Marc Turnesa (Heir of the seven professional golfing brothers "The Turnesas")

Le origini italiane della famiglia con sette fratelli golfisti professionisti: i Turnesa

Oct 07, 2019 1699 ITA ENG

It's always interesting and fun to discover new stories, particular and unknown to me, about something beautiful and winning in the history of the Italian American community. Often these stories are about sport, which in America has seen the triumph of many Italian American champions.

Today's story concerns 7 (SEVEN!) golfing brothers who filled the family home with trophies and victories and made the pride of their parents, who emigrated at the beginning of the last century from Potenza, in Basilicata. It is also important because it helps to disprove the myth that Italian Americans excelled only in physical and violent sports: there is nothing physical and violent about golf, which requires patience, calm and self-control. We meet and thank Marc Turnesa, grandson of Mike, one of the seven golfing brothers. Marc was also a professional golfer, but today he is no longer a golfer. But it's not certain that sooner or later a new Turnesa will be born with the talent and desire to win other golf tournaments...

Hello Marc, let’s start with a little bit of history. Where in Italy did your family come from, and when did the first Turnesa arrive in the US?

My great grandparents, Vitale and Anna Turnesa, emigrated to America in 1904 from Potenza, in Basilicata. They first settled in Manhattan, but later moved to Elmsford NY, where Vitale worked on the construction of the Fairview Country Club. When construction was complete, Vitale was made head greenskeeper, where he remained for 30 years. It was in Elmsford that Vitale’s seven sons began to play golf. (editor’s note: a person responsible for the care of a golf course).

 In Elmsford, NY there’s a Turnesa Drive. Is that the place your family used to call home?

Turnesa Drive is off the 4th hole at Knollwood Country Club, where my grandfather was the Head Golf Professional for 47 years, and where my father was the Assistant Golf Professional for 6 years. As kids, my brother, sister, and I were always proud when we passed the 4th hole while playing golf, knowing the background contained within that street sign. 

So, the legend talks about seven Turnesa brothers (one of them was Mike, your grandfather), all golfers, some of them recognized and cherished all over the world. Please, tell our readers about this incredible brotherhood made up of family and Golf. Why just that sport?

Growing up in Westchester during the early part of the twentieth century, the Turnesa boys lived in the perfect environment for a family of golfers to emerge. It was a different world back then, smaller, with no access to the outside world for poor people. The 7 Turnesa boys knew only what they could see, and that was the golf course. The young boys were always outside around the golf course and, since they were poor, they had to make their own fun, playing there and making up games. In fact, before they were old enough to caddy, they would play on the grounds of the Fairview Country Club until their dad would see them and kick them off.  

That was their backyard and where they spent all their free time. The bond they formed with each other and the closeness they shared as young boys, stayed with them throughout their lives. Also, their strict Italian upbringing created humble, well-mannered, respectful young men who well represented their heritage.                                                                 

I’ve read that sometimes there would be three Turnesa brothers competing in the same tournament, right?

Oh yes, several Turnesa brothers would routinely compete in the same tournament, including Majors, like the 1938 and 1941 U.S. Opens, where 3 of the brothers played in each field, to name a few. 

Who was the best golfer among the seven brothers? Was he also the one who won more trophies?

I know that Jim, Joe, and Mike were career pros, the touring Professionals, and that Phil, Frank, and Doug were Westchester club pros, who also competed in national events periodically. 

Statistically, Joe won 14 PGA events and played on 3 Ryder Cup teams. Mike won 6 PGA tournaments, and Jim won 3 PGA events, including one Major, the 1952 PGA Championship. 

The seventh and youngest Turnesa boy, Willie had an entirely different life path. His six older brothers all chipped in so that he could go to college, Holy Cross, where he excelled and where he would use what he learned throughout his life, while simultaneously excelling as a world class amateur in golf. Willie won the 1938 U.S. Amateur, earning the nickname, “Wee Willie the Wedge” after a perfect 13 for 13 record out of the bunkers. He also won the 1941 U.S. Amateur, in addition to winning the British Amateur and playing on 3 Walker Cup teams. 

Vitale and Anna also had two daughters, Rose and Mildred, who were also said to be comparable talents in their own right, but they never followed golf with the same passion as their brothers. So, you ask who is the best, and I say, how can I choose, when they each excelled so differently? I admire them all, and I am proud to be a part of their lineage! 

The Turnesas were a humble hardworking family, perfectly representing the Italian American community they were part of. In your opinion, did being Italian Americans and having Italian DNA help them to excel in sport and in particular in Golf, becoming “the world's greatest golfing family”, as the New York Times once said?

I think that being raised as Italian American contributed to their success and good reputations, especially thanks to the important sense of family they had. In fact, they always remained very close, no matter how old they got or how famous they became. And whenever possible, they came home for Sunday macaroni and meatballs dinner, a tradition still strong even now in our family. They treated everyone, including each other, with respect.  Furthermore, thanks to the composure that golf requires, they also helped to destroy the stereotype that Italians are always loud, uneducated, and opinionated. 

Is there an anecdote, something curious about this incredible story that you’ve heard telling in your family and you want to please share with our readers?

How the boys learned the game of golf was born from the days they played on the Fairview fairways. They had no golf clubs, so they took brooms and cut off the bottoms. There were always stray golf balls left in the rough and in the ponds around the golf course. The boys would scour those places, and then they would try to hit the balls they had retrieved with the broom handles. They created their own games, using the balls and bats, and even had little tournaments. During bad weather, the boys practiced indoors, making holes in the carpet. When they couldn’t play on the course, they went to the nearby fields and made their own “Country Club”, with the brothers as the only exclusive members!   

They practiced swinging, from sunup until sundown, every day, until they were old enough to begin caddying and making money, contributing a portion of their earnings to the family pot. Many years later, when Vitale learned that his youngest boy, Willie, was winning the 1938 U.S. Amateur, he scoffed, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Why shouldn’t he win?  All he ever did was play golf!” 

You too have been a professional Golfer, but now you’re retired. Is there a Turnesa in the future of professional Golf?

Unfortunately, the future of the Turnesas in golf looks bleak. In my generation, no one is actively pursuing golf at this time.  Also, there have been no babies born to male Turnesas in my age group yet. But my wife is going to have a baby, so we shall see…

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