After 46 years working as a golf pro, the last 38 years at Lone Pine Country Club, Terry George is finally ready to give up that job.
Now, he might be able to get a few rounds of golf in with his friends.
George, who came to Lone Pine in 1975, will hand over the head pro responsibilities to J.R. Pond and take on the title of professional emeritus. His role will be as adviser when needed, but the control of the club rests in the hands of Pond.
And George understands what the new duties entail.
“Next year, with emeritus status, I’ll play more golf with the members, spread myself thinner than I’ve had to,” said George, a scratch golfer at Lone Pine. “I’ll have more time to play with the members. There is no better way to find out what’s on your mind than if I play nine or 18 holes with you. You ask me why are we doing this, and why don’t we do this. That’ll be my job, handle the complaints and the suggestions.”
George seems a natural to handle those new responsibilities. He’s quick with a story and knowledgeable about the course.
“You have to be a diplomat,” said George. “The grass is too high; the grass is too low; the greens are too fast; the greens are too slow. The good thing about this golf shop is that it’s wonderfully designed. You have to come from the men’s or ladies’ locker room, through the golf shop to get to your golf cart. The bad thing is you have to come back through this door to get to the locker room when you are done playing. The first person they see is me.”
Like most golf courses, Lone Pine sits on what used to be farm land, this particular tract owned by developer Vernon C. Neal who converted it into a private course that would serve the community of Washington County. A show barn once sat in what is now the golf shop, and the course has undergone many changes over the years, including seceding from South Franklin Township in order to obtain a liquor license.
“Mr. Neal showed cattle every Sunday,” George said. “If you had cattle, you brought your cattle here, and you might sell your bull or prized Hereford. This wasn’t his main business. He was a developer. He built Southland Shopping Center, where today Century III sits. He lived in Pleasant Hills and used this as his retreat. He turned this into a golf course. It was his hobby, and he turned it into a business.”
The person who ran that business for nearly four decades was George, who grew up in Elizabeth, graduated from Elizabeth Forward High School in 1965 and got his first job in the business as a caddy working at Seven Springs Golf Course in Elizabeth at age 11.
“I attended California University but never graduated because early in my third year – I was in the Air Force Reserves – my unit was deployed,” George said. “Vietnam was going on at the time. When I got out of the Air Force (five years later), I had three choices: I had this great (golf) job waiting for me in Florida or go back to college under the GI Bill. Uncle Sam would pay for because I had some active duty. Or I could just went to work for a living. I chose golf.”
With the help of then-Oakmont pro Lew Worsham, George landed the winter’s assistant’s job at Coral Springs Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, in 1970. He kept the job at Seven Springs, too, working year-round in the industry.
“In those days, I was in my 20s, and nothing was too much for me,” George said. “I would be so busy, I had my car ferried to Florida and took the red-eye to Florida. My last day up here was Oct. 31, and my first day down there was Nov. 1. Boy, when I think back on what I did then, 365 days a year. I followed the sun. Just like the Ben Hogan’s movie, “Follow the Sun.”
Neal was a member at Coral Ridge and that was how George knew there was an opening at Lone Pine.
“We had eight members (at Coral Ridge) who belonged to Lone Pine,” said George. “(One of them) was Delvin Miller. ... Mr. Neal needed a pro so I applied for the job. Delvin Miller trained his horses in Pompano Park in Fort Lauderdale during the winter. He and I would play a lot of golf. He asked me if I heard about the job from Mr. Neal. I told him no. Here I was a 27-year-old with no pro experience, and I was sure he had a lot of people apply who had a lot of pro experience. Delvin said he was taking Vern and his wife to dinner that night, and he would see what he could do. The next day, Mr. Neal came over to me and asked me to have lunch and offered me the job. I know Del put in a good word for me.”
As the head pro at Lone Pine, George oversaw decades of renovations, innovations and change at the course. Lone Pine was sold to Paul Songer in 1980, six years before Neal died; a third nine was added, then sold to a developer who plans to put condominiums around the course, and nearly every facility on the grounds has received some sort of face-lift. With 27 holes, Lone Pine was home to the golf teams of Trinity and Washington high schools and Washington & Jefferson College. Membership has grown from about 50 when George arrived to it’s current level of about 200.
“We tailored the club after Coral Ridge,” George said. “Most of the rules here come from the Coral Ridge rule book. Mr. Neal wanted an affordable private club because he knew that was what Washington County could stand. That’s been perpetuated today.”
Now, that becomes the responsibility of Pond.
“I’m excited to work with everyone up there,” said the 32-year-old Pond, who was an assistant at Valleybrook Country Club in McMurray. “Trying to improve on what Terry has done there will be a tough task. I’ll pick his brain and bounce stuff off him.”
He might even get a chance to play a few rounds with George.
“Lone Pine’s future is bright because we kept our affordable niche,” George said. “We give them great value for their money, a great golf course and great conditions.”
That membership will have more chances to challenge George on the course. He might even let you win.