By Gary Larrabee
Special to The Salem News
---- — The recent passing of legendary Bass Rocks Golf Club head professional Bob Gillis marked the loss of one of the North Shore’s most respected teachers and all-around great guys.
Gillis, who died at 84 on Christmas Eve in his retirement hometown of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was the head pro at Bass Rocks for 37 years (1957-1993). He made everyone’s life he touched — be it on the practice tee, golf course or his backyard — happier. He and wife Paulie made a visit to the Bass Rocks golf shop an enjoyable occasion.
“As my predecessor, I had giant footsteps to follow in,” says Peter Hood, who since coming to the Gloucester club as head pro has been promoted into the general manager’s position. “I’ve been hearing wonderful stories about Bob and his wife for all these years. He was loved by his members and staff, a pure professional every minute of his waking day. Look up ‘club professional’ in the dictionary and Bob’s picture should be right there.”
Of his four sons, only Dan followed in his father’s path and became a club professional as well. Dan, 54, has been a PGA professional since 1985 and has run the golf operation at Londonderry (N.H.) Country Club for eight years.
“Dad never had a bad day on the golf course,” Dan said of his father, the New England PGA Section’s secretary/treasurer from 1964-1970, the organization’s Professional of the Year in 1970 and an NEPGA Hall of Fame inductee in 2000. “He was always in good spirits (and) loved teaching the game to young and old alike. He always had the best interests of the club in mind, whatever he said or did.
“With me, I always wanted to grow up and be a club pro like my dad (and his uncle Jim, long-time head pro at Portland CC in Maine),” Dan added. “Watching him as a kid, everything I drew from his day as a pro was positive. His influence was so positive I turned pro soon after graduating from Gloucester High (where he and all three siblings, Steve, Mark and Bob Jr., excelled on the golf team). But dad made sure the decision was mine.”
Dan worked for his Uncle Jim, then in Florida, before returning home and working as his father’s assistant for five years.
“Golf was dad’s life and made for a good life for my mother and us children,” Dan pointed out. “He was extremely proud of that.”
And Bass Rocks was proud to have Bob Gillis as their head professional for nearly four decades.
Bob Gillis’ sterling tenure at Bass Rocks will not be forgotten. The club championship for players with handicaps of 11 to 15 is named in his honor — the Gillis Trophy.
If memory serves this author correctly, only Lynner Paul Barkhouse (Woburn CC) in his early 70s and Salem native Ed Whalley (Reedy Meadow at Lynnfield Centre), who just turned 80, remain among what could be considered a golden age of North Shore club professionals. The others would include (all now deceased): Bill Barclay at Salem, Tom Mahan Sr. and Jr. at United Shoe (now Beverly Golf & Tennis), Les Dunn at Tedesco, John Thoren at Myopia, Lynnfield native Ross Coon, Sagamore Spring’s George Apalakis, Happy Valley’s Larry Gannon and Thomson’s Bill Flynn.