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In Memoriam: Bill Lawler

Bill Lawler, a longtime GAP competitor and tireless Anthracite Golf Association (AGA) proponent, died July 19 of pancreatic cancer. He was 73.

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Lawler, a Fox Hill Country Club member of 50-plus years, became a fixture on the Senior circuit. He earned Senior Player of the Year honors in 2006. Lawler earned runner-up honors in the Pennsylvania Golf Association Senior Amateur Championship and advanced to the Round of 64 in the U.S. Senior Amateur that year. He represented GAP in consecutive Senior Challenge Matches (2006-07) as well. 

Lawler also forged success at the Super-Senior level. In 2014, he won the Francis B. Warner Cup (Gross) and the PAGA Senior Match Play Championship. A year later, Lawler helped lay the foundation for Fox Hill’s success in the AGA/GAP Super-Senior Coal Scuttle Championship. Six editions, six titles for Fox Hill. Also of note, Lawler was a two-time medalist in the AGA/GAP Senior Coal Scuttle Championship (2000, 2003).

“He took his golf seriously. Everybody respected him because of his honesty and sincerity,” Carlyle Robinson, a longtime friend and fellow Fox Hill member, said. “He was in the Top Three people I ever met.”

“Such a humble man, a very kind person to everyone,” Francis Hayes, Fox Hill’s golf professional, added. 

“If you meandered Fox Hill in the late afternoon on any given day, then you’d surely see a smiling Lawler, golf bag on his shoulder. 

“Bill liked to walk the golf course, and you could walk it at 4 o’clock most days,” Ted Merli, a close friend of nearly 60 years and fellow Fox Hill member, said. “He would trek over to the first tee at 4 o’clock, and whoever was in the area, he’d say, ‘Come on. Play nine holes with me.’ That’s one thing he’s very much noted for, taking younger golfers under his wing more or less and being a good guy.”

Lawler’s willingness to accommodate the game’s youth transpired to the Anthracite Golf Association. He is largely credited with starting the organization’s Junior programming, which became the Lawler Junior Tour Series, in 1983. Open to boys and girls ages 10-18, the Lawler Junior Tour includes 10-15 events annually, highlighted by a Junior Tournament of Champions. During its infancy, Lawler, who served as AGA president for a decade, operated each event and even wrote recaps of the day’s action. 

“Billy would do the tee times out of his home,” Patrick Lloyd, GAP Director of Northeast Operations, said. “He would arrive [at the club for an event], mentor the kids, talk about the rules and etiquette. He was one of the most influential people in our area. He not only was a good player, but instrumental in growing the game. Junior golf meant a lot to him.”

Lloyd met Lawler in 1997 during an interview for an Anthracite Golf Association internship. 

“Not only did he mentor me during some of the tournaments, but we played a lot of golf together in the early days. It was nine holes of sharing stories,” Lloyd, 43, of Honesdale, Pa., said. “He was a real historian of the game of golf in our area.”

A historian for the AGA, a historian for Fox Hill. Some 15 years ago, Lawler compiled and produced a yearbook of the club’s history. That publication served as a bible of sorts when he and Merli spearheaded Fox Hill’s centennial committee. The club turned 100 years old in 2020 (see GAP Magazine: 2020 Summer issue).

“It was a tremendous amount of information he had. Bill accumulated tons and tons of stuff,” Merli, 74, of Long Pond, Pa., said. “He was glad to share it with everyone [for Fox Hill’s centennial]. Writing was a passion.”

In addition to his Fox Hill compilation, Lawler published four books: “Treachery in Torquay,” “Mystery at St. Andrews,” “Rank Amateur: A Selection of Musings and Vague Recollections of a Passionate Golfer” and “Rank Amateur II: The Saga Continues.” Works of nonfiction, “Treachery in Torquay,” and “Mystery at St. Andrews” feature Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless characters, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Lawler’s “Rank Amateur” titles chronicle his travel experiences on the East Coast. 

“He actually lived his life by the spirit of golf: character, integrity, honesty. He was a remarkable gentleman,” Larry McClure, a GAP Executive Committee member and Lawler friend of nearly 20 years, said. “He was a gentleman and a real scholar of the game.”

Kindness, compassion and humility affix to Lawler. “How unassuming he was,” Robinson said, is also of note. He and Lawler frequently traveled to golf tournaments together. In 2003, they captured the Senior Four-Ball Stroke Play at Green Valley Country Club. Robinson is quick to point out an experience pertaining to the John G. Anderson Memorial Four-Ball Invitational at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y. 

“I sent [the tournament’s chairman] a handwritten letter introducing myself and Billy. A month later, I got a letter inviting me and a guest to Winged Foot,” Robinson, 74, of Wyoming, Pa., said. “So, I called Billy on the phone and said, ‘Can you come over to my house? I have something to show you.’ He came over, and I handed him the invitation to Winged Foot. He looks at it and says, deadpan, as serious as can be, ‘Who are you taking with you?’ ‘Billy, do you think I’d invite you to my house, show you this and then invite somebody else?’ We had a wonderful time together. I will have memories forever.”

So will the golf community. 

“I consider him to be a legend in our area. He’s right there at the top with Art Wall,” McClure, 65, of Danville, Pa., said. “You have Art Wall and Billy Lawler. You’re going to hear the same kind of comments about both of them. A class act, no ifs ands or buts about it.”

“There’s nothing bad to say about Bill,” Merli added. “He was just a fine gentleman and a fine golfer, caring about everybody and everything.”

Contributions in Lawler’s memory may be made to the Scranton Area Foundation (Memo: Anthracite Scholarship Fund), 615 Jefferson Ave., Scranton PA 18510. 

GAP
Celebrating Amateur Golf since 1897, GAP, also known as the Golf Association of Philadelphia, is the oldest regional or state golf association in the United States. It serves as the principal ruling body of amateur golf in its region. The Association’s 300 Member Clubs and 80,000 individual members are spread across the Eastern half of Pennsylvania and parts of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. The GAP’s mission is to promote, preserve and protect the game of golf.