on the wall lists a full sirloin steak dinner as costing 70 cents and porterhouse as $1.25, bacon and eggs or liver and eggs for 35 cents, and a roast beef sandwich for 40 cents.
In the pro shop, there’s a signed Francis Ouimet photo from 1913 and a signed photo of Bobby Jones from 1930.
The late golf legend, Paul Harney, grew up on Robertson Road adjacent to the club’s driveway and caddied at the course. Harney went on to captain the Holy Cross golf team, win six PGA Tour events and five Mass. Open titles, serve as head pro at Pleasant Valley CC and open the Paul Harney Golf Club in East Falmouth.
On Sept. 9, 1996, 100 golfers at Tatnuck set the Guinness World Record for the fastest 18 holes of golf on a course of at least 6,000 yards by playing them in nine minutes and 28 seconds.
Golfers from Tatnuck, Pleasant Valley CC, Bedrock GC, Worcester CC, Holden Hills CC, Mount Pleasant CC and Wachusett CC attempted to break the record several times that day before they finally did.
Mary Gale hit the tee shots on the first and 10th holes.
“We had some test runs and we worked on set up,” she said, “to the point that I was on the first tee and there was someone behind me and when the person on nine holed it out, she said, ‘Go.’ So I didn’t have to look and turn around.”
Gale still remembers someone yelling, “We did it,” when the record was broken. The club no longer holds the record.
Gale is another successful golfer who belonged to Tatnuck CC while her husband, Jack, was head pro from 1982-2002. Gale, who plays out of Bedrock GC now, has won several tournaments over the years, including the 1996 Massachusetts Women’s Amateur, and last week she repeated as champion in the Legends Division (age 70 and older) at the Mass. Women’s Senior Amateur.
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—Contact Bill Doyle at [email protected]. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @BillDoyle15