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Tanner honored after 65 years at PCC by Jon Baker December 5, 2015

By JON BAKER • jbaker@pawtuckettimes.com
“It’s a joy to have discovered a place that has made me so happy. I wonder sometimes if I discovered heaven 50 years ago.” – James Tanner.
PAWTUCKET – Those words were composed by Jim Tanner almost 14 years ago for a booklet entitled, “A Centennial History of Pawtucket Country Club – 1902-2002.” Apparently, it turned out to be quite the birthday party.
He felt that way about the gorgeous, 18-hole, par-69 layout when he first began caddying at back in 1950, and that heartfelt sentiment has never wavered, even after an astonishing 65 years of service on the same parcel of land.
That’s why – less than eight hours after Tanner, now 77, became one of the newest inductees of the R.I. Golf Association Hall of Fame at a banquet at Lincoln’s Kirkbrae Country Club on Tuesday night – he was back at work, taking care of the usual business inside the PCC’s golf bag storage room and cart garage.
As always, he arrived from his north Seekonk home at precisely 5:30 a.m., and – by 11:30 – already was driving carts outside for a couple of members willing to brave the wintry conditions for a round.
The links was virtually empty given the rainy, raw weather, and he didn’t have much to do, but he didn’t care. This is his “home-away-from-home,” where he belongs.
That work ethic (he admits he’s here every day at the same time), that determination, that love for PCC are all what earned the amiable Tanner such a prestigious honor, though he’s really not quite sure why it was awarded.
(Add “humble” here).
“Bob Ward (the RIGA’s Executive Director) told me about the Hall of Fame about a month ago right here,” he stated as he stood by the opened garage door. “I was stunned. I was thrilled. I was in awe. In fact, I broke up a little bit. I couldn’t believe it. There aren’t many people in the Hall of Fame, maybe 40, and now, me? I’m one of them? It’s unreal.”
Longtime pal Joe Capineri, an 85-year-old Pawtucket native who kept Tanner company on this blustery morning, indicated he wasn’t surprised an iota.
“The guy who presented, or introduced, Jim at the banquet was Steve Napoli, who for years was the golf pro here,” he noted. “He moved on to Wannamoisett, then to Carnegie Abbey, and now he’s at Liberty National in New Jersey, where you can see the Statue of Liberty from almost every hole.
“He went through Jim’s history in golf, how influential he had been for the caddies here, how he mentored them,” he added. “Jim taught them not only how to caddy, but also a great respect for the game, the members and the country they lived in. He told them they had to abide by the laws of this nation, and how to be respectful gentlemen.
“During his speech, I felt elated; I’m so proud of him,” he continued. “We’re such close friends, but I still said, ‘Hey, Jimmy, you’ve got me living in the shadows. You outdid me (Tuesday) night!’ After Jimmy spoke, he got a standing ovation from the (301) people there – and it was an extended ovation. He addressed the folks, thanking all the people who had employed him and helped his rise in the golf world, guys like Steve and Les Kennedy.
“All the things he learned as a youngster and into his 20s and 30s from his bosses and members, he passed those values down to his caddies.”
It’s rather whimsical how he came to the club in the first place.
“I grew up on Warwick Road, right down the street (Armistice Boulevard), and I had a Pawtucket Times’ paper route, but it was an afternoon paper back then,” Tanner recalled. “I was 12 at the time, and one of my uncles, Bob Curry, said, ‘Why don’t you try to caddy?’ I asked him, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘Carrying a golf bag, and you can do it right down the street at the club.’
“I knew where it was, so I did, and I’ve been here ever since,” he laughed.
Tanner explained how he not only caddied, but began working in the pro shot two years later, at the tender age of 14. He started playing not long after his introduction to the links, courtesy of the administration’s and membership’s gift of holding a “Caddies’ Day” every Monday morning.
“The other kids were golfing, so I figured I’d tag along,” he said.
He later competed for the Pawtucket East High squad, and exhibited such talent for the game, was named captain as a senior. He played annually in the old R.I. Caddy Championship, and was a member of the PCC contingent that captured the team title in 1956 before taking part on the R.I. Juniors circuit.
During the same state Junior championship in 1957, Tanner settled for runner-up honors, despite the fact he earlier that season had fired an impressive, two-under 67 at Pawtucket.
“It was a five-day event at Rhode Island Country Club, and I finished second to Tom Cunningham, who had just graduated from Holy Cross, and I was a senior at East,” he reminisced. “He had won it three years running, so I was honored.”
Later in ’57, he served as a seaman in the U.S. Navy. Upon his return in 1959, he went straight back to PCC to resume more peaceful duties.
He married his wife of 55 years, Doris, on May 27, 1960, and the couple decided to have a family, one that includes sons Timothy and James, and daughter Jennifer. Naturally, with Tanner as the caddymaster, his two boys would accompany him to the club to do the same thing he had in his youth.
How he happened on to that job is a story in itself.
“I was working in the pro shop and became an assistant golf pro under Les, but they needed a caddymaster,” Tanner said. “I was married with two children at the time, and it paid more than then the one as assistant pro, so I took it in 1964. The members here rarely asked for golf lessons because they had grown up playing here, so I thought, ‘Why not? We need the money.’”
According to the booklet distributed at the RIGA’s Hall of Fame fete, under Tanner’s bio, “The members of Pawtucket Country Club leave no doubt about their feelings for James ‘J.T.’ Tanner. They think of him in such high regard that they run an annual golf tournament in his name, then donate all the proceeds to the Burke (Caddy Scholarship) Fund.
“The former caddies are the ones who decided to honor Tanner by holding the annual golf tournament in his name, (and) the event began with 68 players in the first year, but has grown … (Now it) regularly attracts over 100 players, many of whom come in from other states to take part.”
In 2010, “J.T.” became a member of the Professional Caddie Association Hall of Fame in Orlando, Fla.
On Wednesday, Tanner seemed rather uncomfortable when The Times came calling, allowing Capineri to speak for him. He doesn’t like being singled out; he just wants to help others.
Still, he admitted being stunned, and appreciative, by the outpouring of love and respect he received at the RIGA banquet.
“I have to say it went terrific, absolutely terrific,” Tanner said with a smile. “A lot of members here went, over 60 of them, and they told me how excited they were for me. They thanked me for all I had done over the years.”
Without saying it, he nodded, seemingly thinking, “Just who’s thanking who?!”
When asked how much longer he will pursue his work at the club, he grinned again, “I don’t know, but this never gets old, and it’s because of the people. They’re very classy people here, very friendly and helpful. I’ve never thought, not for a second, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ Not even close.”
He then turned, peered out the garage door at the picturesque landscape surrounding him and sighed.
Yes, this is heaven.