A tip of the cap to Jack
The Brattleboro Country Club flag was lowered to half-staff after the death of Jack Judge.

A tip of the cap to Jack

Months after Jack Judge fulfilling his lifelong dream of owning a golf course, his sudden death leaves a void

BRATTLEBORO — The grounds crew at the Brattleboro Country Club was busily sawing away on a massive tree limb on the 12th hole last Friday afternoon as a caravan of golf carts went streaming by on a tour of the course.

The limb had fallen of its own accord the night before. The gnarly maple tree has long been a prohibitive gatekeeper to approach shots that drift right. The absence of the overreaching limb will open up the right side of the green in a more generous fashion.

Jack Judge might have appreciated that. Though he claimed to be an above-average golfer, he never had time to get his game in gear this season, his first as the new owner of the club.

The people in the procession of carts were friends and family gathered at the club for a reception following a morning memorial service for Judge, who succumbed to complications of stomach cancer the preceding Friday, Aug. 14, at age 72.

Though those who work at the club said Judge hadn't been looking well in recent weeks, the news nonetheless came as a shock.

In an email message sent to BCC members two days after his death, Judge's widow, Melanie Boese, wrote: “Jack was at the club almost every day up to Monday of this week. His presence is sorely missed. This golf course was a dream come true for both of us and my goal is to make those dreams a reality.”

Boese later said that Judge had driven them both up to Dartmouth-Hitchcock the previous Tuesday for his first chemotherapy treatment, hardly an intimation of what was to come.

I heard the news on a Sunday, and on Monday morning I did what seemed the proper thing. I played eighteen with a nod to Judge. It was a lovely day: sunny, with a light breeze rustling the Brattleboro Country Club flag, which was drawn to half-staff.

Then I listened to the tape of an interview I had done with Jack back in late May but hadn't gotten around to transcribing. It was a pensive experience but also fun to listen to, since Judge could be humorous, refreshingly blunt, and open enough about his past.

It turned out that the dream of running a golf course had been planted early on, long before he started the business that would make his fortune. Judge was 13 when he started caddying at the former Mt. Tom Golf Course in his hometown of Holyoke, Mass.

In 1956, Marco Marinello had purchased the Donald Ross-designed course in partnership with Bob Toski (who had been the leading-money winner on the PGA Tour in 1954), and renamed it the Wyckoff Golf Club.

Judge worked his way up from the caddy yard to become a right-hand man for Marinello, staying until he was about 25.

And the first time he played the then nine-hole Brattleboro Country Club (designed by Ross contemporary Wayne Stiles), “It reminded me of Wyckoff. It had the same kind of rolling hills and a similar type of layout,” Judge said. So when he became a member about five years ago, “I remembered it well,” he added.

But there would be plenty of water under the bridge before Brattleboro came into view. Judge skipped college (“I was too smart for that”) and went into active duty with the National Guard during the Vietnam era.

“I never saw any action. After basic training at Fort Dix I was assigned the obscure MOS [Military Occupational Specialty] 442.1 - welder/blacksmith - and went off to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Best training in the world, and I did that for about five years.”

Back in civilian life, that training led him to become a certified pipefitter and welder, where he again stepped his way up the ladder, and wound up as a project manager in charge of maintenance at various nuclear energy installations.

It was the knowledge and experience he gained through the years that led him to establish R.O.V. Technologies in Brattleboro, incorporated in 1990, and essentially concerned with robotic devices that Judge invented, allowing for remote clean-up and maintenance of nuclear plants.

R.O.V. was sold to Rolls-Royce this past March for an estimated $13.5 million.

It sounds like a success beyond expectations, but Judge said, “I was always expecting it. But it didn't come easy. The stuff is expensive, so when you're talking to someone about something that's never been seen before, never been heard of before and you're asking them to spend a lot of money... Well, it probably took about 10 years to turn a corner, and they weren't easy years.”

Boese was by then sharing the ride, an officer in R.O.V. (Judge's first marriage ended in divorce; he and Boese have been together for more than 30 years, working side by side and marrying in 2004.)

Judge made clear that the R.O.V. sale had nothing to do with the $1.5 million purchase of the golf club, which took place last October: “Two separate issues. One had nothing to do with the other.”

There seems some irony in the club being sold in the course of celebrating its 100th year, but Judge said, without irony, “The club was heading south. I felt it was up to me to buy it or forget about it. The members who ran the club - ran it for free, you could say, for all the committee work done - they did a great job: 100 years, that's huge. The only trouble was putting in the other nine holes and being unable to recover from the debt incurred.”

Judge had no great illusions in taking over: “It's not a money-maker. It's just not. But Melanie and I have a three-year plan in place aiming at a break-even point. That would be considered a success. But that's got to happen, or else.”

Or else?

“I don't know that part yet, but we have the funding to invest for three years,” Judge said. “Look, we think that this is one of the best golf courses in the state. We know it is. But people who want to partake are going to have to fund it, otherwise it's just not going to work. When push comes to shove there's a number you have to hit and it's black and white, no in-betweens. But we'll do everything we can to hit it; we'll give it our best shot for three years.”

Besides the purchase price, Judge estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars more would be spent on infrastructure, equipment, and the course itself. The initial work went into improving the main building and kitchen, turning it into a year-round facility.

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In the immediate aftermath of Judge's death, Boese came to the club almost every day. But he had indicated that that was always pretty much their routine: “We're seven-days-a-week people and always have been.”

After the reception on Aug. 21, Boese again indicated her determination to carry on. Players were heading out onto the course, the touring caravan of carts took off, and the saws continued working out by the 12th green. Life at the course went on.

Outside on the clubhouse veranda, a collection of photos from various phases of Jack Judge's life was surrounded by flowers. His golf bag stood nearby, its set of well-worn clubs holding hundreds of stories, though now bearing silent testimony.

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