Richard Lord | Tee to Green: Under Mabee, Country Club of Pittsfield strengthening every season
Replacing a beloved and respected head professional of 34 years, as was the case at the Country Club of Pittsfield when Brad Benson decided to retire at the end of the 2014 golf season, was no easy task.
As Eric Mabee nears the end of his fifth season at the club on South Street as Benson's replacement, it's safe to say that the search committee, led by chairman Greg Knight and then-club president Adam Kirby, hit a hole-in-one when they hired the Wisconsin native.
"Eric has made a tremendous impact," said longtime member Gary Scarafoni, who was a member of the search committee. "He's very proud of the club and he's committed to it and to the community. His enthusiasm is infectious."
Mabee, who was born three years after Benson took the job in Pittsfield, had an impressive resume that suggested he would be a great hire. The 35-year-old's previous job was an assistant pro at Oak Hills Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., one of the nation's most prestigious clubs, where he worked under legendary pro Craig Harmon.
"He spent 42 years at Oak Hill and is possibly the best club pro of all club pros ever," Mabee said of his mentor, the brother of renowned teachers Butch and Billy Harmon, in a 2015 interview with The Eagle. "I probably observed more than 500 lessons over five years. Craig, Butch and Billy are the only teachers who teach you while they are giving a lesson."
Mabee apparently learned those lessons very well, as CC of Pittsfield members have happily discovered.
"Eric is a super teacher, excellent communicator and a great promoter of the game of golf," said 16-time CC of Pittsfield club champion Matt Scarafoni, Gary's son. "He loves to bring his passion for the game to others and it has been very well-received."
It was hoped that hiring a young pro with an impressive resume and boundless energy and enthusiasm — he's also arguably one of the two best players, with Scott Berliner, in the Northeast New York PGA Section and has qualified for numerous national-level tournaments — would help attract some younger members and their families to what was an aging membership.
So far, so good.
Matt Scarafoni, who is in charge of the membership committee, says the number of younger members has gone up significantly at a time when that is big news for any golf club.
"There has been a huge resurgence in playing," Matt said. "There are more golfers interested in being better and he is the catalyst. He's encouraged juniors and husbands and wives and with good success."
Mabee admits he's had to work at motivating his members to get out on the grounds of their pristine and picturesque golfing property more often.
"I've had to poke the bear to get people to play and practice more," admits Mabee. "I do a lot of myth-busting every day out there."
The combination of new members, the pro's impact and what Mabee calls "good decisions" being made by the club's management and member board, including embracing more second-home owners who winter in Florida, are having the desired result.
"After 3 p.m., this place was a ghost town, now at 3 or 4, there are new members out on the range," Mabee said. "Some of the older members say it is more like it was back when the GE families were here. . . They have cleaned up the lake, it's gorgeous, and the members are taking advantage of that as well."
When he was at Oak Hill, Mabee was in charge of a junior program that included more than 100 kids. He arrived to a club with very few juniors and is working methodically to change that, with the arrival of younger families hopefully helping in that effort.
"He's got seven kids and I see him walking with them, talking about golf and integrity of the game and what it means," Matt Scarafoni said. "He's building it a couple of kids at a time. He wants a dominant junior program."
One of the new members who can appreciate the job Mabee is doing is Josh Shepard. He played high school golf at Pittsfield High in the early 2000s before eventually becoming a golf professional. Shepard knows the long hours and many challenges club pros deal with. He eventually gave up that career and has regained his amateur playing status. He qualified for this past spring's 2019 U.S. Four-Ball Championship with partner Jamie Cimini.
"I have been extremely impressed, Eric's level of attention to detail is incredible," said Shepard. "The pro shop is new-level, and you can tell that he has played in big tournaments by the way he puts on his events. For our club championship, for instance, each of the players had a stall with their names on it on the range.
"He does a lot of little things right and those really add up."
When he was hired, Mabee made it clear in his initial interview that he wasn't viewing the CC of Pittsfield as a pit stop on his way to a bigger club in a bigger community while those doing the hiring were hopeful that he would become a longtime member of the community.
Again, so far, so good on both ends.
"I am not a one-foot in, one-foot out kind of guy," Mabee said. "I live at the club during the season, my wife (Rachel) would say a little too much, ... I came in focused on the job, trying to do the same thing for everyone, I asked the members to trust me and they have jumped on board completely."
"Eric is here to make this a better place," Scarafoni said. "He has a very strong team and has set high expectations for himself and for the club and that has been wonderful. He is more than the head pro, he is one of the leaders of the club."
Two Berkshire County assistant pros, the Country Club of Pittsfield's Tom Sennett and Stockbridge Golf Club's Dan Lapierre, earned alternate spots for the PGA National Car Rental Assistant Championship in Florida in November with top-four finishes in the Northeast New York PGA Section's Assistant Championship this week at Berkshire Hills.
To the surprise of nobody, section kingpin Scott Berliner walked away with the one guaranteed spot up for grabs in the national tournament, firing rounds of 65 and 70 for an impressive 9-under 135 total and a seven-shot victory.
Sennett (70-72) finished second to get the top alternate spot. Normanside Country Club's Justin Hearley (72-72) was third, while Lapierre (71-74) finished fourth to get the third alternate position.
As the first alternate, Sennett stands a good chance to get into the field.
"That's what I have heard, that I have a good chance to get in," said the 28-year-old Sennett, who joined Eric Mabee's staff in April after working for Josh Hillman at Taconic Golf Club since 2014. "Berkshire Hills was in fantastic shape and I played well, I kept the ball in front of me and didn't make many big numbers."
Berkshire Hills Country Club member Mark Chylinski continued his strong play this week on Cape Cod, finishing in a four-way tie for eighth place in the Massachusetts Senior Amateur Championship with a 36-hole total of 9-over par 149 at the Cohasset Golf Club.
Chylinski, who was coming off a win with Jim Mueller in the Shaker Ridge Invitational four-ball tournament in Albany, N.Y., had rounds of 73 and 76 to finish nine shots behind Westover Golf Club's Jack Kearney, who had rounds of 71 and 68 to defeat Don Reycroft (70-73) by three shots. Defending champion Frank Vana Jr. (70-74) finished third.
The other two members of Berkshire County courses entered finished in the top 30 in the 120-man field. Wyantenuck Country Club's Andy Congdon rallied with a second-round 73 to finish in a three-way tie for 12th place at 150 and Berkshire Hills Country Club's Bob Linn (76-79) tied for 29th.
Chylinski's finish was his second top-10 performance in a Mass Golf event this year. He partnered with Berkshire Hills' Ralph Dastoli to finish second in the Mass. Senior Four-Ball Championship in the spring.
The victory was Kearney's second in the state's premier senior event. He also won the title at Plymouth Country Club in 2010. Runner-up Reycroft won the tournament in 2015 when it was last played in the Berkshires at Berkshire Hills Country Club.
It was a family affair for the Shields family in the Stockbridge Golf Club club championship, with both father and son walking away with victories. Chris Shields, with a 54-hole total of 1-under 214, cruised to the men's title, while son Matt took home the club's junior championship with a 54-hole total of 162.
Chris won the men's championship for the fifth year in a row, firing rounds of 70, 71 and 73 to cruise to a 23-shot victory over George Fleischner. Matt, meanwhile, shot an opening 77 to open up a six-shot lead and eventually won by three shots over Max Digrigoli, who had rounds of 83 and 82.
Marie Regan, meanwhile, took home the women's title with a 36-hole total of 169, while Ken Fogarty (82-77—159) won the men's senior division and Jim Balfanz (79-89—168) won the legend's division by two shots over Tom Doyle.
Sean Cota and Joyce Blake walked away with the men's and women's club championships recently at Forest Park Country Club in Adams.
Cota opened with a solid round of 71 and never looked back, posting a 54-hole total of 16-over 220 at The Rock to prevail by eight shots over past champion Chad Alibozek and Henry Sniezek.
Blake, the course superintendent when she isn't playing good golf, won in dramatic fashion, defeating defending club champion Angie Linger in a five-hole playoff after the pair had finished with 36-hole totals of 169. Linger didn't end her summer empty-handed however — she recently captured the women's club championship at the Waubeeka Golf Links.
The deadline to play in this Thursday's Berkshire County Senior Fall Series event, a four-man scramble at Skyline Country Club, has been extended to Monday. Call the pro shop at 413-445-4584 to enter the tournament, which will begin with a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start.
Registration for the following tournament, a two-man scramble is set for Wednesday, Sept. 18, is also open. Call the Hills' pro shop at 413-442-1451 to enter.
Berkshire County Fall Senior Series
At Egremont Country Club
1. Tom Kondel and Tom Wiencek, 68. 2. John Dawley and Mike Delgrande, 68. 3. Paul Wilk and Mark Czubryt, 71.
1. Dennis Boldyga and Bobby Smith, 61. 2. Jay Leduc and Joe Yannone, 66. 3. Bill Gates and Mike Cartier, 67.
1. Tom Reamon and Ron Legere, 65. 2. Rich Van Alphen and Mike Rybka, 69.2. 3. Tom Grannitto and Terry Carty, 72.
1. Wayne Shutts and John Rybka, 61. 2. Bob Messer and Paul Traversa, 64. 3. Larry Premerlani and Steve Agar, 65.
To contact Richard Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413 281-2226.
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