Defeat was imminent. It wasn't just local Norton kids against an excavator, a log truck and a guy with a chainsaw. It was small town life versus progress, corporate realities, and suburban sprawl. The honored secret of the Loyal Guardians of the Great Woods Swimming Hole didn't get revealed that day. Instead it was exterminated with one violent cut of a chainsaw.
This September on Labor Day weekend when you watch the golfers of the PGA at the sixteenth hole of the Deutsche Bank Championships held at TPC Boston at Great Woods in Norton, Massachusetts you should know that they are hitting over what was once one of the greatest swimming holes in the world.
With the exception of an exclusive multigenerational fraternity of Nortonites and perhaps Native Americans long ago, nobody knew it existed. Until now.
About sixty years ago on a scorching hot summer day fifteen year old Nathan Porter left his chores and headed into the Great Woods behind the family farm on Oak Street with his hound Wilbur. The woods provided some relief from the heat but Nate knew he had to keep moving because of the bugs and the humidity. Wilbur, ever the tracker, locked on to a scent and forged deep into the dense thicket, further than Nate had ever gone before. The woods were filled with small game and fowl so it was a paradise for Wilbur. Nate was glad to be out of the barn.
After about an hour and a half of random trail blazing it a clearing appeared in the distance. As they got closer Nate could see a shimmer of summer sunshine dancing between the trees. Boy and dog forged through the low brush and sure enough a small pristine pond presented itself.
Without hesitation, Nate peeled off his shirt and jumped in off the perfect boulder that hung over the shoreline like a platform. Wilbur was right behind him executing a big old bloodhound belly flop.
Nate laughed and splashed and laughed some more. In his teenage world of so much restriction and routine he felt truly free. He couldn't wait to tell his best friend but he had to figure out a way to keep the swimming hole secret, forever.
With Wilbur's help and a pretty good sense of direction Nate was able to make his way back to the farm before dinner without anyone noticing he was gone.
About a week later on the next scorching hot day he repeated the trek. This time he brought his best friend George (Robbie) Robinson and a long length of rope and a spike. Before they went into the woods he administered a blood oath and they created a secret handshake.
The swimming hole was even more fun this time. It combined the perfect combination of secrecy, adventure, and escape for the boys. They shinnied up an oak tree just mature enough and hung a rope swing off a perfect limb.
Before they left, they drove an iron spike deep into a crevice in the jumping boulder with two hands and a ten pound rock. It was just visible and safely wedged for eternity the boys claimed the Great Woods Swimming Hole as their own personal possession.
The two boys spent three great summers at "The Hole" as they called it. Almost any day the temperature hit 90 degrees they were there. At the end of the third summer, Nate was finishing school and joining the Army. He said that Robbie, one year his junior, had to keep the tradition of the Hole alive.
They devised a succession plan. There would never be more than three active members of the Club, a Chairman, a Captain, and an Apprentice. No more than three members, no less than three, no girls allowed. Revealing the existence of The Hole was a mortal offense punishable by "Torture followed by Banishment".
The Chairman and Captain would nominate the Apprentice. He would be administered the sacred oath and the three members would go to the Hole for orientation. Once orientation was complete, the Chairman was no longer an active member. The only exceptions were for the death of an active member (this happened only once) or if the current members declared an emergency with the utterance of a single word. Saying this word to a prior Chairman meant the Hole was in danger and help was needed. The signal would go up the ladder of past Chairmen as far as necessary to deal with the problem.
And so it went and the secret existence of the Hole was honored and preserved for over fifty years. It was maintained through good times, bad times, war time and peace time. Then one day over a dozen years ago the Apprentice at the time, Jeff Pyke's father made a very strong point about mentioning an article in the paper about the construction of a fancy golf course in the Great Woods. He left the paper on the table for Jeff to read.
For the first time in history the alarm was sounded. At school, Jeff handed his best friend, the Captain, a note that said in large purple letters, “WILBUR”.
The two boys tried to come up with ideas to stop the course but the challenge was over their head. The alarm went up the ladder of prior Chairmen. The group, once boys who were now firefighters, lawyers, doctors and businessmen considered their options. They would fight the permitting process as concerned citizens. They looked at legal options. Curley Hardway even suggested good old fashioned sabotage. None of it stood a chance. Perhaps the most endearing thing to come out of the process was that Jeff Pyke learned that his dad was a former Chairman twenty five years earlier. Many other of the younger members learned the same about fathers, uncles, and even grandfathers.
Those that could followed the progress of the construction of the course in the paper and tracked the march of the toward the Hole on site all summer long.
The once young oak from the days of Nate, Robbie and Wilbur was now a mighty and majestic guardian of the Hole. The rope swing had been replaced many times over the years but this latest version still had plenty of life left. The orange tape around the trunk marked doom for the oak. It was just a matter of time.
The unusually hot summer granted a temporary stay of execution since the workmen used to take lunch along the shady shore of the Hole. Occasionally they would even swing in to the Hole on a break or at the end of the shift.
Finally the day came. Both current members and a random assembly of four former Chairmen watched silently from the edge of the woods as the oak came down in sections and was laid to rest along the shore of the pond.
Just like that it was over. The Great Woods Swimming Hole and its secret fraternity ceased to exist. The eldest of the former Chairmen and the current Captain exchanged the secret handshake as did the others. They congratulated themselves for never divulging their secret then shuffled back into the woods and filtered through the elaborate network of paths they had created over the many years.
The only tangible evidence of the existence of the Loyal Guardians of the Great Woods Swimming Hole is that steel spike driven deep into the boulder that still sits on the bank of the pond. Beyond that caddies warn their players about some unusual force that pulls shots off of the sixteenth green toward the boulder. Separately, television commentators have wondered aloud about the random appearance of signs that say WILBUR in large purple letters that appear from time to time when the pros hit their tee shots over the Hole. No one seems to be able to offer an explanation for either.