A True Pro Leaves Longshore

It was a tiny moment. But it changed John Cooper’s life.

When he was 11 years old, dragged to a tag sale, he spotted some golf clubs, and a pot of used balls.

He bought them. But he had no idea how to play, so he got an instructional book.

Instantly, Cooper was hooked.

He hit 800 golf balls a day. He went out before school and after, to the Burr Farms Elementary School field (conveniently located behind his Blackberry Lane house). When it was dark or the weather was bad, he hit balls into a net in his parents’ garage.

A year later on Long Island, Cooper won his first tournament.

At 13 he attended Arnold Palmer’s golf camp — and met his idol. Cooper’s passion for the sport grew even stronger.

Though barely a teenager, he had 2 jobs. He washed dishes at the Inn at Longshore, and caddied on the adjacent golf course. Dave Reynolds — who lived in an old house next to the 2nd tee — helped Cooper learn the game.

The Longshore golf course -- where John Coopepr learned the game. (Photo by Dan Murdoch, via LongshoreGolf.com)

The Longshore golf course — where John Coopepr learned to play. (Photo by Dan Murdoch, via LongshoreGolf.com)

He became a 2-year captain of the Staples High School golf team — and an All-American. As a junior in 1975, he helped coach Joe Folino’s squad win the state championship.

Cooper earned a partial scholarship to the University of Tampa. He captained that team too, and roomed with Brian Claar. Cooper had convinced his fellow Stapleite to go there, instead of his original plan to ski at the University of Connecticut.

In 1986, Claar was named Rookie of the Year on the PGA tour.

Cooper turned pro in 1980. After 2 years on the mini-tour circuit — and the realization that he would not make a living as a player — he turned to his true golf passion: teaching.

He came back to Westport. From 1980-83 he served as assistant pro to the legendary George Buck. He then was an assistant at clubs elsewhere in Connecticut, and Florida.

Buck died in the summer of 1991. Cooper applied for the position, went through the interview process, was offered the job — but declined. He did not think he could make a living with the terms offered.

After negotiating a better contract, he signed. There were early glitches — he walked into a shell of a building with no golf carts and electrical problems — but the past 25 years have been wonderful.

Fore! John Cooper in action.

John Cooper in action.

Over 5,000 junior golfers have gone through Cooper’s program. One — Larry Tedesco — qualified for the US Open. Cooper gave Willard Scott a golf lesson at Longshore — televised live on “The Today Show.”

He was named the Northeast Teacher of the Year, and honored by the Sportsmen of Westport.

Along the way the pro has helped wounded soldiers learn golf, through Project HOPE. He’s also raised money for Folds of Honor (supporting families of injured and fallen soldiers), and the Bridgeport Rescue League. He also created a scholarship for Staples student-athletes on the boys and girls golf teams.

Cooper is very proud that just a few months ago he earned the PGA’s highest designation: Master Professional. The organization has asked him to mentor other teaching pros — including the head professional at TPC Sawgrass.

John Cooper (right) with Paul Taylor, former director of golf at Longshore. John and Parks and Recreation Department head Stuart McCarthy won this golf cart in a closest-to-pin competition at the Met PGA Pro-Am in New Rochelle. Cooper donated it to the town.

John Cooper (right) with Paul Taylor, former director of golf at Longshore. John and Parks and Recreation Department head Stuart McCarthy won this golf cart in a closest-to-pin competition at the Met PGA Pro-Am in New Rochelle. Cooper donated it to the town.

But every course has its rough. While most of Cooper’s contracts were for 5 years, his most recent ran for only 2. This fall, the Parks and Recreation Department put out an RFP. Though he was notified on December 8 that the town wanted him to stay — and he very much wanted to — he felt there were “too many caveats” in the arrangement.

His rent runs to six figures. “I don’t think I could make a living, paying my 12 employees,” Cooper says.

For one thing, a bunker renovation project next spring will render a few holes unavailable until late June.

That — along with the fact that his income is always affected by weather and course conditions — caused him to reject the offer.

“I survived when the greens died a few years ago,” Cooper says. “I’m just getting out of debt now. I can’t risk taking that chance again.”

He’s leaving with nothing but fond feelings — and great memories — of his quarter century at Longshore.

The course closed December 11, so he could not thank golfers personally for all their support over the years. “I’ve made many close friends,” Cooper says. “I’ll truly miss everyone. I wouldn’t trade a thing for this 25-year journey.”

John Cooper and his sons.

John Cooper and his sons.

He also thanks his employees “who stood with me,” and the “wonderful people at the Parks and Rec Department. They were great to work with.”

But of all the fantastic things that happened at Longshore, the best was meeting his former wife. Together, they had 2 “wonderful” kids: Dobson, a Staples junior, and Shane, a freshman at Fairfield Country Day School.

Cooper looks forward to spending more time with them.

“Life is good,” Cooper says.

And how good is it that — several decades ago — he spotted that set of clubs and used golf balls at a tag sale that everyone else has long since forgotten?

 

 

59 responses to “A True Pro Leaves Longshore

  1. Perhaps the change should made at golf committee level and not our golf pro.

  2. Thanks for this news. But, unclear what his next move is. Any word on that?

  3. Bonnie Scott Connolly

    John Cooper is after my time but I learned golf at Longshore from George Buck. Such a solid foundation I got. I certainly loved playing Longshore. My brother learned the game from caddying there.

  4. Loretta Santella Hallock

    How very sad for Westport. John will be missed! It’s too bad the citizens of Westport can’t do something to keep John. We wish you well.

  5. I moved to Westport about 8 years ago. I had often visited here from NYC for day trips to Compo Beach, and was so enchanted by Longshore— The Inn, Splash, golf course— I rounded up a group of NYC friends to spend Labor Day weekend there!
    A couple of years ago I decided to walk into that pro shop; I rode my bike through the course almost everyday and always said, I’ll try tomorrow!!
    That pro shop… those fellas… THE OUTFITS!!!— Well, it was like Cheer’s for me!
    John made that happen. Always a little twinkle in his eye, a wry wit, and always the first with a encouraging word.
    The very greatest thanks to you, John! And all of my best wishes for whatever you do next— you always hit it straight down the fairway!
    Joyce

  6. I am sure there is more to the story but the town has lost a great asset and when that happens those in charge should be held accountable. In the words of Colin Powell, you break it you own it.

  7. Kathie Bennewitz

    This is such a heartfelt post, Dan. John has always been a longtime friend to our family both at Longshore and town as Staples alum, and we will miss seeing him there. His generosity touched us to as Mary, who first started playing golf with his program, also received one of his student athlete Staples student athlete golf scholarships in her senior year. We wish him and his family well and look forward to hearing of his next enterprises.

  8. Don L. Bergmann

    As others have suggested it sounds as if there is a “back story” here. The “front story”, however, is clear. John Cooper was and is a delightful person and ran a fine pro shop and teaching experience. I had some personal positive interactions with John and the qualities we most appreciate in people were very prominent Good luck, may the future be mostly straight down the middle of the fairway and few “lip outs” around the hole.. Don Bergmann.

  9. John you will be sure
    ly missed.. Not only were you a great teacher but a good friend.. I hope you enjoy doing the things that you did not have time for before… I wish you all the best in your adventures ahead!!

  10. John- All I can say is thank you! You did a tremendous job working out of the most inferior recreational complex imaginable. You were dealt some cards that were totally stacked against you. It’s a shame you were not afforded the facility and support given to the sailing school and tennis program. Thank you for teaching me the game. Wishing you and your staff nothing but the best my friend.

  11. GOOD LUCK COOP – IT’S BEEN A LONG RIDE. WILL YOUR STAFF BE RETAINED BY YOUR SUCCESSOR. I HOPE SO. CUDOS TO THEM . .

  12. Jimmy Izzo comments are spot on. Just when the course is in great shape the town shows zero loyalty to John. How about some transparency from Park and Rec on what is being offered to run the course and what was the prior fee. Good Luck John!

  13. John , we will all miss you so much . You have been a champion for the 9 Holers. A great teacher and always a great wit. Good luck on your new adventures. Please let us know where you will be, so we can come and bother you

  14. Michael Elliot

    What a shame or should I say sham. John Cooper has been a great pro managing a business out of facilities rivaled by only that of our transfer station. So disappointed in “our town” letting one of its own get away. The best to Coop….hit em straight.

  15. Sorry to see you go Coop, as a friend said above, the cards were stacked against you & you made the best of it!! Thanks for all you’ve done for Westport & the game…best of luck & hope to see you soon. Merry Christmas!!

  16. John Cooper was a real asset to the town and to me personally. One of the most generous and engaging guys I’ve had the privilege to know. Honestly, one of the few people on the planet who could make me laugh like I did in the days before life’s complications set in…(married, kids, tears!) How do you pay someone back for that? I can’t imagine what the “people in charge,” are thinking. I know that their original RFP asked that they would prefer to consider head pros only but when no head pro stepped up (for reasons that will become clear) they dropped their standards post haste. Why? Because as Coop so clearly pointed out…there’s no money there. Not to mention that the building any future pro would be inhabiting is a condemned eyesore, a travesty.of a clubhouse. What they charged him to rent that dump would astonish you. (One of the caveats that the town insisted on was that John offer top of the line clothing in the golf shop….but the merchandise must be sold at discounted prices! Ha, ha, ha. Only in Westport!) When the golf course almost shut down for two years because the greens died (a whole other story of colossal incompetence) did the town come to John and offer him a reduction in rent until the course came back to life? Of course not. Still, over the years John made do with what he had, lived his life, raised his kids and contributed to the community in any way he could. Perhaps the powers that be are simply looking for a change after twenty-five years and that’s their right. But from what I know about how they treated John in this whole process it’s clear they no longer desired his services. On the day he presented his bid for the job one of the three board members showed up forty minutes late, asked a few uninformed questions and let it go at that. When they called John back for a second interview (more of a protracted form of harassment than anything else) the same board member chose to listen in by phone!) From what I know of the towns offer to John (with no possibility of salary increase mind you) they were looking for something closer to a head pro functionary: the sort that one might find at a private club, someone that meets and greets golfers as they come off the course, a gregarious fellow that organizes and hosts all the events that the various golf associations put on…on top of all the other administrative duties a head pro has to perform, In the end, Longshore is a public golf course…a municipal golf course with a municipal mind set and a municipal budget. If you want a private course head pro you’ll have to pay him private course rates.The town will say that they made John an offer to return (only when they realized no one else wanted it) but that he turned it down. Of course he did. After twenty five years of service all he asked was that he make close to the money that his peers around the state make but that’s three times the crummy deal Westport offered. You had the bargain of a lifetime with talented pro like John Cooper at the helm for all those years and got away paying him a pittance for it. Good luck replacing him…you’re gonna need it. When the new Pro shows up and realizes early on that he or she is going to lose their shirt with your generous offer and backs out mid season leaving Longshore with no pro at all, no carts, no instruction I hope there’s a public hearing where we can all learn how cleverly the town played this one.

  17. Sounds like Charlie habestroh and golf committee had something up there sleeve. What a disgrace maybe he should have been given the same deal as longshore sailing school and tennis school. These Westport committees have to much power. John you got screwed by a bunch of backstabbing committee members. Your a good man and didn’t deserve to be treated this way. You always treated me and my family with respect and sorry your weren’t given the same treatment from Charles habestroh and his committee that you gave this town for 25 years.

  18. Like a spoiled child, the town is taking its ball and going home. They offer an eyesore of a structure, demand top rent for no amenities and just sit back collecting money off of everyone’s hard work. Now the best and most generous golf professional in Connecticut is gone for no reason but town greed. Anyone involved in this coop should be run out of town.

  19. A sad day in Westport….We just learned that John Cooper will not be returning to Longshore. We got to know John very well over the past few years. He is a patient, competent instructor who loved to work with players no matter how new they were to the game. He cared about the town, the course and it’s players. John knew everyone, asked about your family by name and forgave you for the occasional missed lesson. He had time for young golfers, establish scholarships for Westport students and gave of his time to organizations like Folds of Honor which he did so quietly~no hype or bragging. How do you replace such a man?

    In a town where many lament over the loss of Mom and Pop shops in Westport, perhaps John was not on Main Street, but he is certainly the equivalent of a home grown business. He stood with the town through thick in thin, as recently as the year of the ‘dead greens.’ Where is the town now for John Cooper?

    Good luck with finding someone of John’s caliber especially with a facility that saw its better days many years ago, if ever.

    John Cooper, we wish you the very best~you are a talented, gracious guy and we are sure that our paths will cross again.

    Tom and Virginia Baxter

  20. If what Mr. O’Hern wrote is correct the Westport golf community is owed a fast explanation and rebuttal if any of his point aren’t correct. Perhaps at the next Parks and Rec meeting?

  21. Jan 18, 2017 7:30 Parks and Rec next scheduled meeting.

  22. Any comment from the LMGA?

  23. John, we will miss you. Ultimately you’ll be judged on one of the things I think you did best, bringing new players, kids and adults, into the game. Good luck to you and to your family. Bob Carney

  24. The Town of Westport strikes again! What a damn shame. John was hometown boy and the perfect guy for Longshore. John O’Hern said it perfectly in his post. We probably were lucky to have him as long as we did. Wonderful friend and awesome teacher. Anyone who could square away my swing like he could was truly a magician! Good luck Coops, I’ll miss you for sure.

  25. The town will be losing a real gem. My brother. The town really screwed this up but John is too classy to publicly say anything. I hope the people of Westport will protest vocally and in writing. John’s heart is with you all and I know it pains him to leave but he can only take so much crap from arrogant town officials. He needs to look after himself.

  26. We’re is the response from Mr Habestroh and his possy. Your being oftley quite. What a great gift you gave the cooper family. Merry Christmas golf committee

  27. Werner Liepolt

    I just started lessons with John Cooper and his staff this past spring and summer. I started because several of my friends from Westport and other towns as far away as Milford praised his lessons and teaching approach.

    Reading the comments and measuring them against my very good experience I cannot fail to conclude that Cooper was treated poorly.

    What is going on?

  28. Westport has made a tremendous mistake. John means a lot to so many people who play at Longshore, to lose him means players (and the money they spend) will go elsewhere. Over the years he has helped thousands of players get better, conducted fundraisers, and also helped those who are physically challenged to enjoy the game. I will definitely be at the next Parks and Rec meeting, Westport needs to fix the damage they have done.

  29. John, you will be missed. Your generosity and welcoming to Longshore for golfers of all classes was what made it special. Thank you sir.

  30. Andrew Colabella

    I’ll never forget when he use to come out at 7:30-8:00pm I’d be off work from the town and I’d be back there on the driving range looking for balls and making a pile to drive them as far as I could. John came out one day and yelled to knock it off with the Happy Gilmore drive, I replied no, slammed the ball and drove it right out of the range…he laughed.

  31. We’re are you Charlie and golf committee ?

  32. A talented and top drawer teacher, client and friend. What happened town of Westport?

  33. Once again we learn the value of 06880. A decision that will impact Westport residents and tax payers is reported by 06880. Thank you Dan.

    Mr Haberstroh and his golf committee have the right to make a change in the golf pro, that is their decision. But Longshore is ‘OUR’ club and we have the right to be informed of the decision to let John Cooper go. We have the right to know why Parks and Rec is making the change. Just be honest and inform the town. John Cooper is not only our Pro at Longshore but he is also a Westporter.

    Instead, once again, the news about something that is important to Westporters comes from 06880 and we are left to ask why.

    Longshore is ‘OUR’ club and Mr Haberstroh and Parks and Rec should have been upfront with the news while also explaining their decision.

    Arrogance or scared??

    • Neither….stupidity. Their reasons are (to my way of thinking) small and petty. Charlie belongs to Pinehurst and thinks Longshore should be run in the same fashion regardless of any budget constraints…Fred Hunter and his gang are looking for a Pro to more enthusiastically support their events…pretty much let them do whatever they want regardless of how that might effect the non-member golfers. Oh…and free golf carts would be nice too.

      • Maybe there are good reasons for changing the Pro. Whatever it is-Charlie Haberstroh should be clear and open and tell Westporters why he and his golf committee made the decision. That is his role and responsibility as he represents our interest in Westport’s Park. and Rec and OUR interests Arnold Longshore.

        It is quite simple.

  34. So now what happens, after all has been said above, someone looking to take up this position and sees that the contract proposed is not economic and walks away. Or worse still takes up the position and we are left with a suboptimal golf pro and a bad business person running one of our towns great treasures.
    Cant wait for the Meeting in January.. Heads need to roll.

    • In any event it will be interesting to hear the reasoning behind all this and what actually transpired. How many candidates were interviewed, how many begged to take the job and how then were they able to cull the herd and choose just the right person to fill John’s shoes…and most interesting…does the deal they’re offering the new Pro in any way resemble the deal they offered John? Or did they sweeten the pot considerably after achieving their goal of forcing John to walk away.Personally, I’d like to hear all of that.

  35. John, I am sure that they would have put the same terms and conditions of the contract to all candidates , just to avoid a potentially messy situation down the track !!!

    • That may be true through the original interviews but I doubt very much the final contract will be the same. The new person will have to remodel the shop, stock it with inventory, hire new staff, buy a new fleet of carts and suffer through months of lackluster play because they’re putting in new bunkers at the beginning of next year. If it’s the same deal the offered John the poor Pro wont survive. (my understanding is that there wasn’t a long line of candidates kicking down the door for that deal.

      • John. Do you work at Longshore? Are you a resident of Westport?

        • I worked there with John for 9 maybe 10 years. Moved to Norwalk a year ago. I’ve talked with John all the way through the process which had the two of us scratching our heads for some time. John is not the kind of guy to publicly complain about his plight but I have no such qualms.

  36. JOHN YOUR GOING TO BE MISSED BY MANY. THE FIX WAS IN RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING, MARPE AND HIS SIDE KICK CHARLIE. HOPEFULLY WE CAN MAKE THEM BOTH PAY NEXT YEAR AT ELECTION TIME. GOOD LUCK.

  37. John has been an asset to Longshore. He’s made a business out of a a garage that leaks and a golf store out of a shack, it’s amazing he has had such success with what he’s was given to work with by Charlie Haberstroh and the Golf Advisory Committee of Westport. We will miss you John. We Thank You for your hard work and many years of dedication and kindness to Westport.

  38. Audrey Hertzel

    Sad to read this but understand John’s viewpoint 1000%. You will be missed, Coop! If not for you, I’d still be stuck in the sand on the 6th hole! I’m sure there will be a party (and I’ll be happy help in any way I can!) for our favorite Golf Pro — please keep us posted if you can, Dan. Thank you!

  39. I think that there is enough ground swell to demand the First Select Person and his “crew” to be held accountable for this RFP for the renewal of the contract.
    From a lay persons point view, the people running this were both negligent with respect to the process and i would go so far as to say there was willful misconduct on there part as well

    Please prove us wrong with a full and open public inquiry as to how this all took place

    • Couldn’t agree more. Not sure this is the forum for building a groundswell (Letters to Westport News?) but it’s a start.

    • These cowards will never come out. They should, instead, be flying the American flag at half staff to commemorate the end of Longshore, otherwise known as the doormat of Westport. The first selectman and his henchmen have not been honest with John for several years. The knives were sharpened for him for a while.

  40. Mr. Cooper, I truly can’t thank you enough for all you have done for me the past two years. From being my boss to truly becoming a great friend. I can not tell you how much I looked forward to coming to work everyday. Everyday you took the time out of your busy/crazy schedule to sit down and share stories with me, laugh, and teach me. Not only did you teach me about golf everyday but you taught me how to become a better person. You taught me that not everything in life is going to be fair but to make the best of what you have. Teaching with you on your clinics has been a pleasure and I will never forget the times we spent down on our lesson tee and all you have taught me. You are truly going to be missed. I am forever grateful and blessed to have worked with you but more importantly for our friendship. Here’s to the next chapter and whatever it may bring. Thanks PGA Master professional.

    To all of the LMGA, LWGA members, and to all of the other golfers at longshore I sincerely appreciate all of the friendships and bonds I have made with each and every one of you. You guys were a part of making coming to longshore so special to me. Thank you and hope to see you guys next season!

    Chris Davies
    Assistant Professional

  41. A massive loss to the Town of Westport. John is the reason I play golf. I often wished I could carry him around in my golf bag. John is a class act and he will continue to change lives. Thank you Coop! Sending huge hugs from Team Tiley!

  42. i agree with a lot of what you say…but aren’t you supposed to plant your name on your comments? #gutless?

  43. Catherine Calise RTM D2

    John you will be missed!! This is yet another move by our APPOINTED Parks & Rec Commission , that they do what they want. Much like with Comp Beach. After many repeated, repeated requests from members of The Board of Finance, The RTM and among others, we still do not have an overall plan for Compo Beach. What we do have is phases of changes with the clear intent of turning our precious & loved Compo Beach into a park.

  44. Dan–why allow all these posters to use ‘fictitious’ names and not have them use their real names?

    While I understand there could be concern regarding John Cooper, it is not fair that these posters avoid using their real names.

    • Bart, I cannot patrol these comments 24/7. I remove comments made under fictitious names, or those without full names, when I can. I just saw the many comments made under aliases — all from the same IP address — and removed them now. I have tried to make the comments section as easy to use as possible. I am sorry there are people who take advantage of it.

      • Dan-thank you. You provide Westport with a real
        Service but some are taking advantage. Now we
        Know a lot of the postings are coming from the same person.

        Thank you!!!!

  45. I have spent too much time removing trolling comments on this story. This thread is now closed to comments.