Standout golfer, course architect/owner, family man and philanthropist. Gino Turchi wore many hats in his 96 years, and he wore them all well.
The former owner of Eagle Crest Golf Club, known as a straight shooter on and off the golf course, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack.
A no-nonsense but soft-hearted local golf icon, Turchi was married to his wife, Willie, for 72 years, and lived about a pitching wedge-length from Eagle Crest Golf Club on Route 146A in Clifton Park, the course he both built and owned before selling it to the Paulsen family in 2001.
Remarkably, Turchi was extremely active well into his 90s, and he was still playing golf about a year ago before his health started to fail. He rarely missed a Siena College home basketball game and was also a friend and fan of Union College athletics.
“He had been failing lately,” said his wife. “He’s been having heart problems. He was having breathing problems, and his legs bothered him. That was the biggest problem for him lately. But God is good. He didn’t have to suffer, and he didn’t go into a coma. He died at peace.”
Turchi’s career in the golf business was legendary, but in recent years, he was more known for his philanthropy with Siena College.
With money he received from the golf course sale, he helped bolster the scholarship fund for the Siena College golf team. Siena, in turn, named both Turchi Road, the entry road to the Alumni Recreation Center, and Turchi Theater, after him. The Turchi Family Center at the Schenectady YMCA is named for his son, Eugene, who died in 1993. Turchi, an avid supporter of the local YMCA programs, was honored with the Capital District YMCA President’s Award in 2004.
“Most people do things after they die. The best thing I’ve done is help out the young kids at the YMCA and help out the Siena College golf team,” Turchi said in a 2004 article in The Daily Gazette. “In my life, I’ve got a lot of help from a lot of people. In return, I love to help the kids. I love to see the young kids play golf. With the scholarship at Siena, Willie and I can see the fruits of what we’ve done.”
“Everyone loved him,” said Willie Turchi, who is 92. “I think our relationship with Siena was our best investment. A lot of people at Siena and all over the area loved him, and he loved them, too. What we did with Siena helped create a lot of good memories for us.”
In fact, Willie Turchi said she was comforted at her home by a handful of Siena alumni and officials Saturday night after her husband died.
Turchi began his golf career as a caddy at Mohawk Golf Club when he was 8 years old and learned how to play the game from the late head pro Jim Thomson.
The Schenectady native made his early living as an ambulance driver before purchasing three gas stations, including his original service station on Route 50 that he ran for 30 years. But he sold them in 1963 to buy the land that eventually would become Northway Heights Golf Course. He opened the front nine on that course in 1965 and opened the back nine the following year.
As the owner of Northway Heights, he was a stickler for golf etiquette and never allowed players to wear inappropriate clothing while competing. He always kept a few extra golf shirts in his pro shop and made players change into them if they weren’t dressed with a collared shirt.
Turchi also helped build and design both Ballston Spa Country Club and Cobleskill Golf & Country Club.
Turchi was an excellent player who posted four holes-in-one in his career, including one from the back tees on the 17th hole at Eagle Crest. He carried a 1-handicap in his prime and once shot a 68 at Ballston Spa Country Club and a 68 at Antlers Country Club, now Rolling Hills at Antlers. One of his career highlights was winning the National Superintendents Senior Championship at Pebble Beach.
Known for never taking a practice swing, Turchi played on nearly 1,000 courses all over the country.
“They key to the game is to repeat your swing,” he said. “I don’t know why people like Tiger Woods are trying to change their swings when they are already playing so well. Guys like Lee Trevino and Arnold Palmer never tinkered with their swings.”
A huge fan of both local professional and amateur golf, Turchi would pop up often to watch area tournaments while riding around in his golf cart. He never missed the annual Eagle Crest Shootout and made it a habit to support the local PGA pros.
“He was always honest, that’s for sure,” said Dan Russo of Rolling Hills, one of the area’s finest amateur players. “We had a few conversations about the state of the game over the years. He was always a friendly guy and a good promoter of amateur golf. I would see him at all kinds of our events. He was also a big supporter of Siena. When my son was there, he made sure everything was OK with him.”
Turchi also belonged to The Edison Club, where he was named to its Hall of Fame. He was also named honorary captain of the amateur team in the annual Gazette Cup, and received a special honor from the Northeastern New York PGA for his long service to the game.
“I only came to this area a few years ago, but I quickly found out that he was an area legend,” said NENYPGA tournament director Doug Evans. “He had his pulse on area golf, and you could count on him for advice when you asked him for it. He certainly had a lot of opinions about the game and wasn’t afraid to share them.”