I’ll be the first to admit, I had never given much thought to Cape Cod Country Club. This past weekend I played it for the first time with an unabashed supported of his favorite golf course, Kevin Van Cleef. Last fall, Kevin was on my podcast and he included CCCC in his “Five Rounds in your home state” question I ask all my guests. Kevin raved about Cape Cod CC - a quirky and fun Golden Age course designed by Alfred Tull and Devereux Emmet. Now, just a five months after that podcast he’s writing open letters to keep it alive.
Sadly, during a time when golf is exploding in popularity, Cape Cod CC is on the brink of becoming a solar field. The new plan for the property has already made it past Falmouth’s planning board to the tune of a 7-0 vote (guessing there were no golfers in that group…) and the next step is a vote at Town Meeting in April.
So why is Cape Cod CC slipping through the fingers of those that love it? The club’s owner, Friel Golf Management, deems the course a sunken cost and found a willing partner in Amp Energy to take the land off their hands (The other option is a housing development. It seems that keeping the land for golf is a very distant, nearly nonexistent, third option). In the long term, Amp Energy has said they will sell the land back to the town and just lease the parcels they are using for the solar panels.
There are many moving parts to this whole story, and many of those parts moved rather quickly which caught Cape Cod CC members off-guard and left them with very little time to rally support for the club. There were rumblings about this transition in the summer, but people assumed the process would take longer than it has. After all, we are talking about local government and a massive plot of land. Instead, the red tape was snipped and the wheels are in motion.
The heart-wrenching thing about Falmouth potentially losing such a fabulous golf course is that it doesn’t match the the spirit of Friel Golf Management’s origin story. Phil Friel, the founder of the company, had a wonderful career in golf. His was the classic story of caddie to club pro. In the 1960s, as pro at Nashua CC, he decided to build his own public golf course in Hudson, NH. He called it Green Meadows (more on that in a moment). Over the decades, Friel Golf Management snapped up courses in the region that were losing money in order to revive them; at one point they ran 15 different clubs. The business has stayed in the family during the 60 years of its existence. They stood on the principles that public golf was important, in a GolfBusiness.com article from April 2020 titled “Continuing a Legacy,” Steve Eubanks wrote:
So, it’s a marvel of the golf course ownership business that the children of Phil J. Friel Jr. not only continued in their father’s footsteps, but that two decades after the patriarch’s passing, Phil’s grandchildren are servicing the golf population of New England with the same zeal that marked their grandfather’s time in the game.
Well, that didn’t age well, huh? In addition to selling Cape Cod CC, the Friel’s are also trying to unload Green Meadows, the course that Phil Friel built in 1961. Since 1961 those original nine holes have turned into 36 holes.
Instead of solar panels in New Hampshire, the plan is to turn Green Meadows into the Hudson Logistics Center due to its proximity to Route 3A. Amazon is lined up to lease two of the new buildings according to the Lowell Sun. The debate is on-going around the Hudson project and will actually be discussed at the town planning board meeting tonight @7:00 (Wednesday, March 24).
Green Meadows is still open, but on a “week-to-week” basis. And just like Cape Cod CC this weekend, the warm weather brought people to Green Meadows. Both car parks were full, and neither club was afraid to shout it from there Instagram Story rooftops.
In the blink of an eye, 54 holes of public golf could very likely be gone and replaced by two things that actually stand in direct contrast to one another - a warehouse and solar panels. Obviously, each town has their say in how the land is used and each piece of land has different potential for development, but that is an interesting dichotomy.
I wouldn’t pretend to understand the business of running and maintaining a golf course. I imagine the margins are slim; a wet summer or horrible winter can eat away at any revenue. Toss in a forced closure for two months during a pandemic and a knee-jerk sale is at the very least understandable. Owning a golf course is hard.
But the Friel’s are showing that replacing golf courses is rather easy, even ones that your family built from scratch. That’s why I still come back to the same question over and over again: Why can’t Friel Golf Management, one that apparently serves the “golf population of New England with zeal,” seek out an avenue to keep these golf courses intact?
Last month, I travelled to Charleston, South Carolina and visited Charleston Municipal Golf Course which stands in contract to the Cape Cod CC and Green Meadows story. It’s a city owned course, but over the last few years they put money into it and restored it in a creative and thoughtful way. The new design pays homage to Seth Raynor, a golf architect whose work in Charleston was only found on private golf courses. The city made his creative designs accessible to the masses through public golf. It is already drawing eager golfers from far and wide to play it.
Cape Cod CC was built nearly 100 years ago by a well-known architect during the Golden Age of golf course design. Devereax Emmet was a peer of Seth Raynor’s. The designs these men created helped the game grow. Now in 2021, it feels like we might be on the precipice of a golf enlightenment. It’s a shame that a name like Friel, after 60 years of being a steward for public golf, is preparing to send Green Meadows and Cape Cod CC to the gallows.