1901: The year Queen Victoria’s long rule ended and Prince Albert — “Bertie” — became England’s King Edward VII; and on these shores, Teddy Roosevelt became America’s 26th President.
It was the year Walt Disney was born — and the year The Shelter Island Country Club was founded. On Friday, Sept.17, the eve of the Island’s much-loved Goat Hill’s 120th Birthday Party, PGA Hall of Famer and Master Pro George Lewis comes to “Friday Night Dialogues @ the Library” — via Zoom — to reminisce with Islander Mary Fran Gleason, about SICC’s pivotal role in his celebrated career.
Join us for “Everything I Learned in Life, I Learned at the Shelter Island Country Club,” as Mr. Lewis puts it, eschewing the popular local nickname that links the course to goats that grazed on its hills.
As a boy, George hit golf balls from the front yard of the house his family rented across from the SICC’s second fairway. Like many Island kids, he worked as a caddy, and Club Manager Bill Congdon, who gave lessons and nurtured aspiring golfers from 1942 to 1970, soon became his hero.
He was “my pro,” to young George, who shagged balls during lessons, and learned his every golf shot here — “a masterful course built on a hillside … an experience you can’t have on any other course,” he said, in an interview with Ms. Gleason for this paper, noting all the blind holes that make it necessary to invent shots and “feel the green. There’ll always be longer courses, but this course is tough.”
Mr. Lewis grew up in The Bronx, and attended Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, driving to Shelter Island on weekends to practice shots and keep in shape. He left college and turned pro at 19 after serving as an assistant to Bob Watson at Ardsley Country Club in Westchester County and was elected to PGA membership in 1960. His first big tournament was the Los Angeles Open, which began a career that took him across four continents.
He became head pro at Leewood Golf Club in Eastchester, NY in 1963 and played the PGA Tour and the Caribbean Tour in the early 1960s. Mr. Lewis’s career hit its peak in 1967 when he won the Grand Bahama Open and scored a just-off-the-lead 72 in the prestigious U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
He served on the PGA Metropolitan Section Board of Directors and as its historian for many years. In 1978, he was named Professional of the Year of its Met Section and was honored with the Horton Smith Award in 1996 for his contribution to PGA education. In 2015, Mr. Lewis won the Bill Strausbaugh Award for his lifetime contributions to PGA employment, celebrating more than a dozen of his former assistants being elevated to professional positions.
Mary Fran Gleason, who came to Shelter Island when she was 13, is a graduate of the Shelter Island High School and the College of St. Elizabeth (now St. Elizabeth University). She holds a master’s degree in public affairs journalism from Columbia College Chicago, and worked as a reporter and managing editor at this newspaper, then owned by Bob and Barbara Dunne.
Mary Fran is active on the SICC Board, heads the club’s 120th Anniversary Committee and is working with the Shelter Island Historical Society to create an exhibit of the history of golf on the Island.
“It’s a story that needs to be told and I’m going to tell it … a huge project, which includes a vintage tournament with hickory clubs,” she said in a 2020 profile by Charity Robey for the Reporter.
Like all Library programs, “Everything I Learned in Life, I Learned at the Shelter Island Golf Club,” is free, with donations gratefully accepted. It begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 17 — remotely on Zoom. Visit the Shelter Island Public Library website to register for the program, or contact the library, 631-749-0042. For details on the SICC 120th Birthday Party, go to SHELTERISLANDCC.ORG/120PARTY
Next Up: Nancy Koltas on Relocating Elephants in South Africa on October 1st.