LEWISTON, NEW YORK | He was beloved in Western New York, especially at Niagara Falls Country Club. He will be remembered as the best local golfer in Lewiston.
J. Fred Silver, originally from Creighton Mine, Ont., passed away unexpectedly last Tuesday. He was 74.
In this part of the world, Silver was the epitome of a true golf gentleman. He was involved with every aspect of the golf world in New York – the Buffalo District Golf Association, the New York State Golf Association – but he’s best known for his involvement with the Porter Cup, the elite amateur tournament Niagara Falls Country Club hosts annually.
I am from Lewiston, and dating back to my grandparents, my family has belonged to Niagara Falls since 1972. Now, my fiancé and I are members, and I assist with the Porter Cup's tournament operations. And Mr. Silver – as I knew him – was an institution at the club.
“Mr. J. Fred Silver was a true model of character, integrity, humility and kindness,” said Tim Engel, the general manager at Niagara Falls. “He was a consummate gentleman (who) comported himself with class and dignity. He will forever be remembered in the golf community not only as a champion of the game itself but for the brand of sportsmanship and competitive camaraderie that defined his true nature.
“ … Mr. Silver gave selflessly and tirelessly to support his club in numerous capacities, including countless terms on the board, various committees and twice in service as club president.
“ … Although Mr. Silver was club champion an incredible 29 times and an additional nine more as senior club champion, probably his finest win and greatest overall victories were those within his family and circle of friends. His steadfast devotion to his wife, children, grandchildren, family and extended family of close friends was nothing short of exemplary and he will be dearly and sorely missed by all.”
Silver, who joined Niagara Falls in 1971, may have been club president twice, but one of his biggest passions was his work on the grounds committee to help oversee the club’s still-ongoing improvements to the original A.W. Tillinghast design.
It’s fair to say no one knew the course better than a 29-time men’s club champion.
“He will forever be remembered in the golf community not only as a champion of the game itself but for the brand of sportsmanship and competitive camaraderie that defined his true nature.”
And he was a devoted Porter Cup competitor. Sure, future major champions such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ben Crenshaw all played in the Porter Cup, but Silver made 33 consecutive appearances starting in 1970. That’s more than half of the 61 Porter Cups played.
“Fred was not only the most highly skilled player over the most years at NFCC, he will mostly be remembered as kind, genuine, humble and true gentleman,” Porter Cup co-tournament director Michael Vitch said. “When it was suggested that he was the finest player ever from NFCC, he would remark that he might be second, to Honor Storm (a 32-time women’s club champion).”
That’s just the kind of man Mr. Silver was.
In 1992, Silver started the Senior Porter Cup and became the face of the tournament, serving as its tournament director until his passing. In 2008, it was his idea to separate the senior tournament from the men’s Porter Cup. It succeeded with flying colors, giving top amateurs age 55 and older their own weekend in September. Last month, 96 players from the United States and Canada competed in four Senior Porter Cup divisions.
Silver not only ran the Senior Porter Cup, but he played in it as well. He won the Senior division in 1996, the Super Senior division in 2012, and captured his last title, in the Legends division, on Sept. 6. He shot 74-73-73, equaling or breaking his age in all three rounds.
Silver served on the Porter Cup board of directors for many years and was involved with the Women’s Porter Cup as well.
When I wrote critically of the women’s tournament in early June because, in my opinion, it wasn’t held to the men’s tournament standards, Silver was the first person to come to me and ask, “What can we do better?”
He cared about growing the game at all levels, encouraging people to become involved with the sport that had given him so much.
For all of his accomplishments – including winning the Buffalo District Golf Association Championship five times, qualifying for 18 New York State Golf Association Amateurs, playing in 12 USGA championships – he was elected into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.
Although he came from a golfing family, Silver’s first love was hockey. He skated for Clarkson University – and was a member of the Clarkson squad that lost in the 1966 NCAA Championship final – while also playing on the golf team.
Silver came to Lewiston in 1969. An engineer by training, he worked at Carborumdum Abrasives in Niagara Falls, eventually becoming its president, and later helped found two other companies.
But neither golf nor business was most important to Silver. When his wife, Connie, became ill, he was her No. 1 caretaker. He is survived by Connie, his four children and 10 grandchildren.
He will be missed immensely at Niagara Falls Country Club, in Lewiston, and in Western New York.
Rest in peace, Mr. Silver. Hit ’em straight in heaven.