Class of 2018

Willie Turnesa

Deceased (1914 – 2001)

William P. Turnesa was born in 1914 and was a lifelong resident of Elmsford in Westchester County. He was the youngest of seven brothers, all of whom were talented golfers, and was the only one to remain an amateur throughout his iconic golf career.

He’s considered by many to have been the greatest amateur golfer after Bobby Jones. His family of brothers, sons and grandchildren are widely recognized to be the greatest family dynasty in the history of the sport.

The family’s legacy began with their father, Vitale. He was an Italian immigrant who emigrated from a farming town near Naples, Italy to New York City in 1904. He first worked as a day laborer at Fairview Country Club in Elmsford during the course’s original construction. Upon completion, he was offered the job of head green keeper at the club and would remain in the position for the extent of his working life.

Vitale’s career came with a nice perk, a home next to the course. He and his wife, Anna, had nine children including seven boys and two girls. All the boys took to golf and even built their own course in the backyard (as they were restricted from playing Fairview) that they dubbed “Turnesa Country Club”.

Like his older brothers, Willie grew up caddying at clubs around the area and eventually began competing in both local caddy and various other competitions around Metropolitan New York’s golf epicenter. 

All six of his older brothers were local club professionals, and three of them became top touring pros including Joe, Mike and Jimmy. Doug, Frank and Phil, were teaching pros around the Met Area and were great resources for anything related to the game of golf. 

Willie would have likely followed suit with the family tradition, had his older brothers not insisted he go to college instead, and all chipped in the money to pay for it. He attended Holy Cross and graduated in 1938, becoming the first member of his family to earn a college degree.

During his college years, Turnesa emerged as one of the best amateurs in the country. He captured the New England Intercollegiate Championship three times and was a NCAA medalist twice.

He gained national prominence after winning the 1938 US Amateur at Oakmont Country Club at the age of 24, not too long after graduation from Holy Cross. His performance during the championship’s final match against Patrick Abbott led to his lifelong nickname, “Willie the Wedge.” That same year, he claimed his lone NYS Men’s Amateur title at Quaker Ridge Golf Club over Tommy Goodwin, 8 & 7.

When World War II broke out, he served as a gunnery instructor on the Navy and achieved the rank of Lieutenant. 

His most successful years of competitive amateur golf came once he returned from war, when he won the British Amateur in 1947, defeated fellow New Yorker Ray Billows in the U.S. Amateur final in 1948 and was the runner-up in 1949. In those years, he was selected to be a member of his first two Walker Cup teams, 1947 at the Old Course at St. Andrews and 1949 at Winged Foot Golf Club. In his final Walker Cup appearance in 1951 at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, he was playing captain. 

Throughout all these playing accomplishments, he worked as the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for the Binghamton Container Corporation, a position he remained active until retiring in 1978.

Things began to slow down on the course for Turnesa in the 1950s, and he began to give back and contribute to the game in other ways. He was the president of both the Metropolitan Golf Association and New York State Golf Association in 1955. 

His biggest legacy in amateur golf was when he co-founded the Westchester Caddie Scholarship Fund in 1956 alongside Udo Reinach to provide financial assistance to deserving caddies and others who work in service to golf, to enable them to pursue higher education. Since the fund’s creation, it has benefitted over 2,000 men and women and provided millions of dollars to aid young individuals in the Westchester region.

In 1976, he was the recipient of the Metropolitan Golf Association’s prestigious Distinguished Service Award for his lifetime playing achievements and association leadership in the Met Area.

He was elected into the New York Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

After a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, Willie Turnesa passed away in the summer of 2001 in Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Willie Turnesa’s Career Highlights

-       Westchester Amateur: Won 1933, 1936, 1937, 1938
-       Metropolitan Amateur: Won 1937
-       New York State Men’s Amateur: Won 1938
-       U.S. Amateur: Won 1938, 1948
-       British Amateur: Won 1947, Runner-up 1949
-       Walker Cup Appearances: 1947, 1949, 1951 (playing captain)
-       Masters Tournament: T26 in 1939
-       U.S. Open: T-40 in 1941
-       Florida Open: Won 1943
-       President of Metropolitan Golf Association: 1955
-       President of New York State Golf Association: 1955
-       MGA IKE Championship: Won 1957, 1958
-       Co-founder of Westchester Caddie Scholarship Fund in 1956
-       MGA Distinguished Service Award Recipient: 1976
-       New York Sports Hall of Fame Inductee: 1990