Don’t ask how I ended up with an invitation.
It was the middle 1980s, I was a new member at Honesdale Golf Club and Bob Simons was, well, one of our club’s best players. He also is a genuine guy, a good friend and just as respected today as then.
Moving along …. It was early April and at HGC, that apparently meant a trip south to play golf. So, Si asked and I gleefully accepted. It was the start of a wonderful relationship that was never bothered by what I wrote or didn’t write about him or his players. It’s not as easy as you might think, in my profession, to find people who aren’t looking for a little quid pro quo.
Not Si. He never used our friendship to try to get “extra press” for his players. He felt their accolades would speak for themselves.. So do Si’s. Not only a great coach, he’s an accomplished player, with 12 men’s club championships to his name.
I digress, so let me tell you a little bit more about the state’s winningest golf coach, who Thursday became the first golf coach to reach 600 victories, and my friend.
Along for the ride on that trip to the Maryland Eastern Shore was a kid not much younger than myself, John Pillar Sr. We learned a lot about soft shell crabs that weekend, and that playing golf along the ocean in early April isn’t the smartest, or warmest, thing you can do.
I don’t remember much about the golf, but I do the company. And through the years, I’ve learned one thing that leads you to respect someone in his profession. He always makes it about the kids. With Kyle and Alex PIllar, Corbin Babyak (dad Greg) and Alex Winkler (father Rich), there are three second-generations of Buckhorns on this year’s team. Parents want their kids to experience the same good times they had under Simons, and learn some of the same lessons.
“I believe John Jr. will tell you how much he does for every player on that team,” Pillar Sr. said. “His commitment to driving them wherever they needed to go, the time and effort he put in for his teams. My kids won’t realize what he did until they have graduated.
“I didn’t realize it until I graduated but he would drive us everywhere. He put more time into it. He put more heart into it. He put more energy into it . He walked the walk. He didn’t just talk the talk. He does whatever needs to be done to make sure they are prepared.”
Pillar Sr. knows that first-hand.
“Not only was I a late bloomer to the game, but he helped me get into college and create a foundation for me to have a passion for the game which has given me everything I have,” said Pillar Sr., who is the director of golf at the Country Club at Woodloch Springs. “He gave us fundamental skills and taught us to enjoy the game, to have integrity and honesty in the game. Most importantly he taught us to have fun and to love the game.
“He helped get me into college which I didn’t think I would ever do and was the reference for my first job.”
For players who needed them, there always seemed to be a spare putter, or wedge or driver in his closet.
“When I started, I had seven golf clubs, all from lost and found, all different and me not knowing anything,” said Pillar Sr. “I would just watch him. He was the best player in the area and I was a visual guy. I had a 10-finger grip like him for years until I changed.
“Not only was he my golf coach, but he coached me in Biddy Basketball and he was my teacher. He’s my mentor, my friend and a part of our family.”
Pillar Sr. feigns anger over about the time that Si took his team, of which Pillar was not a member, to Bermuda. Sometime after that came the condo in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., now an annual destination for his team. It’s a trip that seems to have more to do with bonding than it does playing golf.
“It’s how they grow up and what they do in life that’s important,” Simons said .
Those 11- or 12-hour trips in the car will teach people a lot about each other. So will hanging around a coach who has been nothing but class since I met him.
When I joined Honesdale Golf Club, my old boss ran down the names of some of the better golfers I’d run into at HGC, and what to expect.
He told me that day, “Bob Simons is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
He was right.