NAPLES, FLORIDA I John Baldwin was a baseball player as a young boy, and a good one at that. But then, he took a high, hard pitch to the head in a Pony League game.
“I ended up spending the night in the hospital with a concussion,” the 67-year-old New York native says. “I was fine physically. But when I tried to play again, I bailed out on every pitch.”
So Baldwin had to give up baseball. That saddened him initially, but then he took up golf. And that turned out to be a great move, for Baldwin and for the game.
For one thing, Baldwin developed into an elite amateur player with a record that includes a pair of Met Amateur championships, two Met Player of the Year awards and a British Senior Amateur title. And for another, he became a tireless advocate of the game, serving in a number of volunteer positions at the Metropolitan Golf Association, which he eventually ran as president, and at other Met Area golf organizations.
In other words, Baldwin became the consummate golf guy, both player and promoter. And while he has long been benefitted from his deep and passionate commitment to the game, so has golf, for having someone who cares so much about the sport being so deeply involved.
It was at the Plansome Country Club on Long Island where Baldwin first nurtured his golf game, as a caddie and as a player who was soon good enough to win the club’s junior title. Later, he competed on the University of North Carolina golf team as he earned a degree in Business Administration.
“There were no golf scholarships in those days, so everyone was just a walk-on,” Baldwin recalls. “I played all four years in college, and even won the ACC Championship as a junior. I loved competing, and I loved being so close to Pinehurst. It was only an hour or so away, and in those days we could play No. 2 with a university pass for $10 a day.”
Baldwin headed to the University of Miami after leaving Chapel Hill to get his MBA. And once he did that, in the spring of 1969, he managed to qualify for the PGA Tour, surely becoming in the process the only golfer ever to get his Tour card and his MBA the very same year. At the start of the 1970 season, he went out on Tour.
“Those were the days of Monday qualifiers, and I managed to play my way into 20 tournaments,” Baldwin recalls. “But I only made eight cuts, and it soon became clear I was going to have to do something else.”
That something else turned out to be financial services, and Baldwin went to work for First Boston, in their municipal bond department, after 15 months on Tour. Once he regained his amateur status, he also began competing again, in major regional events like the Met Am as well as in prominent invitationals like the Travis, and the Richardson, the Hochster and the Anderson.
“The golf was great fun, and a great escape,” says Baldwin, who lived for more than two decades in New York City and now splits time between a house in West Palm Beach, Fla., and a flat in London. “And I enjoyed it so much more as an amateur because I wasn’t doing it as work. I especially loved the courses I was able to play in the Met Area, and the amateur calendar is terrific there as well.”
Certainly, part of what made it fun for Baldwin was how well he played, even as he rose to national sales manager for municipal securities at First Boston. A longtime member of the Meadow Brook Club on Long Island’s North Shore, he not only won the Met Amateur but also the Ike, the Travis and both the New York and Long Island Ams. He continued to excel even as he got older, adding the New York Mid and Senior Am championships to his collection. Baldwin showed pretty good game when he traveled overseas, too, winning the Irish and Welsh Senior Amateurs twice each, and the British Senior Am. In fact, he received his two Player of the Year awards when he was in his mid-40s. And he continues to compete even as he pushes 70, in senior events around the U.S. in the winter and then in the United Kingdom in the summer.
But it is his work as a volunteer that has truly distinguished Baldwin, who won the MGA’s Distinguished Service Award in 2004. As president of the MGA. As one of the founders of the MGA Foundation. As a member of the boards of the Long Island Caddie Scholarship Fund and the Long Island Golf Association, and of the USGA’s Mid-Amateur Committee.
“My friend Joe Donahue asked me to get involved when he was president of the MGA back in the early 1980s,” says Baldwin, who is now a member of Sunningdale Golf Club outside London. “I joined the Junior Committee, and it just took off from there. My wife, Nancy, and I do not have children, so I could find the time to play and to volunteer. I really enjoyed being involved, and being able to give back.”
And he has given back so much.