Taconic Golf Club's Hillman, Country Club of Pittsfield's Mabee earn NENY PGA honors
Taconic Golf Club head professional and Williams College men's golf coach Josh Hillman made a big first impression as a member of the PGA's Northeastern New York Section with his golf skills, capturing the NENY's Vardon Stroke Average Award in 2007 and its Player of the Year prize in 2008.
Now, some 14 years after starting in the section as an assistant pro at Taconic in 2006, the 42-year-old has been recognized by his peers as the consumate head professional, honoring him with the NENY section's 2019 Golf Professional of the Year award.
"It's a huge honor, the biggest one in the section," said Hillman, who started his career in the NENY section as an assistant pro under longtime Taconic head pro and Williams College coach Rick Pohle in 2006. "It's voted on by your peers, which is a nice compliment. Teaching golf and all the life lessons that it provides and supporting our membership are passions of mine."
Hillman won't be the only Berkshire County pro to be honored at this year's awards ceremony set for Nov. 5 in Schnectady, N.Y. Eric Mabee, who is starting his sixth season as the head professional at the Country Club of Pittsfield, was named the section's Teacher of the Year.
"It's a testament to my members, who have been loyal, taking lessons and seeing improvement," said the 35-year-old Mabee. "For me personally, it's the most coveted [section] honor because it shows the impact you are making on your membership."
Hillman obviously arrived in Williamstown with a strong golf game, but a glance at his record at Taconic, Pittsfield's Berkshire Hills Country Club (where he was the head pro from 2008-2012) and within the section also suggests a tireless work ethic.
Hillman, a Greenfield native, has served in multiple roles on the NENY PGA Board of Directors for a total of 11 years including being the chairman of the Employment and Tournament Committees as well as being a member of the Education Committee. He had previously won the NENY's Roland Stafford Sportsmanship Award in 2010 and 2017 and the Merchandising Award for a public facility in 2015. He has also been the president of the Berkshire County Allied Association's pros for 10 years.
"It's a wonderful surprise and well-deserved," said Wyantenuck Country Club head professional Tom Sullivan, who won the award himself in 2017 after being nominated by Hillman. "Josh and I co-chaired the membership committee together. He has always done a thorough job for the section and does a great job at his club, and coaching the men's team is another hat he has to wear. That doesn't give him a lot of free time."
Being a head professional during the New England golf season is much more than an eight-hour-a-day job, but to also be the head coach of the a successful Division III men's golf program? That's a full menu for anyone.
"The most important part of my job is to support our membership and be a rock for the club," Hillman said. "I pride myself in helping members with their swings, with finding the right merchandise or just having conversations with them. On the college side, it's a different game. I go into coaching mode and help them find what they need to grow, to navigate college and hopefully give them perspective going forward."
While the Ephs' men have yet to reach the level that the women's program has — the ladies captured the NCAA Division III national championship in 2015 and has annually become a top-five program — Williams golfer Sam Goldenring captured last year's Division III individual national championship and this year's team looked like a potential title contender before the Coronavirus pandemic sadly ended the sports spring seasons for all NCAA spring sports.
"I really felt like we were going to make some noise," said Hillman on what might have been if the season had played out.
Another big part of his job is managing and developing his staff.
"We have grown three Class A pros," said Hillman, referring to current assistants Andy Treen and Pam Kraft along with former assistant Thomas Sennett, who is currently on Mabee's staff in Pittsfield. having all earned their Class A cards while working at the club.
Mabee, meanwhile, arrived in Pittsfield as the successor to retiring pro Brad Benson in 2015 with a resume that suggested that he would be an outstanding teacher. The Wisconsin native had been an assistant at historic Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. where the head pro was the legendary 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."
There is no question that he learned his Oak Hill lessons well. It also doesn't hurt that he's got a serious game of his own, having qualified for numerous national-level events and emerging quickly as one of the section's two best players along with New Yorker Scott Berliner.
"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, who is in charge of the club's memberships committee, in a September interview "He loves to bring his passion for the game to others and it has been very well-received. There has been a huge resurgence in playing."
"I don't take a cookie-cutter approach," Mabee said of his teaching techniques. "I think I can diagnose a swing and come up with a plan to fix any problems in the first 10 minutes.--- The goal is to fix the problem and then give the golfer the tools to then fix things on their own and then use me as a check-up."
"Eric works extremely hard and really prides himself on teaching," HIllman said. "He's grown a nice golf culture at his club."
That culture includes a pro shop that has resulted in Mabee earning two NENY Merchandiser of the Year awards for private clubs in 2016-17 and 2018.
Sullivan, who won the Best Teacher award himself in 2013, has noticed — at least from out on South Street — the surge in play at the club.
"It seems like every time I drive by the club the driving range is busy," Sullivan said.
No doubt that is music to the Teacher of the Year's ears.
Richard Lord can be reached at email@example.com or 413-281-2226.
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