September 14, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer (photos courtesy of South Shore Country Club)
During these challenging times, South Shore Country Club has proved to be a respite for golfers of all ages -- including a record number of families -- who are eager to get out of the house and into the fresh air and bright sunshine and to at least interact with other golfers at a distance.
The golf season got off to a slow start this year due to COVID-19, but once golf courses were allowed to start operating again under state guidelines, SSCC -- which is owned by the town -- was the first one in the area to have a soft opening -- members only for a short time -- in early May.
Social distancing and other requirements were, and continue to be, in place to ensure golfers remain at least six feet apart and don't mingle as they normally would when they finish their round -- while still enjoying the game.
"This has been a time unlike any other," SSCC Executive Director Kevin Whalen told the Hingham Anchor. "Once kids were out of school, they came here to play golf a lot. We actually had a pretty good year," he said, referring to the season through the end of the fiscal year, or June 30.
Steady flow of golfers
"Only so many people can fit on the golf course, and we've been very busy. There aren't too many open tee times, with the steady flow of golfers who are members and others who stop by to play golf," Whalen continued.
Cutting costs wherever possible helped keep SSCC on track when the course was closed. The dedicated staff contributes greatly to the Club's success, which was evident when golfers started returning to play on the challenging course -- which features rolling hills, and soon, fall foliage -- or enjoying a round of golf there for the first time.
Golf Pro Chris Riley and Assistant Golf Pro Mike Libby have a long history with SSCC, first as golfers on the course growing up, and now teaching classes and clinics as well as giving private lessons.
"Chris and Mike are very accommodating to the public and will help golfers work on their swing or on a particular part of their game, from beginners to advanced level," Whalen said.
The popular Ladies Night will continue through the fall on Wednesday evenings.
Riley attributes the increase in the number of golfers to the fact that with so many people working from home, they have more of an opportunity to play golf at the nearby SSCC. "With everything else closed at the time, golf was about the only thing people could do. We've been seeing a lot of new faces," he said. "Once we officially reopened, it's been non-stop. We're just all happy to be back out on the golf course."
Golf course centennial this year
The Club is hoping to host a family golf day in October to build up anticipation for the SSCC golf course centennial this year. "Golf Course Superintendent Jake Silva found some 1930s films from Hingham field days that were held on the golf course," Whalen said. "We'd like to replicate that kind of event during the family golf day."
Silva also has a good number of old photos from when the course was built in the early 1920s, on what was at that time farmland.
Even with social distancing in place and a limit of one person per golf cart unless the golfers are members of the same family, the welcoming feel of the 155-acre course hasn't changed.
"People were happy to come back," Whalen said. In addition to golf, the Greenside Grille offered takeout and delivery, which is still available, along with outside seating on the patio overlooking the well-maintained, lush course or under the tent -- and now there's inside dining at a reduced capacity.
"Elio and Frank Ricci are doing a great job of providing a great dining experience for everyone who visits," Whalen said. "Golfers often eat on the patio once they've wrapped up their game."
Menu offerings include spicy fried chicken sandy, lobster rolls, tavern steak tips, miso glazed salmon, lobster mac and cheese, pesto shrimp flatbread, and a turkey club wrap, along with family-style dinners. The drinks list features wine, handcrafted cocktails, and beer.
Good footprint and design
Back to the course -- "One of the pleasures is that golfers are out walking and golfing in manicured nature," Whalen quipped. "The course is very spacious, and we're fortunate to have such a good footprint and design."
Silva, who has worked at SSCC in the golf course superintendent position for about 14 years, "really knows the course and how it responds to different kinds of weather," Whalen said. "It's been pretty challenging this summer with so little rain, but after the recent precipitation, the course is back to being green again, a credit to the kind of maintenance work Jake does throughout the season."
Silva, who has played golf since he was a young boy, said he doesn't get to play golf as much as he would like to but that he enjoys the game "immensely."
At the time he accepted the job at SSCC, he had another job offer. But the fact that the course was in rough shape at that time and needed a lot of work posed a challenge that he was eager to accept.
"Our goal is to provide the best possible playing surface for the game of golf," Silva said. "It's important for the green to be smooth and well-manicured, but how playable the course is should be the main consideration, more than how it looks."
That said, the fact that the SSCC course is in such good shape, with lush grass, is definitely an attraction.
What sets the SSCC course apart from others is that it's owned and operated by the Town of Hingham and that it was designed during the golden age of golf course construction, according to Silva. "It's a classic design, and there are very few of these in the area. It's a privilege to be responsible for maintaining this course and to have earned the trust of the golfers and the town."
Silva, who has extensively researched the history of the club, shared some points of interest.
Harold Field Kellogg designed the original brick clubhouse, which is still part of the complex. Kellogg is best known for his design of the Batterymarch Building in Boston, considered to be the first Art Deco structure in the city.
Golf Course Architect Wayne Stiles designed the 18 holes. "Building and completing nine holes by 1924, and the remaining nine holes by 1928, South Shore Country Club was one of the finest courses upon completion," Silva said.
Famous golfers visit SSCC
A home video captured the club's crowning golf achievement in 1962, when Gary Player and Arnold Palmer -- two of the greatest golfers of all time -- visited SSCC for a match. "Several current members have vivid memories of that weekend," Silva said.
SSCC continues to offer socially-distanced clinics as well as the Youth on Course program in partnership with the Massachusetts Golf Association -- which allows kids and teens to play at a reasonable rate. "We hope that eventually they will become the next generation of adult golfers," Whalen said with a smile.
In addition to golf, the tennis courts are once again open on a first-come, first-served basis.
"The bowling alley isn't open yet, but we are looking forward to welcoming the public back in November, when the weather is cooler," Whalen said.
Unlike what some people mistakenly believe, SSCC is not a private club. "Everyone is welcome to join or to just come and play golf," Whalen said. "It's just that holding a membership ensures more accessible tee times."
There are two tiers of memberships -- unlimited golf anytime and the ability to book tee times 10 days out, and limited, meaning that the member can play every day, but on weekends and holidays not until after 11 a.m., with the ability to book tee times seven days in advance. The public can book tee times five days in advance if there are any remaining.
For further information, visit southshorecc.com.