Editor’s Note: Gino Turchi died Dec. 15, 2012.
Capital Area Golf (CAG): I wanted to start off by asking about your background, both personal and professional, and your affiliation with the world of golf. Can you tell me a little about that?
Gino Turchi (GT): I’m 95 years old and strictly an amateur when it comes to golf. I’ve played a lot since I was eight years old. Professionally, I started out by buying and managing gas stations and eventually I began building courses. I always loved the game.
CAG: What courses have you built?
GT: I helped build the Ballston Spa back nine, the Delhi front nine, the Cobleskill back nine then I went on to build the Northway Heights Golf Club, which is now Eagle Crest (we changed the name in 1990). Construction on that course went from 1963-1965 and then the course opened. I operated it for 30 years. Now I’m well connected with Siena College-in fact I started a scholarship in 1995.
CAG: When did you first become exposed to golf?
GT: I started caddying at age eight at the Mohawk Golf Club, that’s how we made money to eat. In those days, golf was a very expensive game-only people who were members of a club could play. That gave me a chance to caddy for some very influential people, and made me want to be one of those guys.
CAG: How did that desire and love of the game transition into your adult years?
GT: During the Depression and the war I played a lot of golf. Then I took about five years off to own and manage my gas stations. As time went on I involved very heavily at Ballston Spa; I was a member for over 20 years. I then built the back nine for them in 1963, and built my own course a year later. My love of the game just grew over time. I was always an avid golfer.
CAG: So what were the results of your first golfing outing and how did you feel about it?
GT: I enjoyed it very much and I got a lot of pleasure out of it, even when I didn’t do so well golf never made me angry. To date, I’ve played over 1000 country clubs across the nation, an opportunity very few people get. I was able to do it because I’m an honorary member of the United States Golf Superintendents Association. Once I became a golf course superintendent I stayed with them all my life.
CAG: If you started golfing again today, or were to help someone else start golfing, would you do anything differently?
GT: Yes I would. I’d build an executive golf course-its much less expensive to play and people want to play for less time. Also, the courses they build today are way too difficult for amateur players. I built Northway, now Eagle Crest, with the amateur golfer in mind so everyone could get in there and play-no one wants to walk off a golf course because it’s too difficult.
CAG: How has golf affected your professional life?
GT: I always loved the game and was fortunate enough to make it my job-building and managing courses.
CAG: And what role does it play in your personal life?
GT: I like people! I have fun no matter where I go or what I do but especially on the golf course. You know, I never got my high school degree until I was 80 years old, and at 90 I received a doctorate degree from Siena. So golf really made a mark in my life! I was just awarded an honorary membership for life by the Edison Club. I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me through golf, I met a lot of fine people. Golf has been my lifetime sport, literally.
CAG: What do you think a child could gain from learning the game?
GT: I think that would be the best thing in the world. It gets them fresh air for about four hours; they go home tired and stay off the streets in the process. I think it’s the best thing a kid can do.
Look at what happened to me; I now walk and learn on Siena’s campus every day. I have a street and theater named after me over there.
CAG: Can you tell me a little more about the scholarship you set up at Siena?
GT: I lost my son when he was 47 years old. When my wife and I sold our golf course I wanted to make a memorial for him. I turned to the PGA but they didn’t like me very much because I never turned pro. I then went to the Superintendents Association but they said “Gino, if we did it for you then we would have to do it for everyone.” My accountant had graduated from Siena and said we should establish a scholarship there. I invested a quarter of a million dollars, met Dave Smith and we started the scholarship in my son’s name.
The relationship we got with Siena College really gave me and my wife a new start on life. They really treat us like kings over there. Any event that they have-we’re there.
CAG: That’s excellent. Now, what benefits do you think a parent would see in their child if they started playing?
GT: The parent would know where the kid was, know they’re behaving, as well as learning discipline and how to carry themselves with other people. If the parents give their child that opportunity, they will also see a new found respect.
My wife and I have always strongly believed in this. We started one of the first free golf schools for kids and gave a lot to young people.
CAG: What’s the worst time you’ve ever had golfing?
GT: Every once in a while you play with a bad apple, but you get rid of them. Sometimes, golf was a lot of work for my son, wife and myself but we managed to do it. We worked real well together as our own three-person team.
CAG: That sounds great. What’s the best time you’ve ever had golfing?
GT: Well, best thing that’s happened to me was the ability to play golf all over the country-you name the golf course and I’ve probably played it. Being a superintendent I can play some of the most exclusive courses.
CAG: What bugs you the most about golfing, either on of off the course? Any pet peeves?
GT: Some of these people think they’re Jack Nicklaus and slow up the game. Other than that it runs good. Some people pay the greens fee and think they own the course!
CAG: What would you say to a parent who had doubts about letting their child start playing golf?
GT: I think they’re making a big mistake. There is no sport in the world that the kid is going to get a better education about being with people. In golf you learn a lot about the other person very quickly. Other sports are just quick, quick, quick in a general sense.
CAG: Is there anything else you would like to add?
GT: In golf right now the course owners have to compete against municipal and state courses. This competition is very, very high. It’s an unfair situation for many private courses but that just the way it is.
State and municipal golf courses can afford to spend less money because they have tax exemptions so it makes the competition very, very tough. I would like it if there were tax exemptions for private courses as well.
CAG: What are the most positive things that golf has brought into your life?
GT: The privilege to be with people in higher up and desirable jobs-golf opened up all my doors and made a better life for me. In the end I owe a lot of it, if not all, to golf.