By Bruce Berlet
NORTH STONINGTON, Conn. – After more than four decades as a club professional, Mike Bailey is most proud of two accomplishments: helping people enjoy golf and to play the game better.
Bailey fondly recalls accomplishing both goals in spades in 1996.
One of Bailey’s prized pupils, Father Motta, got his weekly lesson from the Wethersfield Country Club pro on a Thursday night, and the following day, he achieved one of the rarest feats in the history of the game. He made TWO holes-in-one at Wethersfield Country Club. Prior to the round, Father Motta had a total of ZERO holes-in-one.
When Father Motta finished his round, he found Bailey in the pro shop, told him what had happened and said he had made his two aces “thanks to you.”
Bailey quickly had a brilliant and witty response: “I think God had more to do with it. I don’t want to take credit. I think you were responsible.”
Recalling the moment more than 20 years later still brings a wide smile and twinkle in the eyes of Bailey.
The memorable episode was one of thousands that helped earn Bailey, Chuck Lasher and Lindsey Hansen induction into the Connecticut Section PGA Professional Hall of Fame during its awards banquet Sunday night at Lake of Isles Country Club. The trio was honored with 10 other individuals, including four junior players, who were a major reason that Lasher and Hansen were inducted after a major portion of their careers was spent working together for 23 years at Timberlin Golf Course in Berlin.
Bailey, 68, who now lives in Pelican Sound Golf and River Club in Estero, Fla., was a club pro for more than 40 years, including 20 at Wethersfield Country Club, and has still given private lessons during his six years in retirement. Bailey began his career in Western Massachusetts and became the only player to win the Junior Championship (1969), Assistant Professional Championship (1975), Open Championship (1980) and Chapter PGA Championship (1981). He qualified for six PGA Tour events and served as president of the Western Massachusetts PGA, New England Section Senior Director (2008-10) and co-chaired the Western Mass Tea Party while the head pro at Veterans Golf Club in Springfield before heading to Wethersfield Country Club (1981-2001) and then to Brae Burn Country Club in West Newton, Mass., Stow Acres Country Club and in Stow, Mass., and Grey Oaks Country Club in Naples, Fla.
After Bailey won the Western Massachusetts Junior in 1969, he and his teammates attended a free clinic given by PGA Tour player Kermit Zarley. Eighty juniors though he had a funny name, and he turned around, dropped two balls on the ground and told the youngsters that he was going to hit them down the range and have them collide in midair. A high soft fade started out and was sought by a low hard look that missed its target by an inch. Zarley asked the group if they knew how to shape a shot. Bailey didn’t know, but over the next 90 minutes, he listened to Zarley’s every word and every move on how to shape a shot.
As fate would have it, Bailey and Zarley met during the 1982 Greater Hartford Open at Wethersfield CC, where Bailey was the head pro. Bailey stopped Zarley and reminded him of the day “that changed my life.” Bailey told Zarley that he was a pro because of him, that he was enamored with being a teacher and won awards as one of Golf Digest’s Top 50 teachers. They had lunch the next day, and Zarley said he had no idea he had mentored Bailey. Zarley’s mouth was wide open because he couldn’t believe what Bailey had told him.
Bailey was a mentor for numerous assistant pros, served on the Connecticut Section PGA board of directors and as an officer, composed an rewrote the Tournament Rules and Regulations and the Section constitution and bylaws and was named Section Teacher of the Year in 1990 and Golf Professional of the Year in 1996. He received the 1995 Spaulding Northeast Merchandiser of the Year and 2010 New England Section Merchandiser of the Year. He was ranked the No. 2 golf instructor by Golf Digest in 2000 and was named one of the top instructors in Massachusetts in 2003 and 2004.
“The people whom you meet in this game is unbelievable,” Bailey said. “Making those connections are so rewarding, and I hope that I mentored someone. I feel lucky and fortunate and lived large. I’d do it all again and am honored to be in the Hall of Fame of the Section that meant everything to me for 29 years.”
Lasher’s career has spanned five decades and he will attain the Half Century milestone to the PGA of America in March 2020. His “reasonable” junior playing career included a tie for first in the 1959 CIAC Championship and being a member of the powerful Stratford High School golf team that captured several state titles. While Lasher thought he was destined to be a golf professional, his love of “all things golf,” not just playing, has always been the driving force of his life.
Lasher was an assistant pro at Rock Ridge Country Club in Newtown and head pro at Clinton Country Club before landing at Timberlin GC. He won two Section Assistant Professional Championships, three Manchester Opens, the Brownson Classic, Noonan Classic and Senior Connecticut PGA Championship twice, played in the Canon Greater Hartford Open (now Travelers Championship) eight times and in the Julius Boros Challenge Club Matches against the Connecticut State Golf Association 17 times and qualified for numerous national PGA club professional events.
Lasher first met Hansen when he was an assistant pro at Woodbridge Country Club and Hansen was at Timberlin. Lasher soon took the head job at Clinton Country Club, and they met at various tournaments and became friends, even partnering in Pro-Pro events with limited success. Club politics and group conflicts led to Lasher leaving Clinton CC at the end of 1981, but on Oct. 8, 1982, they were playing together again in the Del Kinney Championship at Tunxis Plantation Country in Farmington. They were in contention when Hansen had a serious heart attack that night. It led to communicating about Lasher’s need to get back into the game and he and Section needing an experienced assistant.
In 1983, Hansen needed an experienced assistant and Lasher needed to show employment to be able to play in tournaments, so the two joined forces at Timberlin that spring. Lasher took over the responsibility of youth golf programming, where the duo made their greatest mark. Hansen decided to retire at the end of the 2005 season for political reasons, and he and Lasher went out together after 23 years together.
Lasher was a mentor for dozens of young people, most notably boys and girls who played on the Berlin High golf teams that won five state championships. He was named Section Junior Golf Leader in 2013 and the 2014 Teacher of the Year and still works with youngsters. His prized pupils included the Paladino brothers, Brent and Cody; Jon Veneziano, who won the CSGA and New England Junior Championships; and Kyle Gallo, a standout at Central Connecticut State University who played on the Nike (now Korn Ferry) Tour and has won a record-tying four Connecticut Open titles. He’ll be inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame during the CSGA annual meeting Dec. 5 at Torrington Country Club.
Brent Paladino was the first person to win the CSGA and Connecticut Section PGA Player of the Year, worked several years in the CSGA office and was named U.S. Golf Association Senior Director of Competitions on Nov. 11. Cody is a two-time CSGA Player of the Year, the only player to win the Connecticut Open, CSGA Amateur and Public Links Championships, Russell C. Palmer Cup and Tournament of Champions, played on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica and will become a reinstated amateur in April 2020.
“I didn’t really think about the Hall of Fame because I hadn’t been a head pro for a long time,” Lasher said. “But the junior program that Lindsey and I developed was special. It’s impossible to describe how wonderful it was to work together. It was an electric place. … My major memories are playing in the GHO, the development of junior golfers and caddying for Brent and Cody in national championships. The friendships that I have made is what it’s all about. I’m most proud to have helped educate kids to become better people on and off the golf course.”
So what is Lasher doing these days? “Gardening,” a smiling Lasher said quickly and proudly.
Hansen, 81, is a PGA Half Century member who retired with Lasher in 2005. He was born in Logan, Utah, and moved to Twins Falls, Idaho, at 10 and discovered golf five years later. He was quickly competitive, won the State Junior Championship and was a member of the State High School championship team. He was pushed by the legendary Idaho golf family of Jim Hiskey and Babe Hiskey, who played on the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions.
Hansen began his pro career in 1964 as an assistant at Overland Park Golf Course in Denver, Colo., and then was in Coronado, Calif., from 1965 to 1969. He heard of a new course being built in Connecticut where his wife, Brenda, was born in New Britain. The new course was Timberlin, and the couple moved to Connecticut on June 1, 1969, the day that they broke ground at Timberlin. On July 1, 1970, Hansen hit the first official shot and then spent 36 years as the club’s head pro. He was a pioneer in the public course sector, introducing starting times and creating men’s and women’s clubs, as well as senior and junior organizations. His goal was to create an environment that each of those people would feel welcomed, and his proudest accomplishment is delivering on providing one of the best junior programs anywhere. In a time when access to the course and facilities were very limited to junior golfers, Hansen made the course available them and made them feel welcomed.
Hansen served as Section vice president in the early 1970s, was the tournament chairman and a member of the Membership Interview Committee in the 1990s and won the Senior Connecticut PGA Championship in 1990 and 1992. In 2002, he was named the Section Professional of the Year and has remained active since retiring in 2005, spending eight years conducting junior golf programming for the Borough of Fenwick in Old Saybrook and continuing to serve as coach at The First Tee of Connecticut, which he lauded for its work with nearly 70,000 youngsters in the area.
“I never really gave the Hall of Fame much thought, but I’m certainly appreciative,” Hansen said.
Lasher and Hansen, who both live in Southington, agreed it was appropriate they were inducted together.
“I have known Lindsey for 49 years since he opened Timberlin on July 4, 1970, and I am proud to call him my friend today,” said Lasher, who ironically learned of his selection while having lunch with Hansen.
“Lindsey was always deserving of being in the Hall of Fame, but I was completely surprised and very overwhelmed when I heard about it. I haven’t been a head professional since 1981 at Clinton Country Club and never thought I had the resume to be recognized by my peers for such an honor. But I guess I was rewarded in the end for all of my work with juniors, and it only adds so much more that Lindsey and I were inducted together. Our years at Timberlin were fabulous, and we still have lunch a couple of times a month. We’re brothers together.”
Hansen said, “They say opposites attract, and that’s what happened with me and Chuck. We fought all the time, people thought we were mortal enemies and kids thought we were crazy, but we clicked because we liked each other and were like brothers. It wouldn’t have been fair if we didn’t go in the Hall of Fame together.”
The Paladino brothers took the podium to tell the audience how much Lasher and Hansen had meant and done for them and presented each of their mentors a framed flag/plaque with a Timberlin insignia on them.
The award honorees were led by Jim Hanlon of The Farms Country Club in Wallingford, who received the Section’s highest honor, Professional of the Year, for outstanding leadership, exceptional performance as a golf professional and distinguished service to the association and game of golf. Other recipients were Michel Painchaud, Mohegan Sun Golf Club in Uncasville, Teacher of the Year; Josh Detmer, Go Golf Academy, Player Development; John Dipollina, Golf Center at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield; Richard Bray, Hartford Golf Club, Assistant Professional of the Year; and Phillip Krik Jr., Mohegan Sun GC, Patriot Award.
The Patriot Award recognizes the professional who personifies patriotism through golf and demonstrates unwavering commitment and dedication to the men and women who have valiantly served and protected the United States. Krik’s work has included making professional and personal contributions to support and host activities that provide golf industry job training, fundraising and recreation of veterans through the game; was part of teams that have raised more than $25,000 for K9’s for Warriors and $100,000 for Til Duty is Done and the Vets Rock concert series; created the annual PGA Pro-Veteran Invitational with the Section; initiated a special military discount program for veterans and active duty personnel at Mohegan Sun Golf Club; participated in the PGA HOPE program and made contributions to Folds of Honor; and has been recognized by veterans he has encountered by being presented a West Point Military Saber from two West Point graduates in show of their appreciation for his efforts. He also has been “coined” by countless other veterans for his commitment and dedication to them.
Junior Golf Association award recipients were Christopher Palmer of Woodbury, Boys Player of the Year; Mia Scarpati of Norwalk, Girls Player of the Year; and Maggie Montalo and Tyler Woodward, Jack Kelly Girl and Boy Sportsmanship Award. The Kelly Award is given annually to the boy and girl JGA members who best exhibit exceptional character, leadership and sportsmanship throughout the year. Part of the recognition was a special gift of a Ping golf bag with his and her name on it.
Special guests in attendance included Jim Remy, the past PGA of America president and former vice president and general manager at Okemo Valley Golf Club in Ludlow, Vt., who is now a career consultant for the Connecticut and New England PGA Sections. The PGA Career Services Department offers a toolbox of invaluable resources to meet the hiring requirements demanded by employers today while better serving employ employers, PGA members and individuals seeing to gain employment within the golf industry. Remy, a PGA of America member since 1984, joined a team of 19 field consultants across the country to forge stronger relationships with members and employers.
John Nowobilski, the retired longtime head pro at Tallwood Country Club in Hebron, did his usual bang-up job during his question-and-answer session with the new Hall of Fame members at an event that was presented by Club Car and supported by Kirk & Matz, Lake of Isles and Ping. The Hall of Fame was established in 2008 to acknowledge PGA professionals for their dedication and contributions to the game of golf and the Connecticut Section. Professionals inducted are honored for their service and historical impact on their fellow members, the golfers that they have served and for the support of the PGA mission statement of growing the game and making golf a better game for all.
The eligibility requirements needed to be met for consideration for induction are an individual must be at least 50 years old, have been affiliated with the Section for a minimum of 10 years and have been a member of the PGA of America for at least 20 years.
At the annual fall meeting on Monday, the Section recognized Kyle Bilodeau, PGA Active Member, Player of the Year; Fran Marrello, Canaan Country Club, Senior Player of the Year; Jeff DiBona, Sales Representative of the Year; David DiRico, Golf & Racquet, Public Merchandiser of the Year; Justin Foster, Ridgewood Country Club in Danbury, Private Merchandiser of the Year; Tony Rowe, Rolling Meadows Golf Course in Ellington, Bill Strausbaugh Award; and Ron Beck, Northeast Performance Institute in Southington, Horton Smith Award. And Beck and E.J. Altobello (Springfield CC) were elected as the new directors on the Board of Directors and will serve three-year terms.