Berkshire County's club professionals are badly outnumbered by their New York cohorts as part of the Northeast New York section of the PGA of America, but you wouldn't know it by last year's results on the course and by honors received recently by three of county members.
Wyantenuck Country Club's Tom Sullivan, Stockbridge Golf Club's Steve Mazzariello and Kay McMahon of eduKaytiongolf at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club all received awards on the heels of Sullivan, Josh Hillman and Bob Mucha capturing five of the section's six biggest events in 2012.
Sullivan was named the teacher of the year, Mazzariello was picked as the merchandiser of the year and McMahon captured the Horton Smith Award.
Sullivan, who was named the second-best teacher in Massachusetts by Golf Digest last year, has long been considered one of the best teachers of the golf swing in New England. Not only has he helped countless club members and other amateurs who travel to Great Barrington to seek his advice, but he is well-known for assisting other section pros.
"Tom is well-deserving," said Mazzariello, who is one of those who Sullivan has helped. "He's a fantastic instructor."
"I look at it as a credit to the people from my club and other clubs, as well as the section pros who trust me with their swings and games," Sullivan said. "It's fun. I just heard from a guy who I taught who hadn't broken 80 but now has a handicap that is five shots better than before.
Sullivan's willingness to help his fellow tournament competitors isn't a tough call for the 63-year-old.
"You've got to help to help the other guy," he said. "Nobody likes to see anyone struggle when you know all they need is a little fix. As we all get older, we only have so many good scores left."
Like Sullivan, Mazzariello deflected praise to others.
"I'm very flattered and honored, but what it shows is that my staff [assistants Sebastian Evans and Eddie Cano] do a great job," Mazzariello said. "They do all the heavy lifting in the shop."
Mazzariello explained that the awards committee evaluates the various shops based on how you order, how you display items for sale and the general appearance of your pro shop. Sales are part of the equation, but not the biggest factor -- there are plenty of clubs in the section that are larger and dealing with bigger memberships.
For McMahon, being the only fulltime member of the section who is a woman (former LPGA great Dottie Pepper is on the board of directors), winning one of the section's most prestigious awards has great meaning.
"To be recognized by my male colleagues gives me a very inclusive feeling," said McMahon, who is always looking for new ways to grow the game. They have been overwhelmingly supportive of me."
According to the NENY section's website, the Smith award -- he was the first Masters winner and Golf Hall of Famer -- "recognizes a pro's outstanding contributions to developing and improving education and opportunities for all professionals."
It looks like Tee it Forward, a joint inititave of the PGA of America and the United States Golf Association, has reached the Berkshires.
The idea is to help golfers have more fun and to enhance their overall experience by playing from a set of tees best suited to their abilities, especially to the distance they can hit it off the tee.
The Country Club of Pittsfield and Stockbridge Golf Club are creating new tees that shorten the course considerably and gives its members more options.
At the CC of Pittsfield, head professional Brad Benson said the club will have five sets of tees ranging from 3,843 yards to 6,395. As part of the change, new separate women's and senior tees are being built (they shared a teeing area previously). The senior tees will measure 5,441 yards and the women's tees 4,987. The women's tees previously were 5,318. The building of the new tees is complete on the front nine and will be soon on the back. The front tees are placed in the fairway.
"We are trying to make it more enjoyable for people to play," Benson said. "Jack Nicklaus said in an interview that golf has lost 25 percent of women's players and 35 percent of juniors in the last seven or eight years. We need to do everything we can to grow play. Creating a shorter course is good for families with children and seniors and women who don't want to struggle."
For handicap purposes, Benson said, the new tee will soon be sloped and rated.
Stockbridge head professional Steve Mazzariello said that idea of creating a new front tee -- he estimates it will measure about 4,500 yards -- has been discussed for a long time and now will become a reality.
"It's pretty exciting and great for our members," Mazzariello said. "This game is real difficult so anything that can add to the enjoyment of it is great. One of the huge benefits should be that it will improve the pace of play."
The Tee it Forward advocates have created a chart to be used to help golfers align their average driving distance with the course length best suited to their abilities.
As part of the same theme of growing the game, the Masters Foundation, the USGA and the PGA of America have created the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, a free, nationwide juniors skills competition that will conclude at Augusta National Golf Club in 2014.
Participants, with four age groups between ages 7-15, will advance through local and regionals championships. The regional champions will advance to the finals to be held at Augusta National the Sunday before next year's Masters.
There will be nine qualifying sites in New England, six in Massachusetts -- Cyprian Keyes GC in Boylston, Blissful Meadows in Uxbridge, Granite Links GC in Quincy, The Bay Club in Mattapoisett, Lebaron Hills CC in Lakeville and Blackrock CC in Hingham.
For more information, visit www.DriveChipandPutt.com.
To contact Richard Lord:
or (413) 496-6236