By Bob Denney
PGA of America
Pay a visit to Palm Aire Country Club in Sarasota, Florida, and you may bump into Gus Andreone, whose impact and charm continue to amaze both members and guests.
Andreone is the oldest and currently longest-serving PGA of America member, having marked his 103rd birthday on Sept. 30. He has served the Association for more than 75 years.
Palm Aire members marvel at Andreone, who plays three times a week, and provides golf tips while going out and breaking his age regularly on the course.
“Par for me is 90 now,” says Andreone.
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There’s a wooden statue of Andreone, the creation of club member John Gray, which overlooks the Gus Andreone Practice and Teaching Facility. The statue, presented in 2011 to honor Andreone on his 100th birthday, symbolizes the humble man’s unpretentious affection for the game, his profession and what it means to wake up every day knowing that there’s more golf to be played.
A native of Bellaire, Ohio, Andreone says his personal formula for longevity is not complex. “It’s all about just being yourself, keeping your old regular pace,” he says. ”You just have habits you do every day. You don’t live outside of what you do every day.”
The man who served Edgewood Country Club in Pittsburgh for 30 years before retiring to Florida, counts himself blessed in many ways. “The fact that I am sitting and talking to you now is something special,” says Andreone, who served under General George S. Patton in World War II. Andreone was a member of the 10th Armored Tiger Division that helped liberate Europe.
“We were in the Ghost Division, guys that nobody knew who and where we were,” says Andreone. “I was commandeering a half-track in Germany, and as we made a left-hand turn, we took a direct hit from a mortar shell. We were carrying two 50-gallon tanks of gas. I’m here today.”
When Andreone retired in 1977, he spent about $20 a week on $1 scratch tickets. On Dec. 15, 1983, he won the Pennsylvania State Lottery. He earned $1,000 a week for the rest of his life. If that wasn’t enough good fortune, his move to Florida carried more instant karma. He won $18,000 and $21,000 in the state’s Fantasy Five Lottery game. “If you want to touch me, it’s OK with me,” joked Andreone.
There was more magic for Andreone on the course. He has made seven holes-in-one, but no more memorable scores than a pair in 1960, while playing St. Clair Country Club near Pittsburgh.
Andreone hit his tee shot out of bounds on a par-3 hole, then reloaded and knocked his second ball into the hole for a deuce. Later that year, he hit his shot out of bounds and on the same course on a par-4 hole, dropped his next ball and hit under a tree to the green and into the hole for a birdie-3.
Wait, there’s an explanation.
In 1960, the USGA Rule 29-1 (now Rule 27-1), Ball Lost or Out of Bounds, was introduced with the phrase, "For Trial in 1960, USGA," and the Rule stated, "If a ball be lost or out of bounds, the player shall incur a penalty of loss of distance." There was no penalty stroke assessed and the next stroke was made from the spot of the previous stroke.
All of the above should come naturally for a man who defies the odds. “I take a spoon of honey every morning in my coffee. Every morning,” says Andreone. “Before I get out of bed, I do a certain set of exercises that help my knees, back and hips. It works for me.”
A past secretary (1971-72) of the Tri-State PGA Section, Andreone also encouraged golf’s next generation of players and professionals. At his home club, he inspired nearly a dozen assistants who went on to become head professionals.
Andreone’s first wife, Henrietta, died of cancer in 1977. His second wife, Betty, who he married in 1985, had managed the golf shop at the former Rolling Hills Golf Club in Davie, Florida, where she landed a short part in “Caddyshack.” For movie fans, that’s Betty strolling the pool deck in a bathing suit just as caddies invade the club members’ pool.
Steve Yates, the PGA Director of Golf at Palm Aire Country Club, said Andreone “is a joy for all our members. I first met Gus when he was in his 80s and I was just getting my feet wet on the job. Gus challenged me to a game – betting that he would need only a stroke. I sized him up and thought it would be simple match.
“When we got to the tee, he said, ‘That one stroke I get will be divided up 18 ways. If we tie on a hole, I get 1/18 of a stroke against your score.’ Well, I knew I had been taken.”