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Bob Pfister from The Glen Mills School Blog

Golf is a game of hope, redemption and managing your mistakes. We find that out every time we slice a drive into the woods and try to figure out a way to still salvage par.

In this week’s episode of Golf in America, we take you to a course that could have “hope” and “redemption” knit into the club logo. The Golf Course at Glen Mills, in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania is part of The Glen Mills School, the nation’s oldest reform school. The workers at the course are all students at the school, all trying to manage their mistakes and figure out how keep one bad decision from turning into a string of bogies in life. It’s a story about the potential to be found in young people others have written off. We hope you found the story as inspirational watching it as we did reporting it.

While I was at Glen Mills, I had a chance to chat with the pro, an affable man named Bob Pfister, who just celebrated his 70th birthday. Fresh out of the Navy in 1963, Bob had found a job as an assistant pro at Saucon Valley Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, working under a Scotsman named Ralph Hutchison. In the winters, Mr. Hutchison was the pro at the Cotton Bay Club in the Bahamas, an exclusive playground for the wealthy developed by Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan Am.

Bob Pfister certainly wasn’t about to say no when Ralph Hutchison offered him the chance to work at the Cotton Bay Club in the winter. What 22-year-old would say no, especially one who had grown up in Buffalo, New York and could use a warm winter? 

The truth was that Cotton Bay was not exactly overrun. Bob wasn’t going to be overworked, unless of course you counted the amount of time he’d get to spend on his own game. Often there’d be no more than one or two foursomes on the course at any given time. Sometimes, members and their guests come in the pro shop looking for a game with the young assistant pro who wasn’t particularly busy.

One day in the winter of 1963, two guys named Jess and Gene were looking for a game and grabbed Bob out of the shop. Gene was Jess’s guest, spending a couple of weeks at Cotton Bay. Bob enjoyed the round, and the men enjoyed playing with the young pro. Bob would play another six times over the next two weeks with Gene and dozens more in the following months with Jess. 

Bob learned a lot about the game from both men, who could play just a little. Jess’s last name was Sweetser. He’d been a pretty fair amateur, if you count winning the U.S. and British Amateurs and once dusting Bobby Jones 8 and 7 as “decent.” Gene used to bring his shag bag to the chipping area with his sand wedge and say to Bob, “practice the hardest shot you can find with this club, and everything else will be a piece of cake,“ Bob recalled. “He loved that sand wedge.” 

He should have. He invented it. Gene was—you guessed it—Gene Sarazen, the first man to have won the modern Grand Slam.   

They stayed in touch, always telling Bob if there was anything they could do for him to let them know. A few years later, Bob applied for his first head pro job. Asked for references, he supplied two names: Jess Sweetser and Gene Sarazen. The head of the club asked Bob, “do you really know them?” Bob replied, “Sure, you want me to call them right now?” Needless to say, Bob got the job.