One of a kind Biondi made his mark on and off golf course
GARY HAWKINS Staff Writer November 28, 2005 Sports, page 1C
Tall, tanned and outgoing, Al Biondi looked like a golf pro from central casting. And as the saying goes, he could golf his ball. But Biondi, who died Friday at his home in Leeds, meant much more to Maine golf than just looking and acting the part. A Pennsylvania native, Biondi came to Maine as a young man and worked as head pro at the Augusta Country Club in 1957.
By the time he left, Biondi had helped organize the Maine PGA, built Springbrook golf course and made friends from Kittery to Fort Kent and beyond.
"He sort of filled a room when he walked into it," Gov. John Baldacci said.
Baldacci was a particular fan of Biondi’s Italian Open, a tournament he began at Augusta and continued to his final working days this season at Springbrook. Biondi would appoint a captain of Italian descent for each foursome and the day would begin. It ended with Biondi overseeing a spread of Italian cuisine that Baldacci said reminded him of the food at his grandparents’ restaurant.
"His other passion was cooking," Springbrook owner Joe Golden said. "Our twilight league was more interested in what Al was going to cook for them than in playing in the league."
Because of a foot injury, Biondi played very little golf this season. That didn’t mean he had abandoned designs to come back.
"Even this season I bet he went through seven new drivers, looking for that extra 10 yards," Golden said, "seeing if he could get the edge back."
Biondi did play in a pro-am in Rockland this fall with Mark Plummer, Steve Albison and Tim Stearns of the Augusta Country Club, and if his game wasn’t quite up to par, his golf course banter was.
"He could dish it out," Plummer said. "He was funny, very sarcastic."
Plummer, who has won 13 Maine Amateur titles, learned the game from his dad andBiondi. He played his first pro-am with Biondi in 1965.
"He attracted a lot of people to the club," Plummer said. "He was very well liked."
Biondi returned to Springbrook three seasons ago after a short time as general manager at Kennebec Heights in Farmingdale. Prior to that he served two stints at Augusta as pro and general manager. They were interrupted by 11 years at Springbrook while Biondi and Dr. Burt Anderson helped build the course and Biondi got it off the ground.
"He wanted to end it at the course he built and owned," Golden said. "We were thrilled to have him."
Biondi gave countless lessons throughout his life and continued those at Springbrook. Among his many pupils were boys and girls. He was one of the first to establish a junior clinic for girls at Augusta when few were playing the game, and he conducted junior clinics free of charge this past season at Springbrook.
"He was just big on starting programs," Augusta Country Club director of golf Pete Hatfield said. "Actually, my daughter started with him in junior clinics."
Biondi won just about every available tournament to club professionals and is in Maine, New England and Pennsylvania halls of fame. He also helped establish guidelines for Maine pros at a time when anyone could declare themselves a golf pro.
He helped set the Maine PGA, a forerunner of the New England PGA and was at the forefront of the Special Olympics golf program. To those who didn’t know him, he would sometimes come across as gruff, but it was just an act.
"You always knew where he stood," Hatfield said. "He didn’t hold anything back, but he had a heart of gold. A lot of people didn’t see that. He was really pretty soft."
One thing Biondi did hold back was his age.
It wasn’t even listed in his obituary, but most friends knew his secret.
"When he’d go to Florida and play in the senior tournaments, they’d put him into age brackets," Plummer said. "It wasn’t too hard to figure out."
According to Golden, Biondi went out to get the newspaper and died peacefully in his chair doing his daily crossword puzzle.
"A lot of people go through life and wish they had a job they love and had passion for," Golden said.
"He did. He looked forward to every day."
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638
So What’s Next?
Well, to be honest I’m not sure.
My decision to leave my job was a rather impetuous one and unexpected in terms of where I envisioned my career path. I won’t divulge into the details behind my departure but I’m confident that the decision was the best one for me. I can honestly say for the past few years I didn’t realize what a state of utter panic I lived in, always checking my blackberry wondering if I missed a call or an email. That panic ruled my life and yet I had no idea. It took a daily toll on me and everyone I tried to spend time with because I could never truly relax and those with me never got my true attention.
I woke up on Monday morning, the first day sans job, and immediately went to check my blackberry- a mild state of panic set in as I saw it was almost 8am. However, quickly I relaxed and realized that my life that day was mine. As cliché as it sounds, that day I felt a huge day weight lift off my shoulders. I got up walked to get a coffee and had a perma-grin on my face the entire day. I went home cleaned the apartment, tied up a few loose ends from work (old habits die hard) and cooked a meal that took almost three hours. It was very 1950’s housewife and exactly what I needed.
Don’t get me wrong my intentions are not to repeat that day for the rest of my life. I have a few side projects I want to start up, an old Python programming book still tabbed on chapter 3, a few random website ideas that will never IPO but my friends will enjoy, and finally do some of the volunteering that I always told myself I would do.
Granted, every day I wait to get an official paycheck again I go against the work ethic my parents engrained in me- my father worked up until his death at age 80 and my mother is still contemplating retirement after 39 years teaching elementary school. Obviously, my gut reaction is to find another job immediately, but right now I am taking a deep breath and trying to figure out my next steps.
So what’s next? I’m not sure. But you know what? I’m going to make sure that it’s something I wake up every morning excited to start. No panic, no sense of obligation, just pure joy to be doing what I’m doing.