(January 17, 2021) - If you have played golf at Rockledge Golf Club in West Hartford over the last 36-years, chances are you were greeted like an old friend as you walked into the pro shop before your round. That friendly greeting often came from long-time Rockledge GC head professional Rich Crowe. That was who Crowe was from his first day on the job, until the day he retired at the end of the 2020 golf season.
"Rich is one of those guys who will meet you one year and remember you five years later by name when you walk down the hill to play golf at [Rockledge]," says Andrew Killoran, who was Crowe's assistant professional for 22-years. "He learned that from [43-year head professional] John Murphy over at the Country Club of Farmington."
Crowe got his start in golf on July 4, 1965 when a member of the Country Club of Farmington caddy staff didn't show up for work. Only 12-years-old at the time, Crowe jumped at the opportunity and with that, a life working in golf was born. "I cut my teeth [in the golf industry] working under John," said Crowe of his 12-years working for Murphy. "He taught me a great deal about the business. My parents [Dorothy and Thomas] taught me my work ethic, John taught me the golf business from the ground up. I owe an awful lot to John and his family. He saw something special in me and he taught me the John Murphy way and it has served me well for many, many years."
Throughout his 55-year career in golf Crowe did it all - caddied, cleaned carts and clubs, worked for the PGA Tour at the 1984 Players Championship, served as the first head pro at TPC River Highlands when the PGA Tour first made the switch to the course from Wethersfield Country Club, until eventually he landed the job at Rockledge GC and never looked back.
Following his time at the Country Club of Farmington, Crowe was hired by the Pearson family to be the head professional at Edgewood Golf Club. It was at Edgewood where Crowe got his first chance to work as a Class A Profesional. "It was a very special moment for me, and I owe a great amount of gratitude to them for giving me that position," said Crowe.
In the early 1980's Edgewood GC was purchased by the PGA Tour with eyes on the course becoming the host venue of the Travelers Championship, then the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open. The course, reworked by Pete Dye and later Bobby Weed, would become the TPC River Highlands that we know today. During the transition phase Crowe was the head pro at Edgewood GC and would become the first head professional when the PGA Tour made its inaugural stop at the course in 1984.
"The PGA Tour saw something in me that they liked," said Crowe. "So they brought me down to Florida to work at the 1984 Players Championship, the year Freddie Couples won his first title." Then [again they] saw something they liked and made me the head pro [at TPC]."
In February of the following year the position at Rockledge GC opened up and with it the door to the reminder of Crowe's career. As the head professional at Rockledge GC, Crowe worked for the town of West Hartford, and also oversaw operations at the towns nine-hole course, Buena Vista Golf Course.
"The town of [West Hartford] is a special place and I feel very special having had the opportuniry to work for a community like West Hartford," Crowe, the 2003 Connecticut Golf Professional of the Year, said. "They gave me an opportunity and I took that opportunity to the best of my ability to run a business and provide for my family and we were able to do that for 36-years and I am very proud of that."
Crowe, who lives in Berlin, credits his family for allowing him to be able to work in a job that he loved. "I lost my wife Sandy in 2011 to leukemia, but she made it very easy to go work seven days a week, 14-hours a day. I have three kids - Michelle, Jennifer, and Michael, and now four grandkids."
The town of West Hartford also gave back to Crowe in more ways than one throughout the years. "Rich Crowe was more than just an outstanding golf professional in West Hartford for 36-years," said Helen Rubino-Turco the towns Director of Social Services & Leisure Services. "He was a civic leader. He embraced the community in which he worked, so much so, that he was awarded West Hartford’s Noah Webster Award in 1997 for outstanding community service. It’s astonishing that he garnered that award more than two decades ago! He certainly didn’t rest on his laurels. In particular, we are grateful for his support of the West Hartford Food Pantry and the town’s charity, The Town That Cares."
However, no example of how beloved he was in town looms larger than the support he received following Sandy's death. Sandy was treated at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, which led Crowe to get involved in the Pan-Mass Challege, an annual bike ride that donates 100 percent of every rider-raised dollar to the cancer research and treatment at Dana-Farber. This year will be Crowe's 12th year riding in the challenge and in large part because of his "family at Rockledge we have been able to raise over $285,000 for Dana-Farber. That is a tribute naturally to Sandy, but that wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for my involvment in the town of West Hartford and all the people playing at Rockledge."
Away from West Hartford, Crowe's impact on the game of golf will be felt for years to come thanks to his involvement in the creation of the Connecticut Section Foundation in 1995, along with Gary Reynolds, the head pro at Harford Golf Club from 1982-2008. The Connecticut Section PGA Golf Foundation’s purpose is to grow the game and positively impact the lives of youth, special needs golfers, military veterans, and diverse populations by enabling access to PGA Professionals and the game of golf.
Throughout his career at Rockledge, Crowe established a strong junior program, that not only introduced kids to the game, but developed a lot of, "fine young men and women." Crowe also made sure to give back to those who worked for him. "Any of the successes I have had in the golf business is not been because of me," says Crowe. "The sucesses have been because of who I was associated with. Whether it be the shop staff, maintenance staff or the people in downtown West Hartford that work for the town. It has been a team effort that we have had at Rockledge GC and Buena Vista GC."
Forever grateful to those that worked for him, Crowe wanted to offer a guiding hand, similar to the one he had been shown by John Murphy when he was first introduced to the golf business. Whether it was a high school student looking for their first job or an assistant professional, "one thing I have tried to do my whole career is treat people with respect," said Crowe. "I have ensured that in my staff, in the guys and ladies that have come through the doors and worked for me."
In fact what Crowe is most proud of is that a number of his former employees have gone on to work at their own golf courses. Beginning with his first assistant Jeff Swanson, now the head professional at Cedar Knob Golf Course in Somers, through his assistant of 22-years, Killoran.
"He has been a phenomenal mentor in all aspects," said Killoran who is in talks with West Hartford to suceed Crowe. "Number one he taught me how to treat people in terms of customer service. Secondly, running the business, he has been very fair and puts the town of West Hartford first and has taught me how to run a business from a great standpoint. For Rich it is always about customer service and making sure they are number one to the best of his ability."
Of course golf will still be a big part of Crowe's life in retirement, he plans to play more. However, Crowe will try to itch the travel bug he has had since he was a kid. Last August Crowe remarried, and with retirement officially underway, Rich and Joan plan to RV around the country. The two already have some trips planned for 2021. They also hope to be able visit family they haven't been able to see over the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We want to get in [the RV] and go see the country," Crowe said. "It is something that I have always wanted to do. To have the opportunity to do something that I have always wanted to do since I was a kid is pretty special."
A dream that Crowe no doubt had on that July 4th day in 1965 when he shouldered his first golf bag at the Country Club of Farmington. A moment that Crowe in all likelyhood had no idea how significant it would be in his life.