GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT | There was much that Tom Henderson liked about being a golf professional when he first started working in the game. Being able to run his own business resonated with the native of Westerly, Rhode Island. So did teaching and being around people as smitten with the sport as he was. Henderson also enjoyed playing and being regarded in his line of work as a professional athlete.
But it wasn’t until much later in his career that the 63-year-old discovered another thing to love about golf. And that was assuming leadership positions in the game. It started with getting involved with his local PGA Section and eventually serving as its president from 2007-09. Then, Henderson – who in 2020 assumed the position of director of golf at the Round Hill Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, after working as its head professional for 32 years – became active on the national level. Today, he sits on the Board of Directors of the PGA as he also vies to become secretary when the next election for officers takes place in October. If he wins that contest, he is then in line to be president of the PGA of America.
“If you had asked me 30 years ago whether I would ever entertain getting involved with national leadership, I’d have said you were crazy,” said Henderson, who was national professional of the year in 2015 and professional of the year for the Met Section four years prior. “But I got a taste when I first became involved with the Met PGA, and the more active I was, the more I enjoyed the ways I could give back and help make a difference.”
Born and raised in the coastal community of Westerly, Henderson was the eldest of two children. His father was an engineering supervisor for Electric Boat, the submarine-making subsidiary of General Dynamics at the U.S. Navy base in nearby Groton, Connecticut. And his mother worked as an assistant librarian at Westerly High School. Basketball and baseball were his games as a boy, but he developed an interest in golf after tearing up his knee playing hoops. At 13, Henderson began caddying at the Misquamicut Club in nearby Watch Hill – and teeing it whenever he could at that historic retreat and other local courses. The game came rather easily to the Ocean Stater, and he went on to play on his high school golf team. As a senior, he was captain and earned all-state honors.
After Westerly, Henderson headed to the University of Rhode Island. “I played basketball and golf my freshman year,” he said. “After that it was all golf.” He served as captain of the URI golf team as a senior and then graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in marketing management.
Before enrolling at Rhode Island, Henderson gave thought to playing one day on the PGA Tour. “I wanted to give it a shot, but only if I reached some playing goals I set for myself,” he said. “But I was unable to accomplish those by the time I graduated, so I decided to concentrate instead on becoming a club professional.”
While at Rhode Island, Henderson continued to work summers at Misquamicut, first as caddiemaster and then as an assistant to then-head professional Dwight Campbell. “I played a lot when I was doing that,” Henderson said. “I liked the atmosphere. I liked the people. I liked the lifestyle. And I really liked the game.”
During his last semester at URI, Henderson traveled to Florida for spring break. “I stopped at Seminole to visit a friend who was working there and met the head professional, Jerry Pittman,” he said. “He told me to give him a call if I decided to get into the golf business. So, that’s what I did.”
And when Seminole opened for the fall in 1979, Henderson had a job picking the range and cleaning carts, among other duties. As much as he enjoyed being there, however, he often wondered as he performed those tasks whether working at a club was what he really wanted to do.
Perhaps the best part of that first season at Seminole for Henderson was interacting on occasion with Ben Hogan, who was a frequent visitor. “Hogan was my idol, and I remember the first time I saw him there,” he said. “A caddie carried his bag past the pro shop, and then he walked through the door – like God with a light behind him. I said, ‘Hello, Mr. Hogan, how are you doing?’ And he said, ‘Awful.’ Then he smiled and stuck out his hand. He was just kidding me.”
“I learned so much just by watching and listening. I was also a real student of the game and read everything I could about it – books, magazine articles. I studied pictures of the golf swing.”
Henderson went out to watch Hogan hit balls whenever possible. “Oftentimes, I’d be there by myself,” Henderson said. “I had never seen anyone so accurate with his shots, and he compressed the ball so much that it made a different sound. He also wore these grey flannel pants that were very baggy, and when he posted up on a shot, he did so with such force that the left pant leg sort of ruffled, as if it had been blown by the wind.”
Unsure that working at a club was right for him, Henderson once asked Hogan about going to work for his equipment company. “He had one of his guys call me, and after we chatted, he told me to hang on at Seminole, which is what I ended up doing.” he said.
In fact, he stayed at Seminole for nine years, eventually becoming one of Pittman’s assistants. “I taught a lot, and I played a lot with members,” said Henderson, who during that time acquired the nickname “Hollywood” from the club caddies, after the flamboyant Dallas Cowboys linebacker of the time, Thomas Henderson. “I learned so much just by watching and listening. I was also a real student of the game and read everything I could about it – books, magazine articles. I studied pictures of the golf swing.”
After his first winter season at Seminole, Henderson took an assistant’s job for the summer at the Old Lyme Country Club just down the road from his hometown on the Connecticut coast. Then, in 1982, he succeeded Roy Gregory III as head golf professional there, and for the next five years rotated between the two clubs.
“Jerry Pittman was in many ways my model, and I wanted to have what he had, which was a job in the warmer months in the northeast and one in the winter in Florida,” said Henderson, who raised two children with his wife, Jean Marie.
But he stopped the north-south commute in 1987 when he accepted the head professional position at the Round Hill Club in Greenwich, which boasts a wonderful Walter Travis course. More than three decades later, he is still employed at that esteemed retreat outside New York City, whose members have included former U.S. Sen. Prescott S. Bush, the father of President George H.W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush, and a seven-time men’s club champion. Henderson is enjoying himself as much as he ever has.
“I still love teaching and playing with the members,” he said. “Working with the juniors, too. Perhaps most of all, I have loved the relationships with the members and their guests, and with the golfers we have welcomed here for tournaments, like the 2002 U.S. Mid-Amateur, which we co-hosted with the Stanwich Club.”
Some of his best relationships have been built away from the club. For many years, Henderson played guitar and drums in a band called the Missing Links with a couple of Round Hill members – guitarist Charlie King and keyboardist Marty Cannon, who found time to play gigs with the group even as he served as club president.
These days, Henderson has his eyes on another gig, and that is becoming an officer of the PGA and deepening his involvement in an organization that has become an increasingly important part of his life.
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