In celebration of American Father’s Day, Global Golf Post Plus will, between now and June 20th, share a collection of stories on how the bond between fathers and their children is strengthened through the game. Today, Joe Monahan III, father of PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, kicks off the series.
Be it casual or competitive, golf offers a unique opportunity for a father and son to spend hours together in a bucolic setting, polishing their skills while spending quality time with one another. My family, the Monahans, is in its fifth generation of an all-consuming passion for golf.
Where our love for golf is exemplified is in the oldest father-son invitational tournament in the country at the club we have called home for parts of nine decades – Winchester Country Club, seven miles north of Boston. The tournament, which is an alternate-shot test, dates to 1919 and my family made its first mark in 1938 when my grandfather, Judge Joseph Monahan, and father, Joe Monahan Jr., earned the first of their seven crowns.
Joe Monahan III – that would be me – had an inauspicious debut in his championship match, losing in an 18-hole playoff in 1961. But blessed with good partners – my sons, Jay, Brendan and Justin – I have been able to record 17 wins.
… to have three sons with immense character and beautiful families is all I could ever ask for; to have my oldest son grow up to be the PGA Tour commissioner is surreal …
The flavor of the tournament includes a grandfather-grandson competition, which I played in from ages 8 to 21. My grandfather was the Chief Judge of the Probate Court in Middlesex County and had quite a presence about him. He was a deep thinker and a very talented athlete. He would refer to golf as the citadel of learning, which took me years to comprehend.
“The Judge,” as he was known, was a player of high quality so he and I often won the grandfather-grandson. But when he would accept both silver cups, he kept his and usually gave mine away to another kid. “In my mind, you’re also a winner,” The Judge would tell the kid.
When I finally asked The Judge why he did this, he told me, “Oh, you’re going to win many of these.”
In addition to being a deep thinker, my grandfather was prescient. But I’m sure not even he knew how big I would win in life – to have three sons with immense character and beautiful families is all I could ever ask for; to have my oldest son grow up to be the PGA Tour commissioner is surreal, and when I played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am alongside Jay a few years ago, we walked around knowing that Jay’s grandfather had played in the 1947 U.S. Amateur there.
That’s the sort of stuff that will be rekindled on Father’s Day.
When the annual Father-Son at Winchester arrives, every memory we have revolves around my mother, “Granny Annie,” and my wife, Joanne, who died of cancer in 2007. They were both passionate golfers and our biggest supporters.
Granny Annie was the scorekeeper, the timekeeper and the referee – all self-designated. One year, Brendan and I were paired with my brother Tommy and his son Jeff, when Tommy aced the par-3 14th. Granny Annie saw it, but proclaimed that it wasn’t an official hole-in-one.
“Because it was in an alternate-shot tournament,” she said.
She had tough standards.
She also had her own golf cart, always. And she had thoughts and comments, always. And she had a major presence at our traditional family dinner at the conclusion of the tournament, always. If there was a victory to celebrate, we smiled; if there wasn’t, Granny Annie usually explained that it was because I “was out of sorts.”
Rich in flavor as it is, the Winchester Father-Son Tournament is only one stop along a magical ride that golf has taken me on. I rarely missed an opportunity to play golf with my sons; to me, it was the opportunity to learn what they were about, and to watch them progress intellectually and personally.
I always believed that the boys had almost as good a time as Joanne and I did; I know golf helped keep us strong as a family after her death.
Our relationship is galvanized, through golf, from Winchester to the aura of Ireland and Scotland (a 14-day trip with Joanne and the three boys in celebration of Justin’s 16th birthday) to the splendor of the Monterey Peninsula in 2012 (a 36-a-day-for-five-days trip to play Pebble Beach, Cypress Point, Spyglass, Monterey Peninsula and Bayonet.
A lot of golf, but never has it been tiring. Instead, it has always been a learning experience. I always believed that the boys had almost as good a time as Joanne and I did; I know golf helped keep us strong as a family after her death.
That family extends to my brother Tommy, who also lives and breathes golf. His membership at Isleworth in Orlando brought us all together for something we called “The Kirby Derby,” the genesis of which pretty much encapsulates our family’s deep-rooted love of the game.
A longtime New England pro named Bruce Dobie stumbled upon a large trophy, at a yard sale in Worcester County – it was ugly as sin, to be honest – that had my grandfather’s name on it, winning “The Kirby.” Well, Dobie gave the Monahan family the trophy and the Monahan family felt obliged to play The Kirby Derby annually at Isleworth. Usually it was cold, but no matter. It was 36 holes a day, four straight days, the kids from the tips, of course, an impossible course that wasn’t friendly to my style of golf – a lot of old-school low liners – but good gracious did we have fun.
Yes, the fun even came out when the setting was under the umbrella of a competitive event. Not everything can be a father-and-son team; sometimes it’s got to be father against son.
My father beat me at Whip Poor Will CC in New Hampshire in the Club Championship Final in 1964 by holing a 20-yard chip shot on the 19th hole. Early in the club championship at Lake Sunapee CC in New Hampshire, my match against Brendan was refereed by the club’s most revered member, the esteemed Gene Sarazen. Brendan made a slippery 3-footer on the final hole, right after I lipped out from about the same distance, a scenario that Mr. Sarazen told me was “the perfect result for me.”
(My sons might tell you that the condo at Lake Sunapee CC was a bad investment, but how was I going to turn down the chance to have The Squire as my next door neighbor?)
Sometimes, though, you can’t explain golf. I drew Brendan in the second round of the Winchester club championship in 2012. He’d won it four years in a row and we were all square playing the second playoff hole, a 535-yard par 5. Brendan knocked it on in two and has a 25-foot eagle putt, so I knew doomsday was reckoning.
Especially when I hit a 99-yard wedge a little thin. But it landed at the front of the green and rolled 40 feet into the cup. People were watching, but no one clapped; they were in such disbelief. Brendan just laughed.
I encouraged Brendan, told him to knock it in to extend the match.
“If you mean that, you can give me the putt,” he said.
“There are too many people around,” is all I could think to say, but it didn’t matter because Brendan was laughing so hard, he couldn’t compose himself.
I am blessed to be married now to Claire, who was one of Joanne’s good friends, and who supports all the passion us Monahans pour into golf. And it thrills me to watch the baton being passed to my grandchildren. Late last summer, Brendan won the Winchester Father-Son with his son, Aiden, at 14 the youngest to ever claim the prize.
There I go, circling back to where it all begins for our family – golf at Winchester Country Club. Memories simply overflow.
In 2008 we decided to throw a surprise party for Jay during the Father-Son Tournament. He was leaving a job with the Red Sox to start his career with the PGA Tour. But, first, he and I had our round in the Father-Son. All the invited party guests, very much to his surprise, stood by the 18th green as we walked up the final hole; we needed a par to shoot 69. Justin and I had shot 69 two days earlier.
Forget the golf, Jay’s just shaking his head at all the family and friends toasting him. “Everyone who means anything to me in my life,” he said.
I can’t forget the golf, so I’m trying to shake in a 3-footer to make par.
I think it was Justin who said to everyone, “If he makes it, he ties; if he misses, he wins,” and thinking of that day chokes my emotions because it involved everything I love – my sons, my family, my golf, our friends.
Crazy, I know. In that moment it could have been seen as me competing against Justin. Or me competing against Jay. But here’s the truth: I have always competed with them, never against them.
The frailty of human nature is beguiling. But all these years later I understand what my grandfather told me – the citadel of learning golf hopefully will always bear its bountiful fruits, and persevere through the years to continue to be the tie that binds, for our family.
Top photo: Jay Monahan and his father and caddie Joe Monahan III during the 2019 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. (Ben Jared, PGA Tour/Getty Images)
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