PALM-AIRE — With his wife, Betty, looking on, Palm-Aire resident Gus Andreone picks up a golf club and shuffles his way onto the driving range.
He reaches down with both hands and carefully places his ball on the tee. Gus straightens and looks off into the distance, surveying the terrain. A breeze ruffles the trees as the afternoon sun shines brightly overhead.
With one final glance, Gus swings his club and sends the ball sailing. But before the ball has barely even landed, Gus already is reaching for another ball — obviously not pleased with his last shot.
Gus doesn’t fire off shots the way he used to. He no longer ties course records or shoots for par. Instead, he has created his own scoring system, setting par for himself.
His health and age have slowly caught up with him in recent years; but after spending 88 of his 100 years on the golf course, there is still one aspect of his game that remains fully intact — his passion.
It’s his love for the game of golf and humbling spirit that have captured the hearts of his friends and the fellow members of Palm-Aire Country Club.
And now, 25 years after he and his wife first moved to the East County community, Gus celebrated his 100th birthday complete with a marble birthday cake and a steak dinner.
“It’s very impressive to me because of the number of people here that attended the event,” Gus says. “Everyone went along, and they all came in as a group and sang “Happy Birthday.” My golf friends and members that we knew were all here en masse. It was very impressive and humbling.”
Later this month, Palm-Aire will continue its celebration of Gus with the dedication of its new Gus Andreone Practice and Teaching Facility, which includes the expansion of the driving range, an in-ground hitting system, a dedicated teaching tee and a monument.
“It was a surprise,” Gus says. “I was honored to be associated with the development of the range that was done in my honor. Also, what it does for Palm-Aire (members), because they are the ones who play golf and will be able to come out and used the facility for practice and to improve their games.”
Gus was 12 years old the first time he picked up a golf club. Some of his friends were hitting a ball around on the field the boys used to play baseball in his hometown of Bridgeville, Pa.
Gus starting hitting balls left-handed, but eventually had to switch hands after left-handed clubs proved to be difficult to find. Soon, Gus went to St. Clair Country Club, where his friends were caddies and became a caddy himself.
He spent nearly four years caddying before getting a job at the golf shop cleaning golf clubs.
In 1934, Gus became an assistant golf professional. When he wasn’t busy working, he was out on the course.
“Every opportunity I got, I was always out at the practice field,” Gus says.
Gus spent five years under the head golf professional before becoming a member of the PGA in 1939. Today, Gus is the third oldest card-carrying member of the PGA.
“I like it because it’s a clean sport,” Gus says of golf. “You get to meet so many individuals from all walks of life, and you’re working with many individuals to improve their golf games and their love of the game.”
Gus continued working at St. Clair, where he tied the course record with a 66, before he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Gus served three years during World War II before getting out of the service in 1945.
Gus returned home to St. Clair and went back to caddying. Then, in 1947, a job opened up for a head professional at Edgewood Country Club in Pittsburgh, Pa.
He held the post for 30 years and, along the way, set the course record of 66, which still stands.
During his time in Pennsylvania, Gus played in the State Open, at which he put together one of the most memorable performance’s of his career. Gus approached the 18th hole, a par 4, having shot 1-under par through the first 17 holes. In front of an entire gallery of spectators, Gus knocked in his second shot.
“The entire hillside burst into a standing ovation,” Gus says. “That was a standout (moment), because it was the State Open.”
Gus moved to Florida in 1985 — to Plantation Country Club near Palm Beach. He also reconnected with Betty, whom he had met years earlier.
Similar to her husband, Betty picked up the game of golf at a young age. She was 10 when her father, also a PGA professional, began giving her lessons. A native of Western Pennsylvania, Betty moved to Florida in 1949 with her family. Twenty years later, her father became the head pro at Plantation. Betty managed the pro shop, a position she held for 21 years, before marrying Gus.
“My dad always gave me free lessons,” Betty says. “He passed away, and I wanted more free lessons, so I married Gus.”
The couple moved to Palm-Aire in 1988 and since then, they’ve become engrained in the community through their love of the game.
“She’ll give you all you can handle,” Gus says. “She’s got no quit in her. It’s just nice to play with her. You’ll never hear her complain about a missed putt. Playing the game to her was a game that was enjoyable to play. Everyone likes to play golf with her.”
Today, Gus continues to play golf two or three times a week. But there was a time nearly a decade ago that he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to play the game he loved again.
Gus was out on the course when he felt a sharp pain in his back. He soon found out that a port near his heart had caused an infection in his spine. Gus underwent treatment every day for four months.
“I never thought I would play golf again,” Gus says. “I could hardly walk, and I lost about 18 pounds.”
Eventually, Gus got stronger and was able to return to the course. He started out by setting a goal for himself of hitting 110 for 18 holes, and as he continued to improve, he set his par even lower.
Now, every time he steps onto the green, Gus has his sights set on hitting 90.
“If I shoot my age, then I’ll say I had a bad game,” Gus says.
And although Gus may not be the golfer he once was, he remains dedicated to the sport that has given him so much.
“As long as I was alive, I knew I would play,” Gus says. “I wasn’t thinking about the years. I just knew as long as I was hitting golf balls, then I would play golf.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].