Eye on the Ball: A pro all the way

BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Leigh Notley hitting a shot off the third tee with a club that was popular 120 years ago.
BOB DeSTEFANO PHOTO | Leigh Notley hitting a shot off the third tee with a club that was popular 120 years ago.

There’s a lake in northwest England called Windermere that is more than 10 miles long, the largest natural  lake in the country.

Just one mile to the east, at the top of a steep hill, is the town of Windermere, population 8,400. Here is where Leigh Notley was born, raised, educated and as a boy played many sports, such as cricket, rugby and football (soccer to you Yanks).

What we have in common with England is the game of golf.

Leigh’s dad, Mick, was a golf pro. Early instruction from Mick and time on the course was a great opportunity for Leigh and he soon fell in love with the game. This love affair has provided him with a lifetime of enjoyment and family security.

His serious-minded golf started after his graduation from high school. A fine player, with aspirations of being a great player, he spent the next two years out of school on the amateur circuit. At 20 he was playing well enough to turn pro. For a steady income, he moved a little south to Warwickshire to teach the game. Never losing his desire to be a pro player, he competed in events throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Many top tier finishes kept his dream alive of breaking through on the pro circuit.

I’ve always believed if a person can play quality golf when young, they should see how far they can go. Even though losing can, at times, be painful, it makes the thrill of winning that much more enjoyable.

An admittedly restless young man, at 24 Leigh was off to America with his British PGA card in hand that he had earned by finishing in the top 10 in his class.

He landed a teaching position in Philadelphia where he worked for two summers while still giving playing his best shot. In those years, he competed as far afield as Australia, the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Eventually, he took a teaching position at the beautiful Carnegie Abbey Club in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. One night on a blind date he was fixed up with Bethany, taking her to a member’s house for a free meal and a quality evening.

A year later in the Grand Cayman Islands, Leigh proposed to Bethany and learned that, not being an American citizen, he had to go back to the U.K. to get what is called a “fiancé visa.” Then, upon returning to the U.S., he was allowed only 90 days to get married. The marriage was done on time, but wasn’t satisfying enough for the lovebirds. They scheduled a second, proper wedding in June of 2005.

Leigh finally came to the conclusion, like most young folks who have tried it, that making a living playing golf was not going to happen. He had given it plenty of time and his best shot.

I believe that if you never try, you will never watch a golf tournament again in your life without wondering if you missed the boat.

Leigh found a job at another beautiful place, the Naples National Golf Club in Naples, Florida, a course that has been ranked by Golf Digest as one of the top 100 in the United States. That move proved to be the essence of the phrase, “Being in the right place at the right time.”

At that time on Shelter Island, the golf professional (me) at Gardiner’s Bay Country Club had just scared the club directors when he had a stroke. To protect themselves, they appointed a three-person committee to seek an assistant professional for Gardiner’s Bay.

One of those committee members was down south playing Naples National where she met Leigh. She went on to introduce him to the rest of the committee and the following year, we had a new assistant pro at GBCC.

In the last 10 years, Leigh has more than proven himself to both the membership and board of directors at the club. Since moving here, Leigh and Bethany have purchased a home and had two children — Max, 7, and Lila, 3. Bethany became involved in the community and Leigh is still looking for time from his job to do the same.

It looks like he has decided, like most of us, that the world doesn’t get much prettier than the view from Shelter Island.