It doesn’t take long before Gus Andreone rolls in a long putt on the practice green during an overcast day at Palm-Aire Country Club.
That triggers a story from Andreone, a member at the Manatee County private club, about famed professional golfer Bobby Cruickshank’s reaction to Andreone knocking in a lengthy putt decades ago.
“He just knocked in a 30-footer, greens just as slick as could be,” Andreone recalled. “He’s back there licking his chops. And then I looked mine over. I had a downhill putt. If I missed the hole, I’m off the green. So I probably took a very smooth, slow stroke. Rolled, rolled into the hole. And he said ... ‘I played with Horton Smith and all of them, and you beat them all!’”
Andreone’s arrival in golf took place in his native Pennsylvania as a young teenager. The fourth of seven children to father Edward, who worked in the coal mines, and mother, Teresa, Gus Andreone began caddying at St. Clair Country Club in the greater Pittsburgh area. Andreone worked his way into the golf shop and gave his first lesson in 1934, joining the PGA of America as a golf professional in 1939.
Now 104 years old, Andreone is the oldest living PGA golf professional. And the distinction between that title and professional golfer is something Andreone is quick to point out.
“A golf professional is a professor, and a professional golfer plays for a living,” Andreone said.
Acing skillsAndreone still holds his own on the golf course. Playing three times a week, weather permitting, nine holes at a time, Andreone is capable of memorable feats. In 2014, he aced the 113-yard 14th hole on Palm-Aire’s Lakes course with a driver. Andreone’s eighth career ace pushed him into the record books as the Associated Press reported he was the oldest known golfer to record a hole-in-one. He turned 103 a couple months prior to the ace.
There’s also the round he played a few weeks ago when he notched a 42 for nine holes.
“He still has so much talent,” said Palm-Aire member Jim Pfrogner, who is competing in the left-handed golfer’s national championship this week. “He gets it up and down a lot, and breaks his age every time he plays. The guy is pretty phenomenal.”
Andreone also holds a pair of course records on the original designs at St. Clair Country Club and Edgewood Country Club in the greater Pittsburgh area with 66s.
Andreone also has a unique mark on the golf course not possible in today’s game. He once knocked his shot in a hole after driving his tee shot out-of-bounds. Today’s rule forces players to play the ball from the spot where it was struck out, but it was strictly a loss of distance penalty when Andreone accomplished the feat.
The Great Depression ripped through America like a bad nightmare, crushing the job market and crippling the national economy. Andreone was fortunate to hold a job as a club cleaner. He walked roughly five miles to work and made $30 a month, he said.
“I worked all day, but I was working,” Andreone said. “No one else was. Thirty dollars back in those days was a lot of money. It put food on the table. People would go anywhere they thought they’d get a job. No jobs, they had.”
Andreone has had his share of luck. He’s won the lottery three times. And despite not having any children of his own, he has plenty of nieces and nephews.
In 1942, Andreone left the golf business as he was called to duty after the United States joined World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Andreone was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving under Gen. George S. Patton.
Many close calls followed where Andreone said he’s fortunate to survive.
“One time, I was upstairs in one building, three or four stories up,” Andreone said. “And they saw me going upstairs, the Germans did. And they had their gun in place. That was the reason I was going up there, to see if I could see it. When I was up there, they’d watch me go upstairs. And every time I’d come around a certain area I was facing the gun placement. ... They’d hit it with that 88. They just knocked four tanks out with that gun, and my ears were ringing for two weeks. I was dazed.”
He got out of the Army in 1945 following the conclusion to the WWII and began a 30-year career at Edgewater Country Club in 1947.
MINGLING WITH ARNIE
Arnold Palmer, one of golf’s living legends, is a native western Pennsylvanian like Andreone. The two crossed paths many moons ago during Andreone’s time at Edgewater Country Club. Palmer’s father, Deacon, played Edgewater once a year. Occasionally, Arnie would stop in. The two recently swapped stories during Andreone’s visit to Bay Hill Country Club in Orlando. Palmer even penned a letter for Andreone’s 100th birthday in 2011.
“He’s the nicest man you’d ever want to meet and what an ambassador of golf he is,” Andreone said. “You just take a look at him and you just know you’re standing with one of the greats in golf.”
Whether warming up for a round or working the kinks out in a practice session at Palm-Aire’s driving range, players are stepping onto turf honored for Andreone. A plaque and statue, the latter is being fixed up at the moment, complete the Gus Andreone Practice and Teaching Facility at Palm-Aire.
“I feel honored and humbled, because of what the game’s done for me,” Andreone said. “And the fact that they think I’ve contributed so much.”
Andreone’s longevity is tied to his daily routine. He begins each morning with various exercises, working on his legs, raising his back and riding an exercise bike. If weather allows, Andreone swims 30 minutes. He tries walking at least half a block or more in the evenings following a meal. He possesses a specialty rubber band to help with stretching. Andreone even has a current driver’s license.
Andreone credits all the people he taught and came into contact with during his golfing career for what the game gave to him. For example, he picked up an invaluable tip from the legendary Henry Picard, who is widely considered the revolutionary force behind Ben Hogan’s ascension into the golf’s elite, when the two played once. Picard needed to get the ball up quick over a tree with a wedge, but needed more height than the natural loft from the club would allow.
“He got some saliva right across the face, and he says, ‘The reason I do that is the ball gets airborne quicker off the club face,’” Andreone said.
Andreone even has a personal connection to the film “Caddyshack,” whom some consider the best golf comedy ever made. Andreone’s second wife, Betty, is present in the infamous, “Baby Ruth,” pool scene.
“It was fun,” Betty said.
Betty said the exercise keeps them going.
Palm-Aire head pro Jay Seymour said Gus always has a smile on his face.
“It doesn’t seem like he ever has a bad day,” Seymour said. “ I’m a PGA member as well. So, to think about trying to be 70 years down the road myself, and still being a PGA member, is a pretty crazy task. Gus is great. He always likes to stop in and say hello and shake hands. He’s just an ambassador of the club. Even at 104 years old, he’s still a man about the club.”
BY THE NUMBERS
- Three brothers (Joe, Adolph and Bob) and three sisters (Carlotta, Rose and Mary)
- Eight holes-in-one (three at Palm-Aire, most recent December 2014)
- 104 years old (oldest living golf professional in North America)
- 1934 (gave first golf lesson)
- 1939 (joined PGA as a golf professional)
- 66 (course record he holds at Edgewood CC and St. Clair CC in the Pittsburgh area)