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From the ground up

Birth of tournament a genuine success story

NORTON -- Nothing unfolding at TPC Boston this week is a surprise to Peter Mele. Not the grand return of the PGA Tour to the Boston area, because he always felt it belonged. Not the strong corporate support, because he knew it was always there. And certainly not the golf course. "I thought it'd be a home run from Day 1," he said. Mele can speak with authority about the modest beginnings of one of the newest additions to the international network of Tournament Players Clubs. That's because the executive director of the Buick Classic at Westchester Country Club in New York and longtime tournament director at the FleetBoston Classic was an integral part in the birth of TPC Boston.

It was back in 1997 when Mele was working with the TPC Division, looking at possible sites in the Boston area. Overtures made a few years earlier to buy Pleasant Valley CC in Sutton and turn it into a TPC venue had been rejected by course owner Ted Mingolla. But PGA Tour officials were undaunted; they felt the Boston area was ripe for a facility.

How it ended up in Norton was sort of a fluke.

"It was just one of those things," said Mele. "We were looking at other properties when we heard about this piece of land that had been received in a foreclosure. The only reason why I knew about it was it was Bank of Boston property."

Indeed, Bank of Boston had inherited the land in its merger with BayBank, which had secured it via foreclosure. It was 365 acres of land sitting undeveloped, costing the bank money. In other words, it was on the wrong side of the ledger.

Mele inquired about the land, came out for a visit, and immediately was taken with its location: Sitting right off Route 140, it was an easy ride to Routes 495, 195, 95, and 24. It was next door to a popular concert venue, the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, so it was a proven destination. Mele thought the gentle, woody terrain offered limitless potential for a designer, and since TPC facilities are built around corporate memberships, that, too, was a bonus.

"The only club in the market area that allowed corporate memberships was The International [in Bolton]," said Mele.

Bank of Boston officials saw it as the ultimate win-win situation; they would turn a piece of land that was costing them money into something financially rewarding and mutually beneficial to many concerns. So enthusiastic were the people involved that the project was pulled together in a relatively short period of time, especially given the intricate nature of the financing.

Even with Bank of Boston's merger with Fleet in 1999, the deal had few hitches. It would be a three-way partnership -- the PGA Tour owning 50 percent, FleetBoston Financial 24.9 percent, and Connell Limited Partnership 25.1 percent. The price for building the course was roughly $28 million, and while there was a sea of red tape and political maneuvering, from the start the project had the critical support and financial clout of business leaders such as Chad Gifford (Bank of Boston), Terry Murray (Fleet), Peter Manning (FleetBoston Financial), and William F. Connell (Connell Limited Partnership). All of them avid golfers, all instrumental in the development of this facility.

So, too, did the Board of Governors reflect an all-star lineup of Who's Who in Boston's financial and political circles: from Joe O'Donnell of Boston Concessions Group, to Bobby Orr of NHL fame, to Bill Van Faasen of Blue Cross/Blue Shield, to Wally Uihlein of the Acushnet Company, to Jack Connors of the advertising world, to Ted Kelly of Liberty Mutual.

With so much firepower, it took only about 18 months from the time Mele first saw the land to when the process of securing a permit was begun. The Palmer Course Design Company had been chosen as architect (while Arnold Palmer certainly provided much input, Greg Stang receives a lot of the credit for TPC Boston), and within a short time the groundwork for a membership that currently sits at 265 was in place.

The official groundbreaking took place July 19, 2000, and by that fall most of the earthwork had been completed, and rough shaping of the holes had begun.

With very few hurdles, construction went pretty much on schedule. The winter of 2000-01 was a relatively mild one, and superintendent Tom Brodeur oversaw a grow-in in 2001 that was nothing short of spectacular. Clubhouse construction began in October 2001 and it was in late June 2002 that the course and clubhouse were officially opened. Later that year, another phase of the operation opened, one that came together quietly but yet stands as proof of the passion people put into the project.

It was Connell, in the course of all those months of planning, who got behind a decision to donate 4 acres of land for an office building on Arnold Palmer Boulevard -- the access road that takes you into TPC Boston -- to house the Massachusetts Golf Association and 11 other nonprofit amateur golf organizations. An unassuming but hugely successful man who never forgot his humble boyhood days in Lynn, Connell died in August 2001 and thus never saw the fruition of a vision to which he was so critical.

The William F. Connell Massachusetts Golf House and Museum is the first thing you see as you drive up Arnold Palmer Boulevard, a fitting memorial to a generous man who loved golf and hoped for big things for this facility. His family and friends will tell you he'd be proud of what is taking place down here, the hustle and bustle of building a small village a sure sign that world-class golf is to follow.

To many, the announcement last fall that the PGA Tour, through the efforts of IMG, had secured Deutsche Bank as a sponsor for a $5 million tournament at TPC Boston that would include the game's brightest star -- Tiger Woods -- validated their faith in the project.

Mele, for instance. He works out of a New York office but has an emotional tie to pro golf in the Boston area in general and to TPC Boston specifically. And from where he sits, he sees something splendid, now that so many key pieces have fallen together, from financial support to community leadership to the pending arrival of Woods.

"It was a great site, a great deal," said Mele. "Sometimes, things just happen.

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