Peter J. Rappoccio moved the Concord Country Club golf course maintenance team into a new grounds management center in 2012. A decade later, on busy Fridays, 21 pieces of equipment are staged around the complex, waiting for workers to mow, cut and roll venerable turf for a 127-year-old club serving as a generational social and recreational hub for a community incorporated in 1635.
Framed course imagery, routings and articles adorn walls of the grounds management offices and breakroom. The offices are connected to an equipment garage featuring high ceilings, abundant lighting and enough outlets to handle the dozens of cords and chargers likely required to power turf maintenance equipment when Concord, Massachusetts, celebrates its 400th birthday. In Concord, Massachusetts, 13 years isn’t that far into the future.
The adjacent environmental management center allows trained employees to mix plant protectants in a self-contained structure and wash equipment with recycled water. Combined, the grounds and environmental management centers provide 20,000 square feet of modern space to ensure Rappoccio’s team possesses modern tools to enhance venerable golf ground.
Everything seems to endure in Concord, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired, where Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne produced literature still widely read today, and where Donald Ross designed a pair of nines for Concord Country Club in different decades.
Rappoccio has an uncanny ability to remember dates. He first walked the land he has spent 12 years maintaining on Jan. 29, 2010. Eight inches of snow blanketed turf, but Rappoccio, a second-generation superintendent raised in a house along Silver Spring (Connecticut) Country Club, where his father, Peter R. Rappoccio, worked for 39 years, marched Concord Country Club’s 18 holes anyway. Everything about the club enthralled the younger Rappoccio.
“It’s a great Ross golf course,” he says. “It’s a great place to work. You can play it every day and find something different on it and enjoy it every day. I don’t think you can ever get bored of it.”
Rappoccio was just 30 when Concord Country Club hired him to become its sixth superintendent since 1914, the year play commenced on the current site. “We hired a baby,” club historian and green committee member Dr. William Healy affectionately says, “but we hired a brilliant baby.” Rappoccio started caddying at Silver Spring before he turned 10 and informally joined his father’s team before he turned 12. His résumé includes stints at classic clubs designed by celebrated architects: Westchester Country Club (Walter Travis), Oakland Hills Country Club (Ross), Winged Foot Golf Club (A.W. Tillinghast), Woodway Country Club (Willie Park Jr.) and Silver Spring (Robert White). “I got to watch my dad growing up,” Rappoccio says, “and that’s all I ever wanted to be, was him.”
Philosophies ingrained from a lifetime in turfgrass maintenance and Rappoccio’s zest for Concord Country Club are revealed during a late-March, tee-to-green walking tour of the course. Toro Reelmaster 5410-D mowers are deftly maneuvering through severe and subtle fairway contours, giving a durable blend of Poa annua, bentgrass, fescue, ryegrass and bluegrass their first 2022 trimming. Even the turfgrasses in Concord are old.
“We try to promote our best species as much as we can,” Rappoccio says. “Lower nitrogen, less water and those type of things help. But along the way, you have 100-year-old grasses that might not like some of the things you do to it. Sometimes you have to communicate, ‘Hey, this grass doesn’t look so great this time of the year, but you get the better stuff taking over.’ That’s all part of the education process.”
Since arriving at Concord Country Club, Rappoccio has guided a significant expansion of short-grass areas, returning elements of Ross’s original design. Fairways have gone from 24 to 28 acres, greens and approaches from 4 to 5.9 acres and tees from two to four acres. Instead of regrassing, Rappoccio’s team has expanded the turfgrass nursery to the left of the par-5 17th hole from 2,000 to 15,000 square feet and growing conditions resemble those on the course, although Concord Country Club can be tricky to manage uniformly because soil types range from thick white clay to sand and gravel.
The club purchased the 180-acre site and farm buildings from local agriculturist John Brown in 1913, the same year Francis Ouimet sparked mainstream American golf interest by defeating British stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to win the U.S. Open at The Country Club in nearby Brookline. Concord Country Club hired Ross to design nine holes around a barn serving as the clubhouse and the course opened for play on July 4, 1914. The original holes are today’s Nos. 1, 8, 9, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18. They play through gently rolling land.
Ross designed the second nine holes on more severe terrain in the late 1920s. The 18-hole course opened in 1930. Concord Country Club is one of 44 existing Ross-designed courses in Massachusetts. Ross settled in Oakley, 15 miles southeast of Concord, upon arriving to America from Dornoch, Scotland, in 1899. “His courses in Massachusetts have endured,” Healy says. “Massachusetts golfers really do know who Ross is. We don’t own him, but he started here. This is where he came. He’s Oakley’s gift to American golf.”
The club draws members from four communities — Concord, Acton, Carlisle and Lincoln — and a familial atmosphere permeates the grounds. Third-generation members are common, and the club’s BYOB policy represents an anomaly in the golf business. Asked why the club has lasted 127 years, Rappoccio says, “It’s the people, it’s the members. Members romanticize about this place in a very positive way. They came here as kids, they bring their kids here and hopefully their grandkids come here. They have kept the culture tight-knit. I can’t imagine it ever changing. This is one of those unique places that will be around forever.”
Only one of Concord Country Club’s six superintendents had a tenure that lasted less than a decade. Two of Rappoccio’s predecessors, Edwin Hansen and Nary Sperandio, served the club for nearly 70 years between them. When the 18-hole course opened in the fall of 1930, the club presented Hansen and his sons with $50 bonuses for their efforts in helping complete the new holes. The club employs numerous managers whose tenures have exceeded a decade. Equipment manager Pat Flannery is in his 32nd year. David Miethe, Jake Donahue and Derek O’Dea form a trio of talented assistant superintendents.
Concord Country Club has become busier the past two years, with play increasing by more than 30 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rappoccio strives to create a maintenance program where employees and equipment are seen and heard as infrequently as possible. The greens are a Poa annua/bentgrass mix and require constant attention during the summer. To help the assistant superintendents meander play, the club acquired a trio of Toro GTX Lithium utility vehicles. Released in 2021, the vehicles include the same features and durability as the Toro GTX and operate via a lithium-ion battery. The idea for examining new utility vehicles originated when New England-based Turf Products offered Rappoccio the opportunity for a demonstration during the 2020 New England Golf Association Amateur Championship at Concord Country Club.
“We got busier with COVID,” Rappoccio says. “We were packed out there and the guys trying to get around with gas-powered vehicles became a disaster. It was noisy and members could hear them bouncing around. Talking to Turf Products, we asked, ‘What do you have for electric vehicles?’ and they mentioned the GTX Lithium. We demoed them for the New England Amateur. Our guys loved it. It was quiet and we were able to water during the event. We knew we wanted to get a few, so we bought three and the assistants use them.
“They are out and about every day. They hold a charge all day long, they are quiet, they can sneak in and out of play, especially in the afternoons if they are watering or going around during a tournament. They aren’t disturbing anybody. They are good, solid vehicles and I think we will definitely incorporate more electric and battery-powered equipment into our fleet and operation moving forward.”
Protecting club and surrounding land factors into Rappoccio’s decisions: The Town of Concord enacted a ban on single-use plastic water bottle sales in 2013, electric cars traverse roads and neighborhoods bordering the club, and trails, greenspace, historic sites and waterways dot the community’s 25.9 square miles. A conservation area borders Concord Country Club’s fifth hole.
The Jennie Duggan Brook flows through the middle of the course, adding strategy and serenity to multiple holes, including the par 5 first and 17th holes. The brook deposits into the Sudbury River, which connects with the Assabet and Concord Rivers near North Bridge, scene of the first Revolutionary War battle. The Concord River meets the Merrimack River. The Merrimack River flows into the Atlantic Ocean.
Concord Country Club participates in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. Bird boxes and bat houses are subtle parts of the landscape. Water quality checks are performed annually. “And the water is cleaner when it leaves the property versus when it comes onto the property,” Rappoccio says. The club obtains water via a pair of wells, and it’s currently constructing a new pumphouse and pond to expand its stormwater-holding capacities.
Emerging equipment, Rappoccio adds, will further help a course such as Concord Country Club protect resources on its own and surrounding land. “Autonomous mowing, GPS spraying … those are things now that we are going to have to look at it. If you have noise on a golf course, electric is great. You’re trying to do work ahead of play, it’s quiet, there’s no emissions. If you can do your little part here or there, it’s going to help moving forward, especially in this industry.”
An entity doesn’t last as long as Concord Country Club without being proactive and innovative. The club regularly executes elements of an Andrew Green-devised master plan and as Rappoccio scans the construction around the pumphouse and pond behind the 16th green and 17th tee, he uses an analogy to describe managing a department at a club that understands that reinvestment yields longevity. “Every year we’re doing something,” he says. “It’s fun doing projects. It’s hard to get thrown out of the loop when you’re in the center of it.”
Rappoccio then begins walking the 17th hole as the pair of Toro Reelmaster 5410-Ds mow the 16th and 17th fairways. The brook intersects the hole and Rappoccio unveils his phone to show the flooding his team encountered on this spot multiple times in the summer of 2021. Each time, Rappoccio’s team swiftly returned the course to a playable condition. Each time, he learned something more about the land, people and history that make his workplace special.
“I hope it stays just like it is 100 years from now,” he says.