PLAINVILLE — If there were ever a pair of golfers who shaped themselves as individuals on the layout that is Heather Hill Country Club, a duo which has become so woven into the legend and the lore of the “everyman’s” golf course that nestles on the North Attleboro and Plainville line, it is Billy and Shawn Gaskin.
As toddlers, the brothers would trail their dad Bill along the links, frolicking in the sand traps and hunting for lost golf balls in the woods. But as soon as they were tall as a golf bag, Billy and Shawn began hitting golf balls morning, noon and night at Heather Hill. That was long before the nine-hole course became 18 holes, then 27 holes.
As fate would have it, Billy will step to the tee Friday in the qualifying round for the 60th annual Attleboro Area Golf Association City Open, attempting to become one of the nearly 50 entrants from the field of 138 to gain a spot in the four-day, 72-hole tournament proper which begins in August.
Unfortunately, for the first time in five years, Shawn Gaskin cannot join his brother Billy in his pursuit of gaining a qualifying spot as he has been slowed by an aching hip and will undergo hip replacement surgery. In his place will be Shawn Gaskin’s son, Jake, a sophomore at North Attleboro High, who will be making his first attempt at qualifying.
The qualifying round will have 96 players touring the North, Middle and South courses during the morning round, while another 42 will play afternoon rounds.
The low dozen scores and ties from each of the three morning sessions — North-Middle courses, Middle-South courses , South-North courses and Middle-North courses — will qualify for the AAGA Open, while the low 16 scorers and ties from the afternoon rounds will also advance. They will join the 41 exempt players, including defending champion Derek Johnson for the tournament which returns to Heather Hill for the opening round on Aug. 20.
The qualifying field is loaded with talent, as AAGA Co-President Bobby Beach noted with the average score of the individuals being 77, with four players having scratch handicaps.
Billy Gaskin has an afternoon tour of the Middle and North courses, playing with Rick Cuozzo and Kyle DelSignore. Nephew Jake Gaskin has a morning round on the South and North courses.
All of the Gaskin’s are members of Foxborough Country Club, with the two brothers members there for more than two decades. But nothing compares to the early days of development of the Gaskin brothers at Heather Hill.
Before rooftop bars became fashionable, the Gaskin brothers regaled with the tales of bartender Art Kelly climbing the stairs with a tray of beverages.
Much of the tales, fictional or not, would have been re-lived in the clubhouse at Heather Hill during and after Friday’s competition. But due to COVID-19 health and safety policies, golfers are only there to play golf, not to socialize. No family nor friends are allowed. The 60 th AAGA Open will be unlike any other. But, it would be a charm to have a Gaskin, representing Heather Hill CC and the days of old, qualify.
“I haven’t qualified in at least four or five years and we would have loved to have a Gaskin family threesome out there,” Billy Gaskin said the other day. “But Shawn hurt his hip, so he’s out and this is Jake’s first time. It would have been fun.”
Billy Gaskin generally plays a round of golf each Saturday and Sunday at Foxborough CC, so swinging a club Friday at Heather Hill not be unique – but it might be a revelation.
“The North course is the best nine on the whole course,” he said. “I’m hoping to qualify, but I’m looking at the list of guys playing – there’s a lot of guys not in the office, doing their work at home and are now out playing golf.”
Knowing the greens and knowing where to hit the ball will be fun, “I haven’t played there in a long time, probably four or five years ago,” he added, having served as a greenskeeper and laborer under then superintendent Bruce Carlson. “We’d change the cups, mow the fairways. Back then the courses didn’t have the automatic sprinkler systems, so we would be out there moving sprinklers around the greens.”
“We lived at Heather Hill, I worked at Heather Hill,” Gaskin said of his endless memories. “We’d get dropped off at 7 in the morning and get picked up at 6 at night. We’d always play 36 holes or more, go ball hawking. In the old days, you could do a lot of stuff.”
The Vine brothers, Jimmy Randall, Buck Renner, “all that crew there from Plainville and North Attleboro,” Gaskin said of some of the other Heather Hill “alumni. A lot of good golfers came out of Heather Hill.”
Gaskin distinctly remembers as a kid having to hit his shots before the older players in the foursome, including his dad, because he couldn’t hit the ball that far. “I’d run to the ball and hit it so I wouldn’t hold anybody.”
Many of the tales out of Heather Hill were beyond belief, but mostly true.
“The police would come and yell at us to get off the roof,” Gaskin chuckled. “And there were picnic tables up on the roof too. We’d sit up there with our drinks all night. We’d play cards until 2-3 in the morning. And somebody would try to climb the flagpole for $50 and we’d be at the bottom, shaking it so whoever tried, it would fall off.”