CANTON, Mass – At last count there are a gazillion feel-good golf stories ranging from potential child prodigies, to setting personal-best records, to significant accomplishments and service to the sport, a recreational activity some pundits describe as the hardest to master.
This tale is impressive for two reasons: First, it involves a gentleman overcoming a life-threatening health issue on three separate occasions. Second: Because of the gushing respect and kudos coming from virtually every aspect of a 33-year career as a New England PGA professional, as well as an adored golf instructor.
If you’re expecting a tale that involves making millions, or one of Cinderalla-story proportions forget-about-it. This is an account of Peter Norton, a low-key guy with a very highly-respected reputation, whose close friends call him “Bones.”
He’s not flashy, is never controversial and the one thing you hear consistently from colleagues, associates, students, members and former members is that Peter Norton is always the consummate professional. Peter is one of 1,100 New England PGA professionals who work tirelessly to benefit the game, and, a major part of that commitment includes long hours, no weekends or holidays off, and the hardest part is keeping 300 members/ bosses happy!
Peter Norton is a proud native of Brockton, and, now some 40-years later, he vividly recalls many cherished memories when the city was in its shoe-manufacturing heyday, and world headquarters of Foot-Joy, then owned by the Tarlow family.
Growing up in Brockton in the 70s and 80s there were four choices to play golf – Wedgewood GC, D.W. Field GC, Brockton CC and Thorny Lea GC. Although the “City of Champions” was noted for boxing fame by Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler, the great golf writer and historian Herbert Warren Wind was first to position the city on the world golf map.
Norton, while playing for Brockton High School golf team, cultivated his journey to a career in golf. His early influence to the game started at Thorny Lea GC, enriched by mingling with legendary amateur players like Ed “Smiley” Connell, John Tosca, Bruce Douglas and Ted Bishop.
After graduating from Murray State (KY) in 1982, Norton earned his first head pro job at Lexington GC in 1986. When the top job at Thorny Lea GC opened up in 1991 due to John Oteri’s retirement, Norton applied for the position, was hired and thus began a remarkable 25-year trek.
“I turned pro at age 24 and moved to Florida to try playing pro golf for a living and found out quickly I was not good enough so I decided to get into the golf business,” stated Norton, who lives in Boston with wife, Kristen. “My first job was at Lexington Golf Club as the assistant under Dan Diskin, who was a great pro and mentor. Mr. Diskin resigned in 1986 and I was named head pro. Lexington had great members who helped me learn the business inside-and-out. I can’t credit the Lexington membership enough for the majority of my success as a PGA pro and a player.”
The next step in the journey of Norton’s golf career came in 1991 when the top position at Thorny Lea GC opened up. The temptation to be head pro at the club where he grew up was too much. He was hired and continued in that capacity through 2016.
“I had a great 25 years at Thorny Lea and I have no regrets at all,” he fondly recalls. “I worked hard, made many lifetime friends and hoped I left TL in a better place than when before I arrived. I looked forward to going to work there every day because I was at a place that was known for having some of the best amateur players in the history of Massachusetts golf. I loved being part of it. In 2015 I felt it was time to step down from my position and slow down, spend time with my ailing father and travel and spend more time with my very understanding wife, Kristin.”
“In retrospect I knew I could do more with my game but I dedicated myself to both of my memberships. Some wise words of advice came from TL member John Nardi who said ‘always remember that you are a PGA Golf Professional not a Professional Golfer and you will never get in trouble at the club.’ How right he was.”
While at Thorny Lea, Norton established lifelong friendships with three prominent Massachusetts amateur players – Steve Tasho (Mass Am 1981, 1985), John Hadges (Mass Am 2008, 2010) and Matt Parziale USGA Mid-Amateur Champion (2017) and Mass Am (2017).
All three golfers offer unabashed and glowing applause that Peter was instrumental in offering instruction to help them achieve superior improvement in their individual games.
“Peter has a unique gift of being able to help not only with the technical aspect of your game, but perhaps more importantly, the mental aspect,” said lifelong TL member and friend John Hadges. “Pete leaves you with the confidence of a scratch golfer. He’s been a presence in my golf life since I can remember and he continues to play a vital role in my children’s golf experience. I’m blessed to know him; he is one of a kind.”
Norton’s resume includes dozens of local and regional titles, as well as several New England PGA fourball and pro-am victories.
“Peter and I go way back and hiring him as head pro at Thorny Lea in 1991 was one of the best decisions the club ever made,” said Steve Tasho, whose friendship dates back over 50 years. “Peter’s work ethic is unmatched and he sacrificed maintaining his outstanding golf game for the benefit of the membership. Countless times he’s helped junior players with free lessons and provided some with free clubs without expecting anything in return. Peter is a 100 percent class act.”
Six-time Mass Golf Player of the Year Matt Parziale credits Norton with guiding his game since 2000, including his winning a national championship – the 2017 USGA Mid-Amateur – as well as a slew of local and regional victories.
“Peter Norton hired me to work in the bag room at Thorny Lea in 2000,” said Parziale by telephone shortly after losing the Mass Golf Mid-Amateur on the 3rd playoff hole to Arthur Zelmati at Great Horse GC on Sept. 10. “I’ll never forget what Peter’s done to help my career both on the course and off. Peter has always been there. He offers simple advice and is someone I can trust. Peter is a special person who’s overcome major health obstacles and outside of golf he’s helped me tremendously. No doubt he’s someone I’ve looked up to and respected my entire life.”
Life is full of obstacles and no one is gifted with a lifetime of perfect health. So, at age 19 as freshman at Murray State Peter was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was forced to drop out of school at Christmas break. Instead of celebrating over the holidays he underwent radiation treatment for cancer.
“It was a very difficult time in my life,” he said about the horrifying experience of fighting cancer at such a young age. “The doctors and treatment program saved my life and I am forever and tremendously grateful.”
Norton went back to school a year later and played golf for the college, only to drop out again for the same recurring cancer at age 21. This time treatment involved extensive does of chemo-therapy, which did a number on his body.
When he returned to school to finish up, he had no sport eligibility remaining. The dreaded lymphoma returned at age 47, when he was in his prime days as head pro at Thorny Lea. Again, he underwent a series of chemo-therapy treatments, and today (but for the grace of God) he is cancer-free.
“When I got sick while employed at Thorny Lea, the entire TL membership was supportive and understanding,” added Norton. “For that I am eternally thankful.”
Home on the Range
For the past four years, Norton, with his signature floppy hat and tall slim frame, can be found on the sprawling practice range at Blue Hill CC in Canton, one of 25 Concert Golf Partners-owned private golf courses throughout the United States. He is Director of Golf Instruction and his current home/office is the range.
Who needs to spend thousands of dollars on golf advice from Hank Haney, Butch Harmon or Sean Foley when you can book a 30-minute lesson with Peter Norton for under a $100?
Many have tried and most have failed when it comes to being a successful golf coach/instructor. It’s takes a special combination of patience and genuine engagement between the student and teacher to be productive. With testimonials pouring in from past and current students Peter has the ‘secret sauce’ of what it takes to make you play better, make you smile and feel good about your game!
Although Norton’s trophy room maybe modest, it isn’t just his golf achievements that’s built his legacy. His passion for golf, endearing personality and natural knack to teach golfers how to improve has earned praise from all corners of the golf universe.
At Blue Hills Country Club, it’s no secret how to get better and you hear this phrase from members regularly: “It’s time to see Peter.” Golf humbly reminds us how imperfect our swings are. With simple instruction from Peter, players work through those imperfections to enjoy the game to its fullest.
Living the Dream
Peter Norton’s career in golf is distinguished! He’s a survivor! On top of beating cancer he has amassed countless friends in the golf business, being a mentor to many throughout a span of 33-years.
He has touched the lives of thousands of golfers in a positive way, leaving a favorable impression to players whose games have improved with his guidance. It’s astonishing how sincere and far-reaching the compliments are!
Staying healthy is Peter Norton’s No. 1 goal. And, as the New England golf season winds down, he’s looking forward to spending a few months at his winter home at TPC Treviso Bay in Naples.
A happy retirement is somewhere on the golf horizon!
TESTIMONIALS & TRIBUTES FROM PAST & PRESENT ACQUAINTANCES OF PETER NORTON:
Darren Lee (Blue Hill CC): “About three weeks ago I scheduled a lesson with Peter because I was having trouble with my sand game. It took Peter 10 minutes to straighten me out and I am happy & forever grateful.”
Richard LaFreniere (Blue Hill CC): “To say Peter is the ultimate professional falls far short of the mark. Peter has been my club professional and friend for many years. His mentorship has proven invaluable. Peter’s work ethic, operational skills and member relations have always been uniquely impressive. Beyond being a highly skilled player, Peter is a great teacher with the rare ability to keep it simple and substantive. Peter is a key reason why Thorny Lea has enjoyed such an impressive array of skilled players.”
Michael Higgins (Executive Director, New England Section, PGA of America): “Peter Norton, or “Bones” as we all call him, is the consummate PGA Professional. Good player, instructor, merchandiser, mentor and a friend to many in our industry. He was always wonderful to work with as a host professional at one of our NEPGA events or as a participant. I’m honored to call him my friend.”
Len Lewin (Blue Hill CC): “Having benefited from his teaching advice at Blue Hill Country Club, I can honestly say that all the best traits of a PGA club professional are exemplified in Peter Norton. Peter is a superb teacher, has great patience, treats all skill levels with same attentiveness and respect and, most importantly, he is a good & very caring person.”
Steve Field (PGA Plymouth CC): “I had the pleasure of working for Peter Norton as his Assistant Professional at Thorny Lea Golf Club while he was the Head Golf Professional. Peter is one of the best golf professionals in the country and one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. I owe many of my professional accomplishments to him for the knowledge he’s passed on to me and I am proud to call him my mentor in the golf business.”
Don Dray (Naples, Florida): “I met Peter in Naples at Fiddlers Creek Golf Club. Some people you know forever and you really don’t know them. Peter was just the opposite after one round was over, I felt like I had a friend. I played college golf and I have known many teaching and playing golf pros. Peter’s combination of professionalism and personality make him, in my opinion, the best I’ve met. Our friendship has continued to grow over the last two years. I wish we met earlier in my golfing career and I would’ve been a better golfer. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Peter. I’m so glad that we connected in Florida and I hope we have many more years of golf together.”
May Kabilian (Thorny Lea GC): “Peter Norton treated every member at Thorny Lea courteously and professionally. His free junior clinics and junior camps were so much fun for the kids. You couldn’t ask for a better golf pro!”
John Ornellas (Thorny Lea GC): “Peter and I go back 25-plus years. He is the consummate “pros-pro”. There isn’t a “phony” bone in his body and Peter is totally devoted to the game and doing everything to help you enjoy it. Whether you’re a “newbie” or “scratch” Peter is the guy to see. In my book there is no equal.”
John M. Sullivan: (Thorny Lea GC): “In my 25-plus years in the golf industry calling on thousands of PGA Golf Professionals and Instructors, I have never encountered one who is more selfless, considerate, patient, loyal and passionate about making a difference than Peter Norton. It was never about Peter, and always about the welfare of the member and student.
James McCabe (Thorny Lea GC): “I have known Peter for many years and would characterize him as the epitome of what a PGA Club Professional should aspire to be. Peter was generous with his time and always there to solve your golfing problems and needs.”
Chris Anderson (Norfolk GC): “Not only did Peter help teach me the game as a young kid, he also gave me my first job in the golf business. We worked together for 10 wonderful years and Peter helped me to grow my career. He is a friend and one of the best golf pros I’ve ever known.”
Steven Aicardi (Thorny Lea GC) – “What I love most about Pete was his interaction with all the junior golfers, most notably my oldest son Nick. Pete had the best temperament around the kids and I honestly think he enjoyed his junior golf camps more than the kids. It was a little crazy at times, but Pete smiled and laughed more than the kids, which was tough to do, but he embraced it all because of his passion to grow the game.”
Marion Nelligan Mahony (Pocasset GC): “Peter Norton has helped me so much by slowly improving all aspects of my golf swing…teaching me to shift my weight, change my takeaway, hit the ball with my left side and finish with “shoulder under.” Through Pete’s patience, kindness, and personal interest, I am improving — and enjoying the golf journey!”
Joe Damaris (Thorny Lea GC): “I have known Peter for many years; he is a great friend and the consummate PGA professional. I appreciated how he would always impress my guests and would go out of his way to make our rounds enjoyable. “
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