Massachusetts club's head pro dies during violent storm, trying to help others get off course
As usual, Thomas P. “Tom” Sullivan was thinking of others. A violent storm blew through Wyantenuck Country Club, located in Great (...)
As usual, Thomas P. “Tom” Sullivan was thinking of others.
A violent storm blew through Wyantenuck Country Club, located in Great Barrington in Massachusetts’ Berkshire Mountains, late Wednesday afternoon and Sullivan, the head golf professional, drove throughout the course to make sure everyone had left safely after he sounded the weather warning horn.
As Sullivan drove his golf cart down an access road, a tree fell and killed him. A neighbor called police after seeing a tree had fallen on the cart. Two police officers found Sullivan on the ground near the cart, which was covered by several fallen trees and branches, but they couldn’t revive him, Great Barrington Police Chief William R. Walsh Jr. told the Berkshire Eagle.
Sullivan, who grew up in Leicester and graduated from St. John’s High School, was 71 years old and, according to his brother Paul of Worcester, he planned to retire on Nov. 1.
“He was a great man,” his daughter Sarah said Thursday by cell phone from the family’s home in Sheffield. “He cared so much about everyone else and how they were doing, how their day was. He wanted to know everything about you and cared so much about everyone. He wanted to make sure that everyone else was having a great day and living in the moment and doing the best they could be doing. He just wanted to make people smile and make everyone’s day better. He was always happy, always smiling, always cracking jokes.”
Sarah was playing at Wyantenuck CC when the storm hit, but left after she heard the weather horn.
“The storm was happening,” she said, “and I usually go up and say, “Bye, I love you,′ when he’s in the pro shop. I just left and I was coming home. Five minutes later, police showed up at my house to tell me my dad had died. It just really (stinks) a lot. It’s hard to process. It’s just a freak accident that doesn’t add up in my head. It’s just not making any sense right now.”
Sarah said her father had driven down an access road near the private country club’s tennis courts so he could reach the lower golf holes quicker to make sure that everyone had left and was safe.
“He didn’t want anybody to be stuck out there in the storm,” she said.
Wyantenuck hosted the Northeast New York PGA Tour Championship on Tuesday and Wednesday and Sullivan presented the winning check to the champion shortly before he died.
Sullivan is survived by his wife, the former Kathy Nelson, a native of Sterling and a member of Wachusett Regional’s athletic hall of fame who has won several women’s club championships at Wyantenuck. Sarah is a sophomore basketball player at Framingham State University who briefly attended Assumption University last year. Sullivan’s son, Ryan, is a freshman at Southern New Hampshire University.
Relatives gathered at the Sullivan home on Thursday.
“It was quite a shock,” Paul Sullivan, 70, of Worcester said of his brother’s death. “The silver lining, I think, is that he died on a golf course. Dying on the course is really appropriate, if you’ve got to die. And it was without fault. It wasn’t a drunk driver hitting him and it wasn’t him doing anything to precipitate this. It was really an act of God.”
Paul Sullivan said the number of condolences the family had received via Facebook, phone calls and text messages soared well into the hundreds.
“He lived a really good life,” Paul Sullivan said, “and he was nice to people and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s in heaven.”
Sullivan was dedicated to the members at Wyantenuck for 21 years and in 2018 he was honored as Golf Professional of the Year by the Northeast New York PGA section.
“He was a great man who deserves all the accomplishments and awards and everything he got in his life,” his daughter said, “and it just stinks that some of it was taken away too soon.”
Sullivan grew up in Leicester about 200 yards from the first tee at Hillcrest Country Club. In a 2018 interview with the T&G, he remembered junior memberships costing only $25 a year.
“It was so cheap,” Sullivan told the T&G two years ago, “you didn’t even have to sneak on.”
Sullivan caddied at Hillcrest and Pleasant Valley CC, competed in junior golf tournaments at Green Hill Municipal Golf Course, and played football, basketball and baseball for St. John’s High. After hurting his shoulder, he quit baseball and played golf at Seminole Junior College in Orlando, Florida. At age 19 and 20, he combined with Phil “Flip” Davis to win the Worcester Invitational at Worcester CC two years in a row.
“I’m very proud to have my name on a plaque at Worcester Country Club, believe me,” Sullivan told the T&G two years ago.
Sullivan worked as a teaching pro at New Seabury on Cape Cod, then as the head pro at Quaboag CC in Monson before moving on to Wyantenuck, which is located in the southwestern corner of the state just eight miles from both Connecticut and New York.
“When he told me he was retiring,” Paul Sullivan said, “I said, ‘From what?’ I said, ‘What are you going to do, retire and play golf?’ ”
Paul Sullivan said his brother told him that he was going to step down as head pro on Nov. 1, but planned to continue to teach golf lessons.
Sullivan met his wife on a golf course. When former Assumption College athletic director Ted Paulauskas got stuck in traffic and couldn’t caddie for Sullivan in the 1991 Massachusetts Open at Salem CC, Bedrock GC owner Joe Carr recommended that Kathy take his place. A few years later, they married. Carr was shocked by the news of Sullivan’s death.
“I’m sad about it,” Carr said. “I guess it just proves that when it’s your time, it’s your time. There’s not too much you can do about something like that.”
Bill Plante bought Quaboag CC in 1994 when Sullivan was the pro and Sullivan used to play in pro-ams at Plante’s other course, Heritage CC in Charlton.
“He put his life and his soul into the golf business and helped so many people,” Plante said, “and not to be able to enjoy all that now is just tragic.”
In addition to Paul, Sullivan is also survived by two other siblings, a brother, Ken, and a sister, Ursulas Korman, who live in Florida.
Former West Boylston High girls’ basketball coach Mike Dube is married to Kathy’s sister, Linda, and he was one of the many who mourned him at the Sullivan home on Thursday.
“It’s awful,” Dube said. “I feel terrible for his wife, son and daughter. Everybody is in shock right now.”
Funeral arrangements are not complete, but are expected to be in the Great Barrington area.
—Contact Bill Doyle at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@BillDoyle15