GAME OF A LIFETIME: Port Huron’s Bill Netter, 90 Years Young, Plays On

Written By: Greg Johnson

On Feb. 27 it was 68 degrees at Port Huron Golf Club, which like most clubs was closed for the winter.

Bill Netter played.

He walked nine holes alone and carried his bag that corrals just the handful of clubs he needs. He played two golf balls, too. It wasn’t going to be a score he would be turning in to update his Handicap Index. Out of season, he was just doing something he loves on a sunshine-filled warm day in an unusually temperate Michigan winter.

“With two balls going I figured I got my 18 in,” he says and chuckles.

Netter, 90, a Port Huron native, caddie as a kid and a retired PGA golf professional, including being head professional at Port Huron Golf Club for 36 years, doesn’t let many nice days go by without golf.

In season, from April until the snow flies, Netter plays three, sometimes four times per week. Until he reached his 80s, he walked and carried his clubs whenever possible. He uses a cart often these days, though not always for a nine-hole round.

Shooting his age has been a common occurrence for years. He has five hole-in-ones. His index is 13, and last season’s low score was 78.

“We have what’s called a show-up game on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at the club,” says Netter who was given professional emeritus status and with his wife Doris a club membership when he retired two decades ago at the end of 1993.

“I show up and play with the guys I call the Vietnam Vets. I’m the oldest out there I guess, one of the oldest people at the club. I don’t score as well as I used to, but I play the regular tees (middle tees). I can still hit the ball a little bit.”

He likes to play for a little something on the line as well.

“Even if it’s just a nickel, at least that makes a guy keep trying,” he says. “I like to play for a few bucks, nothing that causes hard feelings, just something that adds to the fun.”

Netter started in golf as a youth caddie at Black River Country Club in Port Huron and later moved into the pro shop working for legendary Black River professional Emil Beck, a two-time president of the Michigan Section PGA and one of the founders of what became the PGA of America Business School.

Netter is a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving from 1953 to ’55. After his service, he went to the PGA Business School in Dunedin, Fla., worked at a golf club in Tampa for a year, then it was back to Port Huron where he worked for Beck as an assistant briefly before the head professional position at Port Huron Golf Club became available.

“I got the job and started there in ’58 and back then, well I had no assistants for a long time, I did everything,” he says. “Monday was supposed to be a day off, but there was always a lot to catch up on. I worked seven days a week and only played when the weather was bad, like in April when nobody was coming out that day.”

Netter played some competitive golf, including one PGA Championship and in several Michigan Section PGA tournaments, but says he was too busy working in the shop and teaching lessons on the range to concentrate on competition. That, and Beck once told him his swing was like a rusty gate.

“And he wasn’t being complimentary,” he says. “He did help me with it though.”

Netter says he always felt his job was to help others with enjoying a difficult game. He estimates that in the primary months of the golf season he taught 30 or more lessons each week, 300 lessons or more a season and some 10,000 or more in his career.

“I haven’t really ever thought about how many before,” he says. “I enjoyed the teaching and the people and it kept me busy.”

Karen Morgan, a Port Huron member since 1991, took lessons from Netter when she says she carried a maximum handicap of 40, and these days she plays to a 17 with his voice and lessons on playback in her head.

“He gave me a lot of tips I still use to this day and I can hear him tell me when there is trouble on the left side of the fairway, tee on the side of the trouble and aim away from it,” she says. “And the one thing I will always remember about Bill Netter is how he welcomed new members, found them groups to play with, made sure they had a good time. He’s a great guy all-around. He still plays a lot and is an inspiration to all of us.”

When Netter retired he wanted to play the game instead of work in it. His wife Doris, who he says raised their four children and worked as a legal secretary, wanted to play golf, too.

“So we did,” he says. “She’s 86, though I’m probably not supposed to tell you that, and has some arthritis that keeps her from playing a lot now. The kids played. Our daughter Diane (Tomiuk) and her husband (John) are members at Port Huron. Diane has always been a good player, a club champion several times.”

Diane Tomiuk says her three brothers (Dave, John and Steve), like her, spent the summers of their youth at the club.

“I was a course golf rat running around there any time I could,” she says. “My brothers and I all worked picking up range balls with the old hand-held canister. Dad taught us all golf, but also instilled in us family values, working hard, being an upstanding citizen.”

Doris, who has been married to Netter for 65 years, says if her husband isn’t at home she knows where to find him.

“It keeps him healthy,” she says. “We had that warm day a few days ago, and off he went.”

Netter says he might have been a teaching pro for a long time, but Doris didn’t always appreciate his tips.

“We had our share of arguments so finally I told her you have to ask me before I will say anything, I’m not going to just tell you anything,” he says. “She would then ask, ‘can you tell me something then?’ That’s what we worked out.”

John Beecroft, a longtime member at Port Huron and a member of the GAM Board of Governors, calls Netter the consummate gentleman golfer.

“You won’t meet a nicer guy,” he says. “He has the ability to make everyone like him.”

Beecroft and his wife Madeline, both originally form Philadelphia, moved to Port Huron from Chicago in 1985 and joined the club.

“We didn’t know anybody, not one person,” he said. “We were brand new members and right away Bill got us in games with members and he always made sure we had a game and that we met somebody when we were at the club.”

Beecroft also reports that not only is Netter still playing on a regular basis, but he has a great golf swing for any age and plays especially well.

“He hits the ball surprisingly far for somebody his age and he plays with guys a lot younger than him,” he says. “He also knows everybody’s name and he will play with anybody. His only problem, when we play in a foursome for a couple of dollars at the club we always play off the low ball (low handicap index). A lot of times he’s the low ball.”

Netter acknowledges he is proof positive that golf is the game of a lifetime.

“I always liked the people at the golf club when I worked there, the members, everybody,” he says. “I think that’s the big reason I still like to play. That and I think keeping active helps your health in a lot of ways. I have people talk to me now and when they find out I’m a retired golf professional they ask me about the game and I tell them you can play golf most of your life. It’s just a good thing for you to keep playing.”