The Longshore golf course opens in about 6 weeks.
There are still no carts or balls in the pro shop. A new pro has not yet been hired.
Now there’s no greenskeeper either.
Michael Golden — who earned raves as head golf course superintendent at Longshore, turning the facility into Golfweek’s #8 public place to play in 2016 — has moved on to Sterling Farms in Stamford.
A number of Longshore golfers have expressed concern about the unsettled situation. As reported in December on “06880,” longtime pro John Cooper felt that the terms offered for renewal of his contract were untenable.
The town has reworked its RFP, but so far has not reached an agreement with a new pro.
Time for a mulligan?
There are 3 subjects I know will always generate huge “06880” reader reactions:
Parking. Dogs. And trees.
The first 2 are predictable parts of Westport life. The 3rd may be less intuitive.
But as regularly as power goes out when the wind blows, any time I post a tree story we get comments from readers who mourn the loss of every tree. And from others who say hey, easy come, easy go.
Yet — until the other day — I had no idea that both tree huggers and Paul Bunyans could find common purpose.
That’s when alert — and arboreal-minded — reader Johanna Rossi told me about the Friends of Parks & Recreation’s Arbor Program.
Full disclosure: I didn’t even know the Friends group existed, either. They’re a public-private partnership that finances worthwhile projects and services, beyond those paid for by tax dollars.
One of those programs can be found on the Friends’ website under the heading “Trees, Trees, Trees.” Launched last year, it’s a way to honor “the lives and achievements of friends and families.”
Working with Parks and Rec, tree warden Bruce Lindsay identifies locations where he’d like to plant trees. He notes the specimens and species that thrive there.
Donors can choose their location and tree. The price is based on the cost of planting, as well as a fund to support maintenance — fertilizing, watering, pruning, etc. — for 5 years.
Planting takes place in the spring and fall. Photos and biographical info can be displayed alongside the tree.
It’s a “living legacy” for people to celebrate those who, most probably, are no longer living.
There’s even a GPS locator to help identify locations and tree types. Right now, there are 2 sites: Winslow Park and Compo Beach.
So the next time I post a story about tree removal, don’t click “Comments.”
Instead, donate a tree.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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?
No one slipped up on last week’s photo challenge.
It was an image of a huge pile of snow. We haven’t had a big snowstorm yet — but 16 alert “06880” readers knew it had been dumped nearby, by the Longshore PAL skating ring Zamboni.
Congratulations to Monika Lazaro, Michael Calise, Chris Swan, Marc Hartog, James Weisz, Tony Lantier (who better have known — he runs the rink!), Martin Gitlin, Shirlee Gordon, Leigh Gage, Marty Bell, Susan Schmidt, Andrew Colabella, Rich Stein, Carmine Picarello, Seth Braunstein, D. Jacobs and Linda Amos. (Click here for the photo and all comments.)
This week’s vaguely Christmas-y looking challenge comes courtesy of Mary Sikorski:
If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.
PS: Happy Holidays, from the Photo Challenge!
In honor of autumn, last week’s photo challenge featured Andrew Colabella’s orange-filtered shot of some trees and reeds.
They could have been many places in Westport. Lots of alert “06880” readers zeroed in on the Longshore/Gray’s Creek/Compo Beach Road area. They were close.
But only Peter Barlow and Diane Bosch knew that the shot was taken in Longshore’s lower parking lot — beyond the golf course. It showed the east bank of the Saugatuck River. Click here to see the gorgeous image (and read all the ohsoclose responses).
This week’s photo challenge is also seasonal. The season was spring — but this Adirondack chair perches on the grass all year long. If you know where it is, click “Comments” below.
For decades, no one thought about the Longshore lighthouse.
Yesterday, I published a photo of it as part of “06880’s” Friday Flashback series.
I had no idea that Westporters Dick Stein and Tracy Hinson had just offered an oil painting of that same scene to the town, as a gift.
Dick told official curator Kathie Motes Bennewitz that he found the painting behind an upstairs desk at last year’s Red Barn tag sale. Owner Tommy Nistico asked Dick if he knew where the lighthouse had been located. Dick remembered it instantly from his youth.
The painting — by artist Harriet Horowitz, who moved from Westport in 1972 — was dusty and dirty. But Dick bought it, hoping it would one day hang in the Parks and Recreation Department office — at Longshore.
He had it cleaned and lightly repaired. Now he’s given it to the town.
That’s a great story. But there’s one more part.
According to alert “06880” reader Peter Barlow — who sent the lighthouse photo along for the “Friday Flashback” — in the late 1960s a popular Parks and Recreation Commission official ordered the demolition of the lighthouse.
Years later, he admitted it had been a mistake.
The commission member’s name?
Lou Nistico —
father uncle of Red Barn owner Tom Nistico, who sold the lighthouse painting to Dick Stein.
This was not a working lighthouse.
But for decades it served as a welcoming beacon for everyone entering Longshore — first the private beach club, then (after 1960), the town-owned park.
I don’t think anyone was allowed inside. But I clearly remember where it stood: Just inside the entrance across from the tennis courts, near where the pavilion and snack bar are today.
If you’ve got any memories of the Longshore lighthouse — or never knew it, but want to react to the photo — click “Comments” below.
A few years ago — very quietly — the entrance to the Longshore pool and tennis courts was renovated and upgraded.
What had been a shabby, neglected piece of the park is now a warm, welcoming space.
Alert “06880” reader/longtime Longshore fan Fred Cantor took this image the other day. The entryway frames the park — and Fred’s shot frames it beautifully.