Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Kenny Robinson - RIP

Kenny Robinson and Raymond Floyd

Kenny Robinson – The Keeper of Tee Times

At one time Kenny Robinson was the most important person in the life of the most powerful movers and shakers at the Jersey Shore. Bankers, businessmen, sports celebrities and casino owners all turned to Kenny Robinson when they wanted a tee time at the private, exclusive and venerable Atlantic City Country Club in its hey-days.

Under the job title of Caddy Master, Starter and Pro-Shop Manager, Kenny assigned the tee times, arranged the foursomes and introduced those club members and guests who wanted to meet, to play, or play together.

If anyone needed anything Kenny was the go-to guy when it came to golf, especially during tournaments when golf professionals, the best amateurs, sports celebrities and just regular guys were mixing it up on the course, the pro-shop and locker room.

Even on his day off every morning Kenny Robinson routinely made his way over to the Northfield clubhouse of the Atlantic City Country Club to feed Bogie the clubhouse cat, who resided there for 20 years.

Kenny’s went to the ACCC every morning for many years longer than Bogie, worked there in a half dozen various capacities over the years, and was left with the job of maintaining the history and traditions of the club. The history is long and embroidered, while the traditions are few but steadfast, one of which includes feeding Bogie the cat, who could usually be found either napping or sitting sentry on the shelf next to the bag room door. From where he sat, if cats could talk, Boggy saw it all, but so it seems, did Kenny Robinson. Sitting down with him to talk about his experiences in golf was a lesson in history, traditions and the growth of the game.

Born near Philadelphia, the son of a Vaudeville entertainer and a Broadway showgirl, Kenny Robinson first became associated with the game of golf when still in school while caddying at the Old York Road golf club in North Philly.

Playing the harmonica was a family tradition, and Kenny and his brothers played often, for both fun and profit, and broke their father’s marathon harmonica playing record at a charity event in the 1930s. Once in awhile, like on St. Patrick’s Day, Kenny was persuaded to play “Danny Boy” and a few other appropriate tunes.

After serving in the Army in Korea, from where he returned a decorated hero, Kenny continued to work in Vaudeville. He had left a job working at the historic Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts when he came to Atlantic City to entertain at the old Globe and Capitol Burlesque Theaters. That's when he met Leo Fraser at a boardwalk hotel event in 1969.

From one Army vet to another, Leo Fraser asked Robinson to come to work for him at the Atlantic City Country Club. Robinson took him up on the offer and he never left. Taking on practically every job around the clubhouse, Kenny worked as a housekeeper, maintenance man, caddy, caddy master, starter and pro shop manager.

When the most distinguished and influential members of the community were also members of the elite, private club, Kenny knew them all and they knew Kenny, and depended on him for their tee times. His job also allowed him to meet many celebrities who played the course, including Bob Hope and Perry Como and others he knew from the old Vaudeville circuit who came around as casino headliners. Kenny treated everybody the same, whether you were rich, a celebrity or a hack who just liked to play golf.

Of all the championship tournaments and celebrated golf events he’s been associated with, Kenny said the 1980 PGA Senior Tournament was the most memorial. “Seeing all of those guys get together was something else. The champions of the game who hadn’t played together in awhile were happy to just see each other again.”

That was even before Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicholas were old enough to play as seniors. Among those who were there included Al Besselink, Sam Snead, Art Wall, Sr., Tony Pena, Tommy Bolt and the Herbert brothers. As the third senior event of the year, just after the Senior Open, that tournament is considered the first and beginning of the PGA Senior Tour, now called the Champions Tour, one of the most prestigious golf tours in the world. That tournament also raised money for charity – Juvenile Diabetes, and was sponsored by Bally Casino, whose parent company purchased the club from the Fraser family.

It was also the tournament that the longtime course single round record of 63 was set by Charlie Sifford, one of the first blacks to play on the PGA tour. It was a record that was only eclipsed by Frank Dobbs, who shot a 62 while overcoming a boggy at a Duke Delcher tournament. But Kenny didn’t think the course records would be seriously threatened by any new, hot shot youngster, but rather, the seniors, if they ever hold another senior tournament at Atlantic City again.

A profile published in Golf Styles magazine entitled, “Keeping the Past Alive,” says that, “He's been at the club for almost 40 years and watched the evolution of a local shrine from its heyday as an elite private golf club to one now open to the public. When Kenny Robinson arrived in 1969, Atlantic City Country Club was yet in its prime - hosting dignitaries, golf legends, celebrities and champions of industry. The 74 year old has been a fixture at the club longer than anyone, serving as caddie, pro shop manager, starter, ambassador and historian.”

"Even though we are now open to the public, it's retained a private club atmosphere," Robinson said. "The clubhouse has changed little over the last 50 years or so. At the front door is the bell that rang for the last trolley returning hotel guests to Atlantic City."

“Robinson recalls many tales of colorful characters and people he's known during his time at the club, mentioning such stars as Perry Combo, Joe Namath, Bob Hope, Bert Lancaster and many others who frequented the facility.”

"It was the most sought after club to get a game and a most congenial place to visit. The service, help and food have always been excellent. the recipe for our famous crab cakes, still served today, came from Leo's wife Doris Fraser," added Robinson.

Kenny was a big part of the club, especially after Leo Fraser died and Jimmy and Doug Fraser and Bonnie and Don Siok saw it through its best growth years for the next decade.

- Egg Harbor Township and formerly of Villas; passed away on Thursday, January 5, 2012 at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center after a lengthy illness. Born in Montgomery County, PA and formerly of Buffalo, NY; he relocated to Southern New Jersey in the early 1970's.

Kenny began working at the Atlantic City Country Club (a job he would have for the next forty years) working for the Frasier and Siok family. He quickly endeared himself to all with his amiable personality and his amazing knowledge of the club's history. In the mid seventies, Ken took the position of caddy master and director of outside operations and held that position until 2010.

Kenny had a gift of making everyone feel special, from celebrities that visited the club to members and fellow employees. He was also known for his love of all animals. His loyal friend and companion Bogey the cat was at his side for more than 20 years, and lays to rest on the country club grounds.

Kenny's fondest memories were in the South Jersey area where he met the love of his life Mary Ann and then married in 1980.

Prior to his lengthy career at ACCC, Kenny led a very interesting life. After serving his country courageously in the Korean conflict as a teenage, he returned home to follow his father's footsteps as an entertainer. Kenny and his brothers formed the "Verstiles" a harmonica trio. All were accomplished musicians and toured extensively. Their talents earned them television spots on the Ed Sullivan Show. To this day they hold a world record recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for playing 53 hours non-stop; breaking the old record of 51 hours held by Kenny's father Paul. In the process, they raised thousands of dollars for cerebral palsy research. After the trio stopped touring, Kenny remained in show business working as a straight man in a two man comedy team. He also acted as a host and emcee for burlesque reviews under the name "Kenny Dee", working venues all over the northeast and mid west.

Kenny will be sadly missed by all who knew him and loved him รข€" family, extended family, friends, and the crew at Charlie's Bar where he was a regular.

Ken was preceded in death by his wife Mary Ann Robinson, and two brothers: Dale and Richard. He is survived by his son James Robinson; his stepson Dan DeGeorge; his stepdaughter Karen Romo DeGeorge; his daughter-in-law Cindy Staats; nine grandchildren; and three great grandchildren. Kenny's last wishes were simple and without fanfare. Instead of a ceremony or flowers, Kenny asked that a donation be made in his memory to any local no-kill Animal shelter.

[Ocean City, NJ Humane Society - 1 Shelter Road, P.O. Box 1254, Ocean City, NJ 08226 (609) 399-2018 info@hsocnj.org]

To share condolences, please visit www.evoyfuneralhome.com.