The Birth and Death of the Marlborough Classic

The Birth and Death of the Marlborough Classic

The story behind the PGA Senior Tour event that was first hosted by the city in 1981 and was squeezed out three years later

By Bob Kane, Guest Columnist

(reprinted with permission from Main Street Journal, July 23, 2005)

In the summer of 1980, I saw an advertisement for a Golf Tournament in Newport RI, featuring Senior PGA Tour Players, hosted by Golf Digest. Being a golfer and working as Director of Marlborough Community Development at the time and also being involved with the annual Labor Day Festival, I thought that I would investigate the possibility of having an event such as this in Marlborough around Labor Day.

In September, Edward Cusson (long time Marlborough city coun­cilor and my father-in-law) and I took a ride to Newport, RI. After observing the tournament firsthand, we decided that it was something that would be great for Marlborough to host.

Eventually, I was able to get in touch with the PGA Tour in Florida and submitted a request asking that Marlborough be considered to host a tourney. I then received a call from Labron Harris, a former player and director of the new PGA Seniors Tour, informing me that they would be delighted to hold a tournament in Marlborough if we could put it together. This meant guaranteeing the $150K purse, paying a $15K fee to the PGA Tour, having a suitable facility and identifying a charity that would benefit.

I then went to Mayor Joseph Ferrecchia who thought that it was a great idea. However, there was no way that the city could guarantee the $150K purse. I went looking for a backer or backers and at the last minute was able to find one, Broni Stanuias, a local businessman, who at one time had an appliance/TV business, owned real estate in the city and was a supporter of Marlborough Cultural Affairs. Next, I appealed to the Marlborough Country Club. The Club’s board was reluctant at first but we were eventually able to work, out a lease with the help of Ed Toone, President of the First National Bank and Elmer Fuller, the President of the Country Club. Elmer proved to be very instrumental in the success of the tournament and through his many contacts raised thousands of dollars by selling various corporate packages for the tournament.

With Marlborough Cultural Affairs as the benefiting charity we were able to apply for and receive approval to hold the tournament in Marlborough. Unfortunately, we were not able to secure the Labor Day dates that we were hoping for.

The PGA Tour was somewhat worried because we did not have any experience in running a tournament of this magnitude. I did three things to alleviate this. First, I hired Colonel Ray Creamer from Worcester who had worked at many different levels at the PGA event at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, MA. Second, we put together a very strong Executive Committee. Third, those of us who were going to be involved in running the tournament took it upon ourselves to go to Tampa, FL in March pf 1981 to observe a tournament being held there.

It turned out that the gentleman that was running this event was a very good friend of Dr. Monthe Kofos a local Optometrist. Dr. Kofos called his friend and when we arrived we were treated royally, and more important, we were made privy to every aspect of run­ning a Senior Tour golf tournament.

The most important thing we came away with was a contact with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). This came about quite by accident. In a discussion with one of the pros (Dan Sikes), he told us that he had played in a Pro Am in California with an executive from a company located in Marlborough. Sikes put me in touch with Andrew Knowles, the number two executive at DEC, reporting directly to Ken Olson, DEC President and Founder. Knowles was very excit­ed and committed $25K the first year.

The second year, City Councilor Walter Bonin, who was an employ­ee at Digital and had been with the company from its inception, was able to bring this figure up to $125K In the third and final year the tournament was held in Marlborough, DEC became the prime sponsor and increased its contribution to $250K.

The first year at the tournament (1981), Major League Baseball was on strike and sports news was hard to come by for the major TV stations; but they hardly paid attention to us. They apparently didn’t think we could pull it off and did not provide coverage until the final day.

Bob Goalby won that year. We couldn’t have a more gracious winner. He is one of the truest gentle­men I have ever met. He loved the 12th hole par 3 at Marlborough. He called it one of the prettiest par 3s that he ever played.

The second year, Arnold Palmer played and we were deluged with requests for press credentials. Arnie won the tournament and when he came back the following spring to participate in the Press Day outing, we were again deluged by everybody, from executives at the television stations to small papers and radio stations from all around New England.

Don January won the tournament in the third year. He hated the course at Marlborough Country Club. Even though he won the tournament, he expressed his displeasure with the officials at the Senior PGA Tour.

Shortly after the 1983 tournament, I received a list of demands from the Senior PGA Tour stating that if we wanted to keep the tournament in Marlborough we had to make improvements or find some other venue. The list included mostly improvements to the course (hot top cart paths, etc) and the facilities (locker room).

These improvements amounted to well over $150K Marlborough Country Club was not in any position to make this kind of expenditure. The tournament had not been a financial success at this point, losing money in the first two years and breaking even in the third year.

Therefore, we were forced to look for a new venue. We knew that Nashawtuc Country Club was interested in getting this tournament but we didn’t approach them at first. We contacted numerous other golf courses around Eastern Massachusetts. Since we were not able to secure any other course, we were forced to go to Nashawtuc. We entered into a contract that was heavily in their favor, paying five times the money for a one week lease than we paid Marlborough Country Club.

Needless to say it was a disaster and after the 1984 tournament was over, a move was made that I believed only existed in baseball, not golf, a “Squeeze Play”! I was told by a senior PGA official that we could have the tournament only if DEC was the sponsor. DEC then told me they would sponsor the tournament if it was held at Nashawtuc. I was told by Nashawtuc that I could have it there but the 1985 rent was going to be two-three times higher than what we had paid in 1984 which was five times higher then what we paid Marlborough Country Club. It became quite obvious to me what was going on. We were left without any options but to give up the tournament.

I must say that there were numer­ous benefits that did come out of the “Marlborough Classic.” The most obvious is what it did for Marlborough Country Club.

The PGA Tour agronomist came to the Club and worked with the course superintendent, Glen Ackerly at that time. He recommended changes that dramatically improved the course.

Arnold Palmer’s visit to Marlborough also had a huge impact. After Palmer won the tourney in 1982, Marlborough Country Club was inundated with membership applications and requests to hold corporate outings and tournaments.
In those early years of the Tour, the players were very appreciative and many of them made many friends in Marlborough. I still receive Christmas cards from several of them.

It’s funny how many times I have been at social gatherings and in the company of people that don’t know about my involvement with the Marlborough Classic. When the subject of the tournament comes up, they seem to know everything about the tournament, with some even claiming to have played a role in running it.

Rumors about the event still live today, but now you know the true story of how it came to Marlborough and why the tourna­ment left. Some had speculated that Mayor Joe Ferrecchia’s reelection loss played a role, but it did not. Marlborough was squeezed out and Nashawtuc became the host of a Senior Tour event that is now 20-plus years old.