Native Son Takes Over Head Pro Spot as New Era Dawns for Golf Club at Windham
Posted on April 5, 2015
Article & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
Native son Patrick Kozelka has taken over the head pro position for the “Golf Club at Windham” where a new era is on the horizon. The Kozelka family name is well-known in Windham in that for years they ran Republic Oil on Ash Street, in what was the Willimantic section of town before the two entities were consolidated. For half of the near century the country club has been in existence – it was founded in 1922 – the Kozelka family has been a part of it. At one time a private club, it still offers memberships but is now a “fully public facility”.
“This is home. I learned to play here. My father learned to play here and my grandfather (now deceased) was club president. And, I met my wife Erin here,” Patrick Kozelka, 28, said during a March 24 interview at the “Golf Club at Windham”.
With so much personal history attached to the “Golf Club at Windham”, Kozelka considers his new position a “dream job.” A 2004 graduate of Windham High School, his career began following one year at Eastern Connecticut State University then a decision to attend the Golf Academy of America in Florida. Windham is his first head pro spot after having worked the past two years as an assistant pro at River Ridge in Griswold and before that as an assistant pro at Connecticut National in Putnam.
“But my dad kept me informed about conditions here,” said Kozelka.
It pained him to learn of a dwindling membership and deteriorating course conditions, he recalled. About five years ago a former University of Connecticut basketball player had taken over the Windham site, but despite his good intentions it did not pan out, according to Kozelka.
Enter Bob Cusumano, a lawyer from the Greenwich CT/New York area.
“He came up, looked it over and played a round,” Kozelka said.
Previously the Willimantic Country Club then the University Club, the Windham Club is now in Cusumano’s hands. Kozelka said he estimates between $1-$2 million has been invested. The grounds’ crew has been expanded from three to twenty and the course itself has been made more challenging in response to past critiques. For example, the first tee that was just outside the pro shop has become a green level tee and a new more difficult first black level tee has been added nearby – changes like increasing distance have been made to other tees with the 3rd, 11th and 17th redesigned on the 18-hole course. In addition, the women’s locker room which will double as the bridal suite for weddings and receptions held at the club, has been refurbished and improvements to the men’s locker room are close to complete. One of Kozelka’s early initiatives is to restart the junior program which he and friends from WHS participated in when they were younger. A minuteman logo reflects the Windham Club’s New England heritage, however, the “New Era New Owner” slogan speaks to the inclusive, 21st Century golfing philosophy aimed at sending a message that everyone is welcome in this sport, noted Kozelka.
“Everyone is welcome,” he said.
Admittedly golfing can be expensive. Nonetheless, there are ways to ease into the sport such as through buying used clubs and getting a feel for swinging at driving ranges, he pointed out. The rewards are tremendous, said Kozelka.
“You learn so much from golf, especially PATIENCE,” he added, “And the courses are so beautiful. What better way to spend a day?”
Kozelka, who said he was selected for the head pro job on the recommendation of the current membership, will have varied responsibilities. Among them, overseeing a staff of about nine, running the pro shop, giving lessons, planning tournaments and other events, and getting back on track that junior program which he so fondly remembers taking part in with other young golfers including Dan Gaucher and Scott Vose. Another big ambition for Kozelka is reestablishing what he says once was one of the most popular amateur opens in the state. Having taken over his new position in January, Kozelka has been busy making contacts and is experiencing success both maintaining previous tournaments and adding new ones.
Bigg Play, a non -profit group that sends young Windham residents to play baseball abroad will be bringing its annual fundraising tournament back to the “Golf Club at Windham.” Lyman Memorial High School, a WHS booster club and the Windham Recreation Department will be utilizing the facility. New this year, ECSU men’s soccer alumni plan to host a tournament at the Windham Club, as will other ECSU sport’s teams alumni. Kozelka has persuaded the UCONN men’s golf team to return to practicing at the Windham site, he said.
“People enjoy watching that high level of practice,” said Kozelka.
As for the social aspect, fine dining is available at “Windham Seasons” with Chef Dennis Anderson. Cusumano’s brother will be running his own casual dining pub called “Billy’s Grill”. Both the dining room and grill are open to the public and have working fireplaces. There is also a front patio overlooking the course.
On the day of the interview with newsandviewsjb, snow was still on the ground, yet the sun was shining. Kozelka said the folks at the Windham Club were hoping for temperatures in the 50 degree range in the coming days.
“We are hoping for a gradual melt. We have a ribbon-cutting with the (Windham Region) Chamber of Commerce,” said Kozelka.
As a new era dawns for the Windham Club there is hope too for many sunny days ahead.
(Writer’s note: the ribbon-cutting is now scheduled for April 30th)
The Golf Club at Windham, “Original New England Golf * 1922”, 184 Club Road, North Windham, CT 06256; 860-456-1971 or http://www.windhamclub.com