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Yale Golf Team Coach, 1937-55

Interview on February 12, 2005 with members of the Sullivan family [his twin brothers, two sons and two daughters]

Interview (1 hr 38 mins)

When Joe Sullivan was age 20 in 1929, he was an assistant pro at Waterbury Country Club, and the youngest of 13 siblings, the twins Robert and Vincent were born. Ten years later he was the assistant to Ben Thomson at Yale when they began caddying there. The caddies used to gather “behind a brick wall” in the area where the cart barn now stands. On the other side of the wall was the “hot dog stand.” While they waited to be called for a loop for $0.75, they carried out the “caddy initiation” for new members of the corp (putting straw under the shirt of the prospective caddy about to go out for 4 hours in the hot sun). They could play the course on Monday until noon. A ball in the rough was usually lost. Robert remembers looping for Ralph Morrell, who had played the course on opening day in 1926 and who worked at the Peabody Museum and liked to collect snakes during his round. He would store these in a net sack in his golf bag until the end of the round. Joe continued to play golf until age 92.

Joe liked to teach, first as an assistant, then eventually as a head pro and coach. The lesson tee was: for full shots, behind the clubhouse and out to the left of the third fairway; for short game the area between the second and fourth greens [“chipping practice” consisted of tossing balls underhand to the hole]; and bunker play at the eighteenth hole. The best player Robert ever saw play Yale was an amateur, Billy Joe Patton as a Princeton team member [finished third in the 1954 Masters] though he also saw Cary Middlecoff*, Gary Player, and Ken Venturi play. (* only player he ever saw able to drive a ball from first tee across Griest Pond and over the dam) Most students got to the course on a trolley that stopped at Whalley and Fountain and from there they walked the 2 miles to the course, though some had cars. Joe’s best round was a 64. He also shot 27 on the front, but couldn’t play the back that day because of darkness. On 5 occasions he started out with all 3s through first 5 holes. He entertained players waiting on the ninth tee by hitting, while kneeling, over the pond to the green. He would drive his 2 seat model A Ford with rumble seat and running boards from Fairhaven and pick up as many as 8 kids who would caddy that day. Some would tell their mothers that they were staying overnight with a fellow caddy, when in fact they both were going to sleep in the bunker by the ninth hole, in order to be first out the next morning and thus go double for 36 holes ($6.00). Brother Tommy had worked for Joe “hawking balls” from the lake between holes three and four, caddying and running the hot dog stand. On one occasion Senator Abe Ribicoff tried to get a 25-cent hot dog and coke for nothing since he “was a senator”. The twins spread his ashes on the third and fourth fairways and in the cup on hole five (Dick Tettleback’s ashes are in eleventh bunker). Joe went to the Racebrook Country Club from 1955-76 and died at age 68 in 1977.