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A Shelter Island institution is a thriving family tradition

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO An unbeatable bargain has been advertised on Shore Road for years.
An unbeatable bargain has been advertised on Shore Road for years.

At first they were  “what was that?”  moments, Peggy Brennan said, describing the loud thumps she’d hear, usually coming from upstairs.

“I would think one of the little ones had fallen,” Ms. Brennan said Monday, sitting on the porch of her Shore Road house, directly across from the second fairway of the Shelter Island Country Club’s (SICC) golf course.

But after awhile, Ms. Brennan knew  those sudden intrusions of her day were just more incoming stock for the Brennan family’s  cottage industry of selling golf balls.

For almost a quarter of a century, the stand in front of a little bungalow next to the Brennan’s house, with a beach umbrella, a sign, golf balls in egg cartoons and an honor box for cash, has been an Island institution.

Started by Ms. Brennan’s husband, Jerry, who passed away eight years ago, the golf ball  retail outlet has been stocked and maintained by three generations, with Ms. Brennan’ grandsons, Jason, 17, Nick, 15, and Matthew, 13, now in charge.

“Matthew’s the perfectionist,” Ms. Brennan said with a smile,  always reminding family members to keep the stand neat and orderly.

Jerry Brennan knew what savvy business people know: if you have a problem, turn it into an opportunity. And golf balls striking the house on the fly from the SICC’s second tee, or taking a momentum-gaining bounce from Shore Road’s macadam into the yard, was an opportunity he couldn’t waste.

In addition to collecting balls hit into the Brennan’s and neighbor’s yards, Jerry also “hawked balls in the woods of the course,” Ms. Brennan said.

The bounty of the honor box isn’t used to supplement the family’s income, or even as pin money, Ms. Brennan said. Since the “Golf Balls 3 / $1.00” sign went up, all proceeds have gone to Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.  The charity’s mission statement, according to its website, is “to provide compassionate, comprehensive care for the poor, the marginal and the wounded among us.”

Ms. Brennan remembers her own community helping out. “The summer after Jerry died, we were down to one golf ball,” she said. But a member of the country club gave the family a bag of balls to sell, and that primed the pump for them to continue the business.

Best year ever? That was awhile back, when the summer’s tally was more than $1,300. “That’s a lot of golf balls,” Ms. Brennan said.

The screens on her porch are protected by stout turkey wire. Ask her about damage, and she gives a slight eye roll,  speaking of broken windows and golf balls shooting through screens. “You should see the side of the house,”  she said.

She’s been struck in the ankle and a dimpled white missile smashed a car’s taillight.  More than one friend visiting has said “it’s like a war zone,” Ms. Brennan said, with the mordant expression of a veteran who has seen it all.

Looking at the golf balls, you immediately notice that the three for a dollar variety appear brand new. There’s a five for a dollar selection in plastic bags that look a little worse for wear, but the premium balls — of every major brand — have gone through a rigorous process before they’re allowed to be displayed in the egg cartons and boxes.

“They’re cleaned with Clorox Clean-up, scrubbed with a brush, rinsed in clean water twice and dried,” Ms. Brennan said.

Some balls are separately boxed specialty items, with names and birthdays stamped on them, company logos for golf outings and country club stamps.

“One man, a collector, would come to Jerry just for the country club names,” Ms. Brennan said.

Was he charged more for the collectibles? “Same price,” Ms. Brennan said. “We’ve never raised our prices.”