More Than Just a Few Good Men

Actually... a lot of good men! (And women too.)

As I write this, it is mid-July, and the Sterling Farms Men’s Club (SFMC) has been running its plethora of weekly tournaments, in conjunction with several annual ‘majors’. It’s a big ball of exciting championship golf, all happening right now, where players of all skill levels are enjoying the chance to compete in these great games, which are inventive, cleverly conceived, and thrilling to participate in. But all Sterling Farms Golfers, particularly those playing in the Men’s Club events, deserve kudos for their love of the game, their willingness to put themselves out there where glory, and misfortune, await. The average Men’s Club duffer (myself included), isn’t as tournament savvy as the more skilled championship player, which means many of us find ourselves in an eye-to-eye confrontation with our biggest fears: ourselves! Just showing up is a accomplishment, and for that: I daresay, the members of the SFMC are more than just a few good men… the are champions… even if they come in last… because they played the game. Welcome to the Club… good men!

Now, there are real continental divides between the Club’s scratch players, who are used to the intense pressure of these games—even thrive on it—and the average weekend warrior who dreams of glory, but has kids, work, car payments, and maybe just a little less skill than the former. Nothing to be ashamed of at all! Each even we play in gives us valuable experience that we can build upon. Even the pros choke, only far-less than we do, so learn from each outing, and build upon it.

Where these two continental divides converge is in the area of winning. Nobody wants to lose, and everyone wants to win! This is one thing all golfers have in common: we want to do well. Sometimes, just one shot, or one putt, is enough to make our day. Yes, as I’ve already said: There are more than a few good men in the SFMC, and all of us want victory. That’s why we all show up. To win. But…

…that isn’t always so simple, and the SFMC ruling powers that be, know this, which is why they put in an extraordinary effort to give all members a shot at fame. The Club’s board members blend golfers of all types in interesting ways, giving all an opportunity to shine, even if only momentarily. And, while the club’s best players—the cream of the crop—seem to dominate the top of all the leaderboards, usually, there are many who find themselves right there, ‘in the hunt’, if only for a short period of time, such as after a good round during a qualifier. People we never hear about appear at the top of Mitchell Schepp’s Golf Genius APP, and it’s… exciting to watch. Greatness is within the reach of everybody. You just need to keep playing the game.

Most of us aren’t the ones hoisting the trophies! No, that parlance is typically reserved for the elite among us, only with this club, even the meek can rise to stardom.

Nancy Kennedy, and the Great Patrick “Paddy” Dillon, allowed Pete Silver and I to play our match along with them on a “misty Irish day” on Friday, July 17, 2020, at Sterling Farms Golf Course.

“I’m playing in the Governor’s Cup Finals tomorrow,” Dr. Pete Silver, told me, as he was addressing his ball during a misty Friday, July 17, 2020. We were playing in a Club event called the Best Ball of 2, and were lucky enough to join Sterling Farms golfers Patrick “Paddy” Dillon (the Great), and Nancy Kennedy (the straightest among us, except for Paddy, that is….

Peter and I played our own balls, scored, and the best score for each hole was what counted for our score. Our scorching play, as of this writing, put us just shy of last place, yet there is Pete… in another event the next day… vying to win a ‘mini-major’… having played with partner Howard Kraus in the finals of the Governor’s Cup, Norman Bracket, and losing 3 and 1 to David and Ben Moskowitz! That’s what it is all about: trying, and continuing to try, no matter how tough the going can often be! Even for the best, it can be tough.

Men’s Club member Pete Silver tees off on No. 16 while the Great Champion Paddy Dillon watches.

“I tried my best”, a disappointed Jeff Mayfield, the Club’s esteemed president told me, as he and fellow SFMC board member Mark Vassalotti, walked across the street from the 18th green. The two living legends had just finished their Club Championship match, when I was driving away and saw them. Mark, a retired big shot executive with Nike, is all but a pro golfer, only never turned pro. (Or, at least I don’t think he ever did.) I played with this big, tall, strong lumberjack of a guy in the first round of the matches, only I was among a weaker and meeker lower flight, which was just fine by me! I don’t think Mr. Vassalotti missed one single fairway the day we played, and was throwing the ball at pins like darts!

“When can I have my free lesson”, I now ask him routinely. Mark just laughs, knowing full well he has (as of this writing) outright won three of the Club’s nine events (thus far), tied for first in another, and finished 2nd, 3rd, and 4th and three others. He has finished top five in seven out of nine events, and top 10 in all of them! You bet I want a free lesson! This guy can play!

And the CEO: president Jeff Mayfield, is no slouch either. I suspect he has been busy, maybe suffering a bit of a slump, but he seems to be finding his game again, having shot a 79 recently at Hubbard. I don’t know Jeff nearly as well as I’d like, because he’s quite a good guy, but must confess I suspect this man has hidden weapons in his arsenal, and I would venture to say he is a mighty might when it comes to this game of gawf we all love. Maybe that is why is the SFMC president?

Well, we all love a winner, but it’s also easy love the guy, or gal, who tries their best, keeps at it, tries, tries, and tries some more. You never lose if you are still in the game! The non-winners are, to me, just as heroic as those with all of the fame, because many of them (and I include myself in this category) will never have those God-given gifts other possess. (I will make an exception with Mr. Mayfield. I do believe he possesses God-given gifts most of us don’t, he just didn’t make it though that final 18th hole of his match that day with Mark, which is understandable, given that Mr. V is on a bit of a winning streak, to put it mildly.) Still, we are going to bring a bit of fight to the game/s. Always!

That is what makes the SFMC so interesting: it has so much golf action for us all to enjoy. The Club’s relentless schedule beckons us to try again, to stay in the game.

A lot more than a few good men, indeed!

Yes, you… the fledgling, timid, often off-kilter duffer who plays in the SFMC… you are not alone. We all foster fears and trepidation, but we are weekend warriors. Sure, we suffer a bit, but know we give it our all. That is the hallmark of a true champion. Give yourself a pat on the back because you are among a lot more that a few good men. You not see yourself at the top of the Club’s Sentinal Maintenance Player of the Year standings, like leader Jamie Russo, 2nd place leader Ryan Duggan, or 3rd place leader Mister Bart Weissman, but if you are anywhere to be seen on that list at all, you are a champion.

A good number of the Club’s members I have had the pleasure of meeting are among the friendliest golfers around. These fellows can make even the poorest scoring outcomes, just a little better with the sheer force of their personalities. It’s the company, as much as the golf, that can make us want to come back and play again. This July, the many good men of the SFMC were able to play in five weekly events, and three majors: the Governor’s Cup, the President’s (and Vice President’s) Cup, and the Club Championship matches, which will spill over into August, perhaps longer, not sure. That’s a lotta competition, lemmie, tell ya, and good!

The Governor’s Cup is a “mini-major” team event. Members will select their partners (the SFMC is happy to help find partners for new members) and play in a better ball of two single elimination match play event against other teams (Four-Ball Match Play). Teams are flighted into 8 team brackets according to the team’s total handicap. During play, handicaps are adjusted based on the Handicap Index revision just before the start of the match. A traditional bracket format is set up will be used within each flight where the number 1 seed will play the number 8 seed, etc. The team that wins each match continues to advance through the brackets until a champion is crowned.

Sterling Farms Men’s Club

Now, one of the majors I was able to see first hand was the President’s (and Vice President’s) Cup. Given how much controversy has encircled the WH in recent times, this auspiciously titled occasion brings with it much fanfare, innuendo, irony, gamesmanship, and aggrandized Stamford pride. A big field of competitors, across the entire spectrum of handicaps and their relevant skill levels, vied to play in that event’s qualifier, which winnowed down the lowest scoring first round players into a pair of eight man final flights, consisting of the the elite Presidents, and the also-elite Vice Presidents. These two eight man ‘flights’ then battled it out for glory over the 18 lush, rolling, hot fairways, and minty putting greens, at Sterling Farms on Sunday, July 12, 2020. It was a bit of a steamy day, and I found myself in rather close proximity to a father and son, both in the VP flight, who would do remarkably well that day.

“Good luck”, Paul Grillo said to me, as I headed for the first tee that morning. Paul Grillo, for those of you who do not now, is the defacto CEO of Sterling Farms, or more correctly: the executive director of the Stamford Golf Authority. I think the man ought to be running for the real POTUS’ ‘cup’, because he is a great guy, honest, hard-working, and thorough. He does it right, or not at all. He’s fair-minded, even-keeled, and leads a town landmark with grace and dignity. But… Mr. Grillo refuses my continuous overtures that he let me be his campaign manager, and instead, is literally manning the till, because he doesn’t want his employees to be put in COVID-19’s harms way. Now that’s leading by example, folks!

My reply to Paul was quick, albeit a tad inaccurate, since I was off by three: “I’ll shoot a 100,” I said. (The actual tally, by day’s end, would be a scorching 97. It was a good 97. One for the record books, where I may be reminded of it for all eternity.)

Most of us playing in the VP Flight wish we were as good as we want to be, and compared to top-tiered President’s Cup Flight’s players, it wasn’t long before a few of us were quickly reminded of our relative place in golf’s hierarchy. Yet, in spite of the poor play of some, others had grand outcomes, like the father and son VP finalists William (Bill) and Parker Ward.

I played that day with Bill, who was just on fire. He kept telling me he wasn’t a “long hitter” yet his ball was always in the middle of the fairway, and just short of the long hitters. I want to be short like him!

Bill is a lawyer. He grew up in Danbury, and has a unique practice that specializes on condominium association law. He told me “I’ve been playing a lot more because of my two boys” (Parker and Jackson), explaining that “they are my motivation” to improve.

Well, that Sunday, while some of us where taking the ‘scenic route’ on most of Sterling Farms’ fabulous golf holes, Bill Ward was holding himself together rather well en route to a 4th place finish score of net 73-71-144! Pretty darn good! “I had three putts of over 15-feet that I made,” Bill would later tell in an interview we did in the parking lot two days later, at about 5:55am, when he came to practice his… putting.

Both the President’s, and VP’s, flights were two four man pairings of eight per flight. Bill, myself, and two fine lads named Bradley Papp, and Nick Fedele rounded out our foursome. Behind us were the final four players in the VP Flight: 18-year-old Parker Ward (son of Bill), who would win the title; Joseph Paladino, who would place 2nd; Peter Benoliel, who would place third; and last but far from least: Mr. Shelton Hochstedler, who joined me at the bottom of the chart, all said and done.

I asked Bill about Parker, who works part-time here at Sterling Farms, about his son’s victory. “He’s gonna get better,” the bespectacled J.D. began. “He’s very athletic, and”, while shaking his head, added, “hits the ball forever.”

I’ve caught a glimpse of this 18-year-old gent, and like most 18-year-olds, he’s brimming with confidence. “He told me on 13 he hit a 3-wood almost 280-yards,” Bill continued, “that’s why he made a par on that hole”, Bill said, almost apologetically given his son had walloped the field by some 11 or shots.

Bill was, many moons ago, an politically appointed board member of the Stamford Golf Authority, and spoke a little about his time there, how the golf course has enjoyed continual reinvestment, and sang songs of praise what I asked him about Paul Grillo.

“All of the staff are incredibly dedicated to condition of the course,” Bill told me, “and a lot of this is because of Paul’s leadership. “He’s wonderful with people, he’s very accommodating, he does anything he can to help you”, the Sterling Farms golfer explained. “He tries to bring in bigger groups, even if they can’t take up an entire time slot on Thursday. I’m just a big fan of his, obviously”, Bill laughed.

Bill Ward talks about he and his son’s VP Cup performance, the golf course, the Stamford Golf Authority, and Paul Grillo

In the President’s Cup’s elite flight: the extremely tough SFMC champion, Bart Weissman, shot a one over par 145 gross score over the event’s two rounds, and given he is a 2-handicapper, yielded a net of 3-under-par to claim the Cup. This fine golfer made three gross birdies on the final nine holes (Nos. 13, 15, and 16) to offset bogies on 12 and 17 to shoot a one-under gross score of 35 coming home that day. Wow! (I doubt he’ll give me one, but I’m gonna ask him for a free lesson too!)

Storming the Course on July 8, 2020….

Earlier in the month, on July 8, 2020, I played with three hardy Sterling Farms Men’s Club members in a golf game with a match play format. This was the first match, of many for those who win/advance, in what is the Sterling Farms Men’s Club Championship. A thunderstorm had overtaken the golf course by force that day, and all of us had to wait for CEO Paul Grillo, to give Gregg Demetros (the famous 1973-4 Western Division FCIAC All County Football Team star everybody knows and loves—with a face for TV and movies, and a voice for the Hit Parade and radio), the order to blow the horn that the coast was clear. Wow, that horn is loud!

A golfer waits patiently for the storm to blow over at Sterling Farms Golf Course on July, 8, 2020.

The storm’s delay was substantial, and I am not a timekeeper, but my best guesstimate is the delay was just shy of two hours. (I think we had a 3:20 tee time, and by the time Paul made the bell toll, it felt like almost 5 o’clock.)

It was a good thing, too! That rain, and the thunder, lightning, and associated allowances, adjustments, and observations were quite a spectacle. The fact that anyone was able to play at all, after the storm had blown through, was a gift, and the trio I joined was a group of rough riders who were not about to let the forces of Mother Nature stand in the way of their Club matches! Not.. a… chance!

The champion golfer, Mark Vassalotti, was to be in our group, playing his match against another fine low-handicapper named Robert Salem. Robert, who I believe lives most of the time in Manhattan, was a strong, fine player. He hit the ball long, and very straight, but so too did Mark. (Have I mentioned that I do believe Mark hit very fairway that day? Well, I think he did!)

Robert boomed his drive on No. 1 straight down the middle, almost to the green, and was one up with a par. But Mark was a warrior, and won four of five holes between Nos. 3 and 7, and never looked back. On 15, Mark played a fine iron shot to just a few feet from the hole. “Nice swing”, ” shouted to Mark.

“I’m just trying to emulate you”, the big fellow said, sarcastically. (Nobody wants to emulate me!)

Well, Mark would drain that little birdie putt, and then close out his first match with Robert, at that point dormie, with a par on 16.

Another Manhattanite, friend of Robert’s, by the name of Michael Katz, played against me, and let me tell ya: he would have beaten me silly if he had the tie to master a wedge around the greens. Not once, I don’t think, did Michael ever hit a wedge from even the rough, 20′ off of the green, but more often than not, that flat stick put his ball within gimme range, so maybe his philosophy is something worth considering.

Mike was a real gentleman. He had a cart, and on a few occasions, gave me a lift on big hills, as I dragged my big, heavy, Sunday bag around the soggy links.

As the day came to an end, the sky was clearing, and the storms had blown through. Mark had walked in after closing out his match with Robert, and we continued to play the course finishing the 18th hole as the evening rolled in. All of us thought it was just ‘great to be out at this time of day’.

This summer, there will be many more fine rounds, matches, and events to be played in the Sterling Farms Men’s Club. Golfers of all ilks will push their pegs into the ground, and hopefully, fix their balls marks, replace their divots, and drive their carts in places that won’t give golf course superintendent Mike Golden a rough time. He’s a fine man, as were the men I golfed with this month. Indeed: Sterling Farms has more than a few good men, in its Club, and otherwise.

From the desk of Paul grillo, executive director, Stamford Golf Authority

Welcome to Sterling Farms Golfer. Over the past five decades, Sterling Farms has evolved into one of the premiere golf destinations anywhere in the region. We continually strive to maintain, if not exceed, that distinction, and know we owe it all to our Stamford families, friends and neighbors, as well as our patrons like you. Now is the best time of the year to play our spectacular 18 hole championship golf course. Our Golf Course Superintendent, Mike Golden, and his whole team, are leaders in the world of greenkeeping, and we are very proud of the quality of their hard work. I think you'll find our putting greens, fairways, tees, roughs—and every landscape feature here—reflects their devotion and hard work. It is spectacular. Sterling Farms is home to the area's top driving range facility. You won't find a better value, or level of quality, anywhere! We take great pride and joy serving you, and our local community. On behalf of all of us here at Sterling Farms, welcome and thank you!
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