History Revisited: Shenny's caddies have a history all their own

A month or so ago I had ventured into writing an article relating to what can best described as the “old-time” golf caddies at Groton’s Shennecossett Golf Course. My plan was to begin the piece by providing the readers with a short history about the golf course and then talk about the caddies.

Well, as is often the case when writing about local landmarks, the information about the course’s history was so voluminous and interesting that it morphed into its own article and completely drifted away from the subject about the caddies.

For clarification purposes, in the golf course article, it was mentioned that the 18-hole “Shenny” course had been redesigned in 1926 by the famous golf course architect Donald Ross. It was subsequently learned that Ross had initially designed the course in 1914. He did, however, redesign the course in 1926.

OK, so let’s get to the subject of caddies.

Although there is an abundance of historically related subjects in Groton to write about, sometimes you stumble upon something which, while technically not considered history, it would certainly become so in the years to come.

So was the case last summer when I entered the Par Four Restaurant at Shenny to enjoy an evening out with my wife. As I walked past a crowded table where several men and women were obviously having a joyous time, I was summoned over by one of the owners of the restaurant. I was then introduced to several at the table, some of whom I already knew, and was advised that they were former and, without offending anyone, “old-time” Shenny golf caddies.

They had gathered for dinner on the eve of what was called the annual Caddy Reunion and Remembrance Scramble Golf Tournament that they had organized 21 years earlier.

When I showed interest in the subject, those present, with a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm, began providing details about the tournament, its beginning, founders, purpose and, of course, memories of their days when they caddied. As more information was passed along, I decided that the story certainly had the makings of an article of interest to readers.

Caddies, almost from the beginning of the game of golf, have been an important and essential part of the sport. Although the earliest documented mention of the use of caddies at the Shennecossett Golf Course is in the 1920s, it is probably safe to say that their use at Shenny probably started in the early 1900s, when the sport become popular for guests and visitors at the Griswold Hotel.

In the days following my encounter with the former “old-timers” at Par Four, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing two of the individuals who were instrumental not only in establishing the tournament but also in successfully organizing and holding the same annual event for the past 21 years.

Tom Edwards, who resides in Gales Ferry, said he began caddying in 1945 at the New London Country Club where his father was a member. He would receive $1.25 for caddying a total of 18 holes of golf and, if lucky, received a 60- or 70-cent tip.

After a few years at the New London Club he began “hitch-hiking” rides to the Shennecossett Golf Course in Groton where the “Big Money” players from the Griswold Hotel would pay $1.75 for 18 holes.

Edwards, an avid golfer, has won several tournaments in southeastern Connecticut. In 1951, at age 16, he won his first tournament, the Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament. Another proud golfing moment for Edwards took place in 1948, at Shenny, when he made a hole-in-one on the fourth hole which, by the way, has been accomplished only by a very few.

Of special note is the fact that Edwards, playing in a caddy tournament at the time, was only 14 years old.

Edwards stopped caddying in 1952, right after high school, when he went to work as a timekeeper at the Electric Boat Company. After a few years, he attended Notre Dame University and served two years in the Army. He then returned to and ultimately retired from Electric Boat. He was extremely active in the Electric Boat Company Athletic Club and served as the club’s president.

The next person interviewed was Bob Ross, who now winters in Florida and spends much of the summer months in Vermont. Ross is not only a golf legend in Groton but throughout the country.

The 87-year-old Ross moved to Groton when he was 10 and began caddying at Shenny when he was 11. He won many golf tournaments in the area, including several junior golf championships and the caddy title at Shenny. He stopped caddying in 1950 when he was assigned to work at the club’s pro shop.

After high school, Ross attended Pasadena City College and served two years in the Army. Although his career as a professional in the golfing area is so extensive and impressive that it would be worthy of its own article, it should be noted that in 1996, he retired as the golf-pro at the prestigious Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey.

In the fall of 1998, Edwards, Ross and Bob Silva, another Shenny golf figure (and former caddy) were enjoying a cocktail together when Ross suggested having a golf tournament for former Shenny caddies. They subsequently formed a committee with other former caddies Bob McPhail, Ken MacDonald, Rod Mackin, Matt Shafner and Phil Jones and organized what was to become known as the annual Caddy Reunion and Remembrance Scramble Golf Tournament.

It was the decision of the committee that profits from the tournament would be donated in the form of scholarships to high school students in southeastern Connecticut who participated and excelled in the game of golf. The scholarship would be named in honor of Bob Ross.

The recipients of the awards are selected after members meet with local high school officials and review their recommendations. The number of the scholarships awarded annually varies from one to five.

The role the former caddies have played in the history of the Shennecossett Golf Course is worthy of recognition. Their continued contributions to the community, and many local, young golf enthusiasts, through their annual caddy tournament, is certainly commendable.

During the interviews of several of the former caddies, numerous interesting and entertaining stories were relayed about their experiences at Shenny. To do justice to these stories it was felt that a future follow-up article might be in order. So please stand by for a little sequel to this article.

Jim Streeter is the Groton town historian.

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