Connecticut Section PGA – Recap
By Bruce Berlet
NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. (November 19, 2018) – PGA of America District I Director Noel Gebauer sat among 135 Connecticut Section PGA members at the local organization’s action-packed Annual Fall Meeting at Lake of Isles Golf Club.
Gebauer, one of 14 members of the national PGA’s Board of Directors, had the honor of sitting next to and sharing featured speaker’s status with Suzy Whaley, who received a standing ovation when introduced for her first public appearance since being inducted as the first female president of the PGA of America on Nov. 9, in Palm Springs, Calif.
Gebauer represents the Connecticut, Northeast New York and New England PGA sections and attends six meetings annually, plus spends 30 days with the PGA’s Board of Directors. The general manager at the Town of Colonie Golf Club in Albany, N.Y., and other district directors have three-year terms with the mission of serving PGA members and growing the game.
“I’m a conduit between the national board and three sections,” Gebauer said. “I always want to be foremost in golf and all the facilities. I try to be as educated as can be and help with education that’s part of employment.”
Whaley, 51, was named the first female PGA officer (secretary) in 2014, and she and the Section will host the national annual meeting at the end of her two-term term on Oct. 25-30, 2020, at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.
Two days after her induction, Whaley was back at work as a PGA Director of Instruction at the Country Club at Mirasol in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. After a week at Mirasol, she flew to Connecticut for the Connecticut Section PGA Professional Hall of Fame Induction and Champions Tribute dinner on Sunday night and headed back to Mirasol on Monday night.
“It has all been so surreal,” said Whaley, the mother of two daughters/golfers who is also PGA Director of Golf for Suzy Whaley Golf in Cromwell. “I missed coaching and teaching and was fortunate to get involved with Mirasol, which is one mile from PGA of America headquarters and three miles from our house.”
“I just feel so incredibly honored and fortunate to be president. The PGA offered me opportunities that I don’t think I can give back as much, but it’s a privilege to try.”
Fifteen Section members, family and friends attended Whaley’s induction, and witnessed the nomination speech by former Hartford Golf Club Golf Professional Gary Reynolds, a PGA Life Member who has received virtually every Section award and who also gave Whaley’s Secretary nomination speech 2014. Most of the Section members surprised Whaley when they dressed in the same uniforms and wore Tar Heel blue socks, the color of North Carolina, her alma mater.
“That was kind of cool,” Whaley said with a smile.
Whaley, who played on the LPGA Tour in 1990 and 1993, said she “held it together” during her acceptance speech until she talked about her mother and family. Her mom, Mary Ann, taught Suzy how to play starting when she was nine, and her daughters, Jenn and Kelly, are accomplished players. Jenn, 23, is a former captain of the Quinnipiac University women’s golf team and now plays “social golf” while working for Aetna Insurance. Kelly, 21, is a three-time winner of the Connecticut State Women’s Amateur who was ranked 20th in the country in her final year at the International Junior Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C., before heading off to mom’s alma mater on a full golf scholarship. This spring, Kelly had a school-record 73.24 stroke average that included shooting a record 12-under-par 204 to break her own UNC record for 54 holes in leading the Tar Heels to a five-stroke victory in the Briar’s Creek Invitational at The Golf Club in Briar’s Creek at Johns Island, S.C. She also shot every round in the 60s, a first for a Tar Heel. Then in June, Kelly shot her first bogey-free round, a women’s course-record, 5-under 65, at Keney Park Golf Course in Hartford, for a 36-hole total of 7-under 133 and a five-stroke victory over another amateur, Linda Wang.
Suzy met her husband Bill after earning her LPGA card in 1990. She was on a golf lesson at Inverrary Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Bill happened to have been a coach for one of Suzy’s closest friends. They have been the major influences and teachers for their two daughters, and Bill is now national director of golf for PGA Tour Facilities, which includes 21 locations. Locally, there’s TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, home of the Travelers Championship, and TPC Boston in Norton, Mass., the former home of a PGA Tour event.
“I have a lot of pride and always wanted to be recognized for my body of work,” Whaley said of her decision to make PGA of America history. “I’m very appreciative for what everyone has done for me and support everyone in the room and my family.”
Whaley said she first thought about running for office in 2013, when her term as a member of the Section’s Board of Directors ended in 2013.
“A lot of people asked if I’d be interested,” Whaley recalled. “There were people who saw something in me, and Gary (Reynolds) was my campaign manager. I have a real passion that I hope to pass on because I can’t do it alone.I’m very appreciative for what everyone has done for me. … It has been an incredible journey since I became a member of the Section Board of Directors. I don’t underestimate the responsibilities and take everything very seriously.”
Becoming president of the largest sports organization in the world of more than 29,000 members capped decades of publicity for Whaley, starting with winning the 2002 Connecticut Section PGA Championship that made her the first woman to qualify for a PGA Tour event in 57 years, the Greater Hartford Open, now Travelers Championship. In 2014, Whaley became the first female to be elected a PGA of America officer in the 102-year history of the association. Now Whaley has joined former U.S. Golf Association president Judy Bell and former LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens as the only women to hold the top position in a golf association.
In a major coup for Hartford, the PGA of America announced Keney Park will host the Boys and Girls Junior PGA Championships in 2019. The Girls Championship will be played July 9-12, while the Boys will tee it up July 30-August 2. Each event features 144 players in a four-round, 18-hole stroke-play format. The Connecticut Section PGA Foundation underwrote $75,000 for the event.
“It is a thrill for both Championships to be held in Connecticut for the first time,” Whaley said. “Both Championships continue to reach new heights each year. We are excited to partner with Keney Park, the Connecticut PGA Section, and the City of Hartford to showcase the game’s brightest junior players competing at the highest level.”
Keney Park opened in 1927 with a nine-hole course designed by Devereux Emmet; the Robert “Jack” Ross-designed back-nine opened four years later. In 2014, the Connecticut Section PGA signed an agreement to serve as consultants to help Hartford regain operational ownership of both Keney Park and Goodwin Park golf courses, while assisting with the oversight of a $5 million Keney Park course restoration to enhance the facility’s level of sustainability. Keney Park and Goodwin Park hosted the Hartford Women’s Open the first two years.
“This will be the maiden voyage for the Connecticut PGA Section with respect to hosting PGA of America championships, and we cannot be more excited to welcome the nation’s most talented girls and boys,” said Tom Hantke, who is in his 25th year as executive director of the Connecticut PGA Section. “We’re not only proud that we’ve been chosen to host these prestigious championships, but we’re equally appreciative to be able to showcase the restoration of Keney Park as part of the revitalization efforts ongoing in the City of Hartford. It has been one of the original and central purposes to re-establish a first-class golf experience to help lead the way to improving the quality of life.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said, “Next summer will be exciting as local spectators will have the opportunity to see some of golf’s brightest future stars play on the Keney Park Golf Course. We look forward to these young competitors and their families visiting our City. Golf has a long tradition in the city of Hartford, and these two premier events will add to our story.”
Keney Park is led by PGA Director of Golf Peter Seaman, who has been on the staff since July of 2015. The golf course was recently ranked by Golfweek as the No. 2 to play in Connecticut, as well as tied for first on Golf Inc.’s 2016 Public Renovation list.
Both Championships have been springboards for many of the PGA and LPGA Tours’ most accomplished players. Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Phil Mickelson competed on the Boys side, while past Girls Junior PGA winners include Inbee Park, Ariya Jutanugarn and Lexi Thompson.
Yealimi Noh won the 2018 Girls Junior PGA with a dominating, record-setting performance at Kearney Hill Golf Links in Lexington, Ky. Akshay Bhatia became the first two-time winner following his victory in the 2018 Boys Junior PGA, which was secured with a greenside chip-in eagle on the 72nd hole at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky. Bhatia also won in 2017. This past September, both players teamed up on the triumphant United States Team in the 2018 Junior Ryder Cup at Disneyland Paris.
For more information about the championships, visit JuniorPGAChampionship.com and follow @JuniorPGAChamp on Twitter and Instagram. For more information on the PGA of America, visit PGAMediaCenter.com, follow @PGA on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
John Nowobilski, the head pro at Tallwood Country Club in Hebron for 35 years before he retired last December, added to his long list of notable Section awards when he received the Frank Selva President’s Award from Section president Ian Marshall of Watertown Golf Club. The award is presented “for influence and contributions in significant ways to fund raising to support the Connecticut Section PGA Golf Foundation.” In the last 16 years, Nowobilski raised more than $250,000 for the Harry Nowobilski Memorial Celebrity Amateur Tournament, which supported the Section Golf Foundation and The First Tee of Connecticut. The event will be revived in 2019 as “The Cat Four-Paw” at Wethersfield Country Club.
“This came as a total surprise,” Nowobilski said of the President’s Award. “I cannot believe it was 16 years ago when I established this event in honor of my dad, who had passed away just three months before it started. To have Frank Selva’s name on this award makes it that much more special. My dad loved the PGA and Junior Golf. I am honored to be recognized for something that was truly an act of love.”
In elections during the meeting, Marshall also edged Ralph Salito (CC of Waterbury) to fill Gebauer’s position as District I Director beginning one-year from now. John Steffen (Twin Hills CC – Longmeadow, Mass.) was elected Section president, Howie Friday (Tumble Brook CC) was elected vice president, and Bob Sparks (Fairview Farm GC) elected as the new secretary after being on a taped video from the PGA of America Junior League Championships in Phoenix, where Team Connecticut sent congratulations to Whaley on being named PGA president.
Phil Krick (Mohegan Sun Golf Club-Baltic) and John Dipollina (Lyman Orchards GC-Middlefield) were elected to serve a three-year term on the Section’s Board of Directors.
Marshall also made reports on behalf of the Section’s Golf Course Business Symposium, and other presentations were made by Steffen, Friday, Ron Beck (Professional Development), Josh Suzio (Bouvier Insurance) and Tim Paragone (Youth Golf and Player Development), Dennis Dungee (Tournament, Rules & Competitions, and PGA HOPE) and Hantke (PGA WORKS Fellowship).
Part of Hantke’s report was announcing the retirement of Sue Bell, who has been with the Section for 20 years, most recently as its business manager and membership director. Bell, who lives in Ellington, will work until the end of the year and looks forward to spending time in Florida and having more time with her grandchildren. Bell offered memories of her time with the Section during the meeting, then the Section held a post-meeting gathering to thank her for her two decades of service.
“I have enjoyed my position with the Section, which gave me the opportunity to work with golf professionals who are passionate about what they do every day,” Bell said. “I will miss the interaction with them. The highlight of my time with the Section was in 2016, when I was made an honorary member. It means so much to be included in this membership and to know that they appreciated what I do.”
“It has been an honor to work with Tom and his staff, the officers and Board of Directors over the years and to be a part of the success and achievements that have been made. I may come back for a special project or two.”
Salito, Beck and Kyle Hedstrom were recognized as outgoing vice presidents at large, and Ron Dellostritto and Sparks were cited for their three-year terms as directors. There also were comments from Past Presidents Reynolds, Selva, Dellostritto, Salito, Mike O’Grady, Mickey Hawkes, Tim Gavronski, John Korolyshun and Bill Flood, and there was a moment of silence for the deceased members Jim Ferguson and Dale Humphrey who passed away this season.
Sunday night during the Section’s dinner celebration, Salito, Mike Carney and the late Joe Curtin were formally inducted into the Hall of Fame.