Rob Barbeau of Old Lyme Country Club Named Connecticut Section PGA Golf Professional of the Year

Section announces 11 Special Award Recipients for 2023

By Bruce Berlet

SOUTH GLASTONBURY, Conn. (August 29, 2023) – While growing up in Springfield, Mass., Rob Barbeau played basketball and baseball and then opted to add golf rather than football, which was what most of his friends had decided to include in their resume.

“I was so skinny I didn’t want to get beat up playing football,” Barbeau fondly remembers. “I could play golf all day and loved every minute of it. My brothers were good players, and I looked up to them.”

Barbeau played golf for four years at Classical High School in Springfield and was captain for the last two years.

“It was a great time, and we had solid teams and fortunately we never lost too many matches,” Barbeau said.

Barbeau met a coach from High Point University in North Carolina, and a deal was made that if he made the team, he would receive a scholarship. At that point, he had decided to get his golf career started, and it culminated with having special sentiments about receiving the Connecticut Section PGA’s most prestigious award, the Golf Professional of the Year.

“When I got the call from Section President Bob Sparks, so many happy thoughts went through my mind,” said Barbeau, who is in his 37th year as the head professional at the nine-hole Old Lyme Country Club. “The first was my wife Molly and my kids and how such an important role they played. Molly, aside from being my best friend is the most unselfish person who provided so much love and support along the way. She always kept things going in the right direction for me. I always appreciated that she had the family life so balanced, and we were able to raise two beautiful and talented daughters, Nicole, and Amanda.”

“I also reflected on one of my most influential members who was my first golf chairman, Bill Little. He said, ‘your job is important but don’t miss watching your kids grow up, you don’t get that time back.’ I also thought of my staff past and present. Without their help and support, none of this would have been possible. It is such an incredible honor as I look through the past winners and read their names. To be now included on the list with them is special.”

Sparks, the Section President from Torrington Country Club, said: “Rob has had a long and storied career at Old Lyme Country Club. He’s served both the section and Connecticut Section PGA Golf Foundation board of directors and has always been so positive and supporting.”

Barbeau first got involved in golf picking range balls at Veterans Memorial Golf Course in Springfield when he was eight years old.

“Being a golf professional is all I ever wanted to do,” Barbeau said. “The pro at Veterans was Bob Campbell, who was an incredible golf professional and was a great player. He would watch me practice and help me with my swing. I idolized him, and one day he said, ‘Rob, you’re just a kid, but you have golf in your future if you want it.’

“Bob was followed by Tom Gorman, another great golf professional and player. I had had some success in the local junior tournaments, and one day Tom invited me to a Pro-Junior event at the Country Club of Greenfield (Mass.). I was a nervous wreck as Tom was a great competitor and he was there to win. I was shaking on the first tee, and he said to me, ‘If you play normal, we can win.’ We won, and it’s a day I will never forget.”

Barbeau began his pro career working for Mike Bailey, who was the new pro at Veterans and is now a member of the Connecticut Section PGA Professional Hall of Fame. After learning the fundamentals from Bailey, Barbeau went to work for Harry Mattson at Springfield Country Club and then Jim Modzelesky at Oak Ridge Country Club in Feeding Hills while also helping Mike Grigely at Edgewood Golf Course in Southwick.

“These were all great mentors, and each taught me a great deal,” Barbeau said.

Barbeau said his biggest break was getting a position at The Lost Tree Club in North Palm Beach, Fla., and the Misquamicut Club in Watch Hill, R.I.

“My boss at Misquamicut, Dwight Campbell, basically taught me how to teach,” Barbeau said. “He didn’t want me to be behind the counter, so I spent so much of my time teaching the game, and it has been incredibly rewarding. Both clubs opened up a lot of doors for me and boosted my resume to another level. I enjoyed both the public and private side of the golf business.”

Barbeau was alerted to Old Lyme Country Club by Tom Henderson, the now retired pro from the Round Hill Club in Greenwich after he was the pro at Old Lyme. Henderson worked at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla., which is near Lost Tree. The Jack Nicklaus connection at Lost Tree got Barbeau an interview at Old Lyme, and Gorman lobbied for Barbeau to get hired.

“It seems incredible that was 37 years ago,” Barbeau said. “It’s been an incredible journey. I am surrounded on the Connecticut shoreline by a great group of golf professionals.”

Barbeau was named Old Lyme head professional and elected to the PGA of America in 1986. He has mentored students and assistant pros throughout the years, sending them everywhere throughout the country. Those who have gone on to get their own jobs include Tim Shaw, the recently named head professional at Pine Orchard Yacht and Country Club in Branford; Josh Bialowans, the recently named head professional at La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach, Fla.; John Humphreys, the lead assistant at the Country Club of New Canaan; and Kevin O’Connor, the teaching pro at Paradise Valley Golf Course in Fairfield, Calif.

“We moved to the area more than 20 years ago to build a home in this wonderful community,” longtime Old Lyme member Helene Nichols said. “I told my husband that I thought I would like to learn to play golf, so I started taking lessons from Rob. He’s the only teacher I’ve ever had, and I have now become club champion several times.”

Barbeau has had numerous activities and won several awards in the Connecticut Section PGA. He was a member of the Board of Directors in 1995-98, received the Professional Development Award in 1996 and 1997, was named Teacher of the Year in 1999 and received the Frank Selva President’s Award for support of fundraising for the Connecticut Section PGA Golf Foundation in 2006. He received the Section’s Bill Strausbaugh Award in 2016 and has served as a director on the Foundation Board of Directors since 2018 and a co-chair of the annual PGA Charity Classic since 2021.

Barbeau is appreciative of the awards committee for selecting him for the prestigious award.

“I know there are others who are just as deserving as me and the selection process is not an easy task,” Barbeau said. “I have enjoyed my time serving the section at the board level as well as the various committees. Tom Hantke has been a tremendous asset for our section as our Executive Director, and the Section staff is amazing and works so hard for our membership.

“I have enjoyed teaching the game to many levels of players over the years. The game of golf has allowed me to work in an environment that I grew up loving as a young boy. I often get asked now about retirement as I recently turned 65. My two answers are, ‘I’m preparing the cabin for departure, or I can see the runway.’ I have two wonderful grandchildren, a great son-in-law and another on the way.

“I have been blessed. My parents, who have both passed let me do what made me happy and I am forever grateful. I couldn’t have asked for better role models than my mom and dad. Lastly, I would like to thank the many members and past and present boards of the Old Lyme Country Club.  Without their support, none of this would have been possible. I have been so fortunate.”

Other Connecticut Section award recipients announced are Justin Smith, TPC River Highlands, Teacher and Coach of the Year; Brian Phelps, Golf Club of Avon, Professional Development; Josh Detmer, Go Golf Academy, Youth Player Development; Jordan Gosler, Manchester Country Club, Player Development; Bob Bigonette, H. Smith Richardson Golf Course, Merchandiser of the Year-Public; Joe Cordani, Hop Meadow Country Club, Merchandise of the Year-Private; Ian Marshall, Shuttle Meadow Country Club, Bill Strausbaugh Award; Ron Pfaefflin, Norfolk Country Club, Patriot Award; Sean Sweitzer, Madison Country Club, Assistant Professional of the Year; and Larry Bellorado, Sales Representative of the Year.

Barbeau and the award winners will be recognized at a private ceremony at Old Lyme Country Club on a date to be announced.

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