The Western Massachusetts golf community suffered a big loss recently with the passing of Country Club of Greenfield head professional James "Bucky" O’Brien. The head pro at Greenfield for 45 years and a 2011 inductee into the Western Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame, O’Brien lost his battle with cancer at age 77.
Despite dealing with health problems the past few years, O’Brien apparently retained his engaging personality and sense of humor until the very end.
"I took some members over to play Greenfield a month and a half ago and you could tell he was pretty sick, but he was still in great spirits and joking around," said Berkshire Hills head professional Mike Hillman, who grew up playing and working at Greenfield CC. "He fought till the end."
O’Brien’s influence stretched well beyond his beloved club.
"After more than 40 years at Greenfield he just might be the most popular golf pro in Western Mass.," fellow PGA professional Bob Bontempo told the Springfield Republican’s Russ Held. "For the last 40 years golfers have gone out of their way to play Greenfield because they knew he’d be there and make their day even brighter."
Hillman, and his cousin Josh Hillman, the head pro at Taconic Golf Club and golf coach at Williams College, both were greatly influenced by O’Brien, a Korean War veteran.
"He was almost like my golf dad," Mike Hillman said. "I worked there growing up. I was there every day in middle school and high school. He gave me a taste of the golf business. He was a big role model."
What really set O’Brien apart, said Hillman, was how he connected with anyone he came in contact with, including juniors.
"He could talk to anyone who came into the golf shop," Hillman said. "Everyone who came in felt at home and welcomed. He had an impact on every kid there."
Wyantenuck Country Club head professional Tom Sullivan said O’Brien, was "just a really, really good guy."
"This has hit a lot of people pretty hard," Sullivan said. "I miss him."
O’Brien welcomed Sullivan to the Connecticut PGA Section (which includes the Pioneer Valley) with open arms when he became the head pro at Quaboag Country Club.
"He was really nice to me when I joined the section," Sullivan said.
"When you think about Bucky you just have to smile," Sullivan added. "He was a fun guy and great for golf. He made everyone feel good."
Sullivan and O’Brien played in a lot of pro-pro events together.
"For some reason, he didn’t think he could play," Sullivan said. "But I told him, ‘You are going to play pro-pros with me.’ He could play better than he thought and we did pretty good, but being around him was more about fun than about winning."
I didn’t have the good fortune of knowing O’Brien, but I certainly wish I’d had the pleasure. Rest in peace, Bucky.
To contact Richard Lord:
or (413) 496-6236.