If I were able to gather all of the “golfers” from the area and ask them one question; “Give me some names of all-time Valley Greats,” I’m certain I’d end up with a good 10-20 common names.
Jones, McGee, Hamrick, Simon (yes you Michael!), Fibus, Marion, Santagata, Porter, Marlowe, Santor, Miller, Milton, George, Perry, Kempe, Zarlenga and Morrow are some that come to my mind.
But if I were to word the same question slightly differently and ask; “Give me the three best Valley Golfers of all time,” I’m almost certain that list shrinks to what I’d call The Valley’s “Big Three”; Jerry McGee, Rick Jones and George Bellino.
Bellino learned the game growing up on the east side of Youngstown. He was a member of the East High state championship team from the late 1950’s. And he earned a varsity letter competing on the golf team at Ohio State University in 1959.
He returned back to Youngstown and became the head golf pro at Henry Stambaugh Golf Course. This started a 45-year career as a PGA professional that culminated with his retirement from Tippecanoe Country Club in Canfield.
Growing up in the Valley, I’m confident when I state that George was THE Valley golf professional.
This past week I asked his son Ronald what it was like to grow up with George as his dad. He said George wasn’t just his dad. He talked about how much George loved getting juniors involved with the game. From golfers, to caddies, to members, to maintenance workers ... Ron said George kind of served as everyone’s “dad” at the course.
To this day, Ron said people continually approach him and share their “George stories,” often recalling how George got them their first clubs.
Literally the evening after my discussion with Ron I ran into long-time Valley golfer Mike Watson and asked him about George. His reply sounded almost scripted: “Wait a minute (standard Mike Watson line ... how about George got me my first set of clubs?”
Hard work and dedication to the game were two traits that a young Ronald noticed in his dad from the time he was little. “He’d get up every morning before the sun came up. Shirt and tie. And would work until the sun went down.”
But George wasn’t just a hard working club professional. George was also one hell of a golfer. The official PGA Tour website, www.pgatour.com shows George played in seven PGA Tour events (missing only one cut) and 12 Champions Tour events (seven made cuts) throughout his competitive career. George was consistently one of the top PGA professionals in the Northern Ohio District. And in 1987 George won the Ohio Senior Open.
One family that got to experience George at work, probably more than anyone, are my good friends from Canfield, the Porters — Tim and Janet, and their three sons Michael, Scott and Greg.
I asked Michael and Scott to share a few thoughts on what it was like to grow up with George as their PGA professional.
Michael said he remembers George’s one liners, his ability to “tell it how it was,” his ways of “keeping us kids in line,” and his shot-making ability, especially his bunker play. In fact, according to Michael, George is “the best bunker player alive.”
Competitive on many levels, the Porters have played golf all over the country. When I asked Scott about George, he replied:
“George is more famous in the golf world than anyone I know. No matter where I am playing golf in this country people always ask me if I know Georgie Bellino when I tell them I am from Youngstown, Ohio.”
This year George turned 80. And while he may not spend his days in shirt and tie at Tippecanoe Country Club like he did for so many years, Ron said he still loves the game; “He’s still the guy to beat when he plays. Just last week he beat his age by three and shot 77.”
George, I was lucky to get to know you at Tippecanoe over the years. I’ll always remember you yelling at me when I’d walk in — “Karz! How you hitting ‘em, Karz? Get out there and practice.”
And I know I’m just one of many with special “George memories.”
So on behalf of all the Valley golfers who were lucky to get to know you personally. And for all the Valley golfers who enjoy local golf just a little bit more because of your service to the game over the years. We thank you. And we wish you a very special Father’s Day.
And to my dad, and my father-in-law, and all the other dads out there who have kids that love them more than anything — happy Father’s Day to you all. Enjoy your special day.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com