Keeping Score: Wardie roughs it in Northfield

  • Bill Wardwell seen golfing with his hickory shaft clubs at the Country Club of Greenfield. Recorder File Photo

  • Bill Wardwell (teeing off) & Bill Conant play golf with Hickory shaft clubs at the Greenfield County Club. File Photo

Friday, March 30, 2018

Good morning!

After a long winter of watching UMass hockey, Bingville’s Bill Wardwell is itching to go from the rink to the links. “You’re damn right I am,” said Wardwell, who will be teeing off at the Northfield Golf Club when it opens on Wednesday.

“I like a little bit of rough to make a place appealing,” explained Wardwell, “and Northfield’s ideally suited for hickory.”

That’s not to infer that Northfield is a goat pasture. The bucolic nine-hole course is owned by Snow & Sons Landscaping who have enough mowers, chain saws and hauling equipment to make it look like Augusta National.

Memberships are reasonable (between $600 and $900) and the management’s five-year plan is nearly complete. Decades’ worth of dense underbrush and vine-tangled trees were cleared from the forests along the rough. Leaky lowlands were fortified and summer’s parched highlands were irrigated. “It’s looking like we wanted it to,” said manager Shelby Snow. “This year, we created a short-game area for chipping and putting. We’ve added a sand bunker, done more tree work and added more irrigation.”

The golf course was built to please guests staying at the Hotel Northfield in a time when manufacturers were switching from conventional hickory shafts to metal clubs. Golfers get more distance off their club shots, and old hickory went up in the attic.

Wardwell’s passion began in Greenfield the day Billy Conant handed him one to try at the Country Club. “Somebody had given him a club. He liked it and he turned me onto it.” 

A seven-handicapper, Wardwell said he gets significantly less distance driving off the tees. “A good drive with a hickory shaft is about 220 yards. I hit a regular drive 260 yards, so that’s a ten percent loss off the tee.”

And what’s the thrill of that? I asked.

“The club heads are smaller and the ball’s more difficult to square up, but when you hit it pure it feels wonderful,” he answered. “It’s a throwback to the old game. I wanted to get as close as I can to what it was like playing the game back in the day.”

Together with Conant the hickory posse includes Deerfield’s Jimmy Lafleur and Gill’s Jeff Blomstedt. “Ed Gregory has a massive collection, but now he’s into fossils and dinosaurs,” said Wardwell, who’s hustling the Alexander Findlay-Massachusetts Hickory Open at the Country Cub on May 18. “We’re looking for golfers to wear knickers, long socks and vests — no baseball caps, sneakers or shorts.”

Greens fees are $80 and includes dinner at Terrazza Restaurant. For more information call Wardwell at 522-9173.

BOF-LITE: The road running community was jolted by news that the Bridge of Flowers 10K is now the Bridge of Flowers 8K. According to a notice published on RunReg.com by spokesman Mike McCusker, the Route 112 portion of the race has been wiped off the map, or in his words: “That hot, flat no-man’s land mile is gone!”

In my opinion, no reason for the downsizing other than it reduces costs for police details, and the BOF has always been about the money. The fee for a middle-aged runner to pin on a bib starts at $30 and increases each month up to $45 the day of the race on August 11.

The registration fees are non-refundable, and “T-shirts are not included.”

Race organizers cloak the event in charity, but it’s the runners who pay for the BOF’s good deeds, and that’s looking good at somebody else’s expense.

FLA. DERBY: A field of nine will go into the starting gate this afternoon for the $1 million Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park. The 1 1/8-mile race will be contested on a speed-favoring oval with plenty of front-runners vying for the lead.

Audible is the 9-5 morning-line favorite out of the eight post after his 5½-length score in the Holy Bull Stakes, and 3-1 second choice Promises Fulfilled went gate-to-wire to win the Fountain of Youth at 14-1 odds. 

Strike Power is another with the speed to make a shambles of the field. The Mark Hennig-trained colt broke its maiden by eight lengths at Gulfstream Park, while recording a triple digit Beyer and followed it up with a front-running score in the Grade 3 Swale Stakes.

None except Promises Fulfilled has locked up a spot in the Kentucky Derby and that includes Audible, but I’m going with the hunch play and picking Catholic Boy to win on Easter weekend.

Watching and wagering on the Florida Derby will be offered at Hinsdale (N.H.) OTB. The doors will open at 11 a.m. for thoroughbred, greyhound and harness racing.

SQUIBBERS: The Red Sox are unveiling the Jim Beam Dugout located between the photo pit and canvas alley. Groups of 25 can purchase the location for $15,000 a game. … Box seats behind the Yankees dugout for the April 12 game against the Orioles cost $800 apiece. … Deerfield Academy grad Alex Killorn nearly potted the game-tying goal for Tampa Bay versus the B’s on Thursday. As Jack Edwards reminded viewers it had been 1,445 days since the Bruins last ruled the roost. Killorn already has more points (14-28-42) than any of his previous five seasons. … One in every 15,000 Little Leaguers makes it to the big leagues, according to Talkin’ Baseball’s Ed Randall. … B’s coach Bruce Cassidy on the Bruins grueling schedule: “Some nights guys look like they don’t have their legs so you use other people that do. We trust every player in the lineup.” … Steve Phillips of SXM’s Leadoff Spot is really, really annoying. … Greg Bedard in the Boston Sports Journal: “I’ve heard from a source the (Malcolm) Butler decision emanated from a strong defensive voice, and Belichick consented.” … The Indians re-upped Mike Napoli to a minor league deal in Columbus. … Last week in Gainesville, Arkansas appealed an out call at first base. They won the challenge and lost the game, 17-2. … John Farrell has gone from winning a World Series in Boston to being an “internal scout” in Cincinnati. … When the NY Post’s Kevin Kernan appealed to readers to come up with a nickname for the Yankees’ explosive lineup, James Mannino came up with the Bada Bing Bada Bombers.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached by email at sports@recorder.com.