While growing up in Boston’s North End, Bob Baldassari took his first golf lessons at the Bennett Street Industrial School.
At age 10, he signed up for winter classes, and by the spring of 1947 he was off for caddie camp at the Maplewood Hotel in Bethlehem, N.H.
“Imagine getting away from the city and earning money. . . . It was a dream come true,’’ Mr. Baldassari told the Globe in 1998. “I went for 10 years and became caddie master.’’
Mr. Baldassari devoted himself to the game, attaining PGA professional status in 1963, teaching golfers from all walks of life, and becoming a popular member of the New England Section of the PGA.
A former head professional at Hillview Country Club in North Reading and the Tara Colonial in Lynnfield and later teaching pro at Paradise Golf Center in Middleton, Mr. Baldassari died May 18 from respiratory complications at Martin Memorial Hospital in Stuart, Fla. A longtime Wilmington resident, he was 79 and wintered in Palm City, Fla..
“He lived a remarkable life, enjoying more than he could have ever imagined from such humble beginnings,’’ said Mr. Baldassari’s son, Bob Jr., of Palm City and the PGA of America’s director of youth golf development. “I learned the intricacies of the business and the game from him, and more importantly, how to build lifelong friendships.’’
Mr. Baldassari spent many winters in Florida as head pro at Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring and, most recently, on the staff at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie.
PGA of America board member and New England PGA past president Don Lyons said that during Mr. Baldassari’s years at Hillview, spanning the early 1960s to late 1980s, the former private club hosted several NEPGA spring and fall meetings and association-sponsored tournaments.
“Bob was a giving, easygoing guy, who enjoyed introducing new players to the game and helping average and advanced players improve,’’ Lyons, a longtime friend, said. “He was an integral part of the NEPGA who loved playing in our tournaments and being with his fellow pros.’’
Art Harris, a longtime professional at the former Mt. Pleasant Country Club in Boylston, was Mr. Baldassari’s partner for more than 40 years at NEPGA Pro-Pro championships, a longevity record for that event.
“We first met at Kenilworth in the early 1960s and over the years we played all over the place,’’ said Harris. “Bob loved people and that made him a great club and teaching pro.’’
Mr. Baldassari played with everyone — youngsters, club members, and Boston sports celebrities. Former Bruins star Jean Ratelle was on his staff at Hillview, where Mr. Baldassari sang at club functions – if coaxed.
“There was a mutual respect between Bobby and our members,’’ said Stan Zola, a longtime Hillview member and close friend. “I took my first lessons from him and he never watched the clock if you needed extra time to get it right. He was like another member to us.’’
Several of Mr. Baldassari’s assistants became head professionals, including Brad Durrin, head pro and general manager at Maynard Golf Course.
“I had never taught club members before so I shadowed Bob when he gave lessons. He encouraged me to be patient with my pupils and then set up my first group lesson,’’ said Durrin.
“It was with four women, all beginners who played left-handed. Bob, who did that on purpose, came back an hour later and said ‘if you can handle that you can handle anything.’ I worked at a lot of courses with a lot of pros and nobody was more highly regarded by his members or his fellow professionals.’’
A graduate of Christopher Columbus High School, Robert Henry Baldassari met Claire Foley at Kenilworth when he was assistant pro and she worked as a ballroom dancer. They were married in 1961.
Bob Jr., a golf captain at Austin Prep and Walsh University in Canton, Ohio, worked at Hillview for 10 years, starting in the bag room at age 13 and rising to assistant pro for his father.
“We played together on summer evenings at Hillview and would work on my game,’’ he recalled. “And I would also stand on the range and catch Dad’s iron shots with a baseball glove so he could keep his short game sharp.
“They were wonderful memories.’’
A service has been held for Mr. Baldassari, who in addition to his wife, Claire, and Bob, Jr., leaves two daughters, Theresa Mercurio of Jupiter, Fla., merchandising manager at Old Marsh Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and Lisa of Boynton Beach, Fla.; and five grandchildren.
A scholarship has been established in Mr. Baldassari’s name by his family through the NEPGA for one boy and one girl from Boston to further their careers in golf.
“I can’t remember him without a big smile, a mischievous twinkle in his eye, or a great story to tell,’’ said former Globe golf writer Paul Harber. “Bob was everybody’s best friend.’’
Last September, father and son returned to what is now the Maplewood Golf Course for a reunion of North End caddies from decades ago. A dinner was held and stories were shared, but there was also quiet time when they drove a golf cart around the course and grounds.
“Dad pointed out where he stood as a fore caddy. He remembered where the dorms once stood and the people he caddied for,’’ Bob Jr. said.
“He told me he would awaken at 5:30 in the morning to take one of the few hot showers because the hot water wouldn’t last and that the head pro, Phil Martignetti, took a liking to him and helped him get his first job at Kenilworth.
“It was a nostalgic day and Dad reflected on how a little white ball, a stick, and some green grass had given him so much.’’