Four original French Club league members still hit links
And then there were four.
Four original members still playing in the Monessen French Club Golf League, that is.
Started in 1972, the league just finished its 37th season by crowning another champion team at Cedarbrook Golf Course.
The league has survived a lot of members, golf trips and years as it continues to be one of the mid-Mon Valley's oldest active leagues.
Greg "Woody" Carroto, one of the remaining originals, said that between 250 and 300 people have been members in the league at one time or another.
"We started in 1972 with 20 guys," Carroto, of Monessen.
"Four years later, we expanded to 28 and shortly after that we went to 40 guys. It's been 40 guys ever since."
Joining Carroto in the final foursome of French Club originals are Dan Bergstedt, Mike Kootsouradis and Jack LaForte.
"At one time, the saying was the only way to get in the French Club Golf League was if somebody died," Carroto said with a laugh. "That's how long our waiting list was."
However, getting the league off the ground back in 1972 was no small feat.
"Keith Bradley and I worked together and we were also golfers and members of the club," Carroto said. "We talked about trying to start a league.
"I went home and made a sign with 20 name slots on it and took it down to the club on a Friday night."
Carroto said that he was optimistic because eight names went up on the list that first night.
"I came back on Saturday and looked at the list and was really excited when I saw it was completely filled up," he said. "Then I looked at the names."
After the original eight signers were names such as "Roberto Clemente" and other popular Pittsburgh sports athletes.
"Tony Bisceglia, who at the time did not like golf but ended up being one of the all-time regulars before he died, wrote down all those names," Carroto said.
"We had to start over from scratch, and it wasn't easy."
Carroto said he and his friends got on the phone and started recruiting people to play golf.
"We had a real collection of people of all ages, just to get to 20," he said. "And we didn't hit that number until the last minute."
The league started playing at Cedarbrook when the course had just 18 holes. And, other than a brief stint at Linden Hall, the league has called Cedarbrook home ever since.
Each year, the group has an annual three-day weekend trip when it travels to play different courses.
The original trips were taken to West Middlesex to play Tam-O-Shanter.
Then it was to Ohio to play Avalon Lakes.
For a long time, the league went to Bedford to play Downriver and Iron Masters.
Most recently, the league has taken trips to Ohio and Meadville before settling back at West Middlesex the last two years.
"We've made a lot of memories over the years," Carroto said.
"And, for me, it is still something to look forward to every year."
This year's champions are Derek Zdravecky and Jim McBeth, who won an 18-hole tournament on Cedarbrook's Gold Course.
The tournament, which also crowned individual champions in three flights named after former members who died — Jim Barker (first), Anthony "Pivots" Galante (second) and Bisceglia (third) — was followed by the annual banquet at the club.
The league elects officers every year and their edict is to make the league just as successful as it was the previous year. Carroto says playing at Cedarbrook is one of the reasons the league has had such staying power.
"They have 36 holes," he said. "That means you play the same nine holes once a month and that's pretty good.
"Plus, we have a bunch of competitive guys. Some are pretty good and some are not as good as they used to be. But everybody wants to play well."
Among the lowest handicap players in the league are Jeff Pikulsky (zero), Frank Francia Jr., Bill Hunt and Zdravecky (two) and Craig Alessio (three).
Frank Francia Sr. has the most titles won with five, followed by the late Joe Bafile, who won four titles. Carroto has won the crown three times.
An 8-by-10 photo of every winning team hangs on the wall at the club, surrounding the champions' plaque which has the names and years of every champion engraved on it.
"It's a goal to get on that wall," Carroto said. "Some of us were lucky enough to get there more than once." He paused for a moment and said that the wall of winners at the club pretty much transcends the league.
"The early photos are in black and white and the later ones are in color," Carroto said. "Some of us have a lot more hair in those early photos. There's a lot of history on that wall."