35-year-old head pro Ed Slattery is retiring

Ed Slattery never intended to become one of Rockford’s longest-tenured golf professionals.

He didn’t want to become an educational professional at all.

“I hadn’t thought about doing this,” Slattery said. “I wanted to play. So I did that, but the only option I had to play was to do this. I knew I had to go to a club and maybe show them that I could play and that they had some money and that they could help me. That was my first reason to get into the golf world.”

He got that start at Forest Hills Country Club, where he was the top assistant for five years under Butch Pegoraro, a former Illinois high school state champion at Boylan. He formed a company and sold $2,000 worth of stock to club members who supported his pro dreams. That allowed him to raise $12,000 – enough to play on the Florida mini-tours for two winters in 1985 and 1986.

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“After two years, I knew I wasn’t going to go to that next level,” said Slattery, who played college golf for Illinois and won the Illini Invitational one year. “Then I put my heart and soul into becoming a club professional.”

After five years at Forest Hills, Slattery became head pro at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Country Club. This is his 35th season. And finally. He will retire at the end of this season and top assistant Kevin Flack will take over.

“I wanted Kevin to succeed me,” Slattery said. “If I had waited another three years, he might have done something else.”

Mauh-Nah-Tee-See has had only three golf professionals in the past 77 years: Frank Grimm for 31 years, Tom Keefe for 11 years and then Slattery for 35 years. Former Rockford Lutheran star Flack could continue that trend.

“That’s part of the reason why it’s a good choice,” Slattery said. ‘Kevin is from here. His wife is from here. He’s a Rockford guy. He can stay here for a long time. This continuity is good for the members. They know what to expect.”

Slattery’s resignation could mark the end of an era in Rockford, as he is the most recent of a trio of 30-year-old pros to leave their ranks. Duncan Geddes, who also started as an assistant under Pegorora at Forrest Hills, was the only head pro for the first 30 years at Aldeen before retiring at the end of the 2021 season. Pegoraro retired in 2014 after 33 years at Forest Hills. Like Slattery, Pegoraro succeeded an old pro, with Curley Williamson managing Forest Hills for 37 years.

“That’s really unusual in this day and age,” Pegoraro said. “A lot of things have changed.”

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One thing that hasn’t changed at Mauh-Nah-Tee-See is Slattery and general manager Mike VanSistine, who is also 35 years old and plays with members every Wednesday.

“It gives us the opportunity to spend four hours with a member who can ask us questions about the club,” VanSistine said. “It builds relationships. It was Ed’s idea and it was a great idea. We have persevered all these years. When new members come in, Ed hooks them up for games and gets them involved in the club. When Ed came in it brought a lot of excitement to the club. He has taken service to a new level and has maintained that over the years.”

Pegoraro called Slattery “a great person” who “cares.”

“When he left the University of Illinois, he was a good player. He had to learn the rest of the trade,” Pegoraro said. “He did. He’s a hardworking guy and a really fun person to be around. Two of my grandsons worked for him in the bag room and they all got a kick out of him.”

Much of what Slattery does comes from what he learned growing up in Dwight, Illinois, a town of 4,000 two hours southeast of Rockford. His parents started him playing golf at the age of 8 and soon he was spending every day off on the golf course. All day.

“It was called Dwight Country Club, but it was far from a country club,” Slattery said. “I just lived there. My father was going to drop me off in the morning. It was a mile out of town. I got to know the professional. I would fill the pop machine. When I did, he gave me a hot dog for lunch.

‘My father and mother always said: whoever goes back to the city, can just ride home with them. That’s just how it was back then. I lived out there.

“In the beginning we never had a pro there. A guy named Terry Kohl became the pro. But it was a one-man operation. He ran the bar and kitchen. He ran the golf shop. He started a junior golf program. That’s what got us all playing. There are six or seven of us from a five year period who are in the golf industry as golf professionals or superintendents. From a fairly small town from a fairly small period, a number of us got into this business.

“He was a huge influence when I was little. We didn’t know what a golf pro was until he showed up. We just had people administering the course. He got us going and some of us chased him.

Top golfers who practically grew up on a golf course as children in the 1960s and 1970s are almost a cliché, but Slattery defies the country club professional cliché of being too busy teaching others and working with members to play the game himself. to get on a job. He always played on Sundays with his three children, two of whom grew up to be Rockford City champions (Kyle and Jessica). And he always got time to play, both at Forest Hills and Mauh-Nah-Tee-See.

“I was never the guy who couldn’t play golf,” Slattery said. “I never had that horror story. A lot of guys do that, but I never did that. Butch played college golf. Butch played mini tour golf. Butch played competitive golf in the section (Illinois PGA). I worked long hours, but always got the chance to play. And as the head professional, I have always made it available for all my assistants to play.”

One of those former assistants, Jeff Kellen, a graduate of Rockford Lutheran, is now the head pro at North Shore Country Club in Glenview and recently played in the PGA Championship, only the third Rockford golfer to play in a PGA tournament in the past 45 years . Flack, 34, should continue that playing tradition. Like Slattery and Kellen, he attempted to become a professional golfer, going through European Tour qualifying school three times while staying with his aunt in London. When he gave up that dream, Slattery is the one who convinced him to become an education professional.

“Ed has been a great mentor since I started working for him seven years ago,” Flack said. “He got me into the PGA to begin with. After I finished chasing that dream, Ed and I had a conversation about what my future would look like. He asked if I could see my life without golf. I said no, I wanted to be involved in the game somehow.

“He told me the PGA gave him a good life. He also encouraged Jeff to join the PGA. He is very encouraging and supportive. Ed has been a great example of what a lead professional should be.”

For 35 years. But not anymore soon.

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