Pull into the parking lot at Sunnehanna Country Club on any given day and chances are the car of Joe Shorto is parked in its customary spot.
It’s been that way for the past 30 years.
“If I pull in at 7 a.m., I see his car there. At 7 p.m., it’s still there,” said Don Zolnosky, Sunnehanna Country Club General Manager and Chief Operating Officer. “Joe is kind of like a legend at Sunnehanna and in Johnstown.”
Shorto, who was awarded the Tri-State PGA Golf Professional of the Year Award in 2009, has held the coveted position of head golf professional at Sunnehanna for 30 years following 13 years as the head golf pro at Berkley Hills, the City of Johnstown course.
He’s seen legends like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods golf at Sunnehanna. He’s watched current pros like Rickie Fowler, Scott Verplank, Bill Andrade and 147 others who went on to the PGA Tour take part in the Sunnehanna Amateur. There’s been countless conversations with future champions at the driving range and the occasional piece of advice given to a player on his way up the PGA money leaders list. When Shorto travels to a nearby PGA Tour stop, it’s not unusual for one of those players to stop over and reminisce about playing at Sunnehanna.
But when the Sunnehanna Amateur tees off next June, it will do so without the 66-year-old Shorto as the head golf professional. He will retire at the end of January.
“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a couple years,” Shorto said Monday. “My son got married at the Outer Banks at the end of June and when I looked around, I realized how much I wanted to spend time with my family. I love what I do, but it was time for another chapter.”
Shorto’s decision to retire caught the club by surprise.
“I was surprised, but I was happy for him too,” Zolnosky said. “He had just spent some wonderful quality time with his family and, as the years have gone by, there were things he missed out on.”
Being a golf professional at Sunnehanna is a full-time job, and then some, though the club has only seen two head golf professionals – Shorto and John Goettlicher – over the past 50 years. More than 60 applications were received when the opening was posted on the PGA website, and a replacement could be finalized as early as mid-December.
Shorto, also the golf coach at Westmont Hilltop High School, often spent six days a week working, and that was during the offseason. During peak time, Shorto was at the club every day.
“I’ll actually be able to play more golf now. When you’re in the golf business, you’re devoting more time to the planning end of things and you don’t get to play much,” Shorto said. “A lot of people think I get to go out and play every day. That wasn’t the case.”
Shorto’s retirement leaves a big void at Sunnehanna.
“Joe’s are big shoes to fill,” Zolnosky said. “There is a lot of planning for the upcoming year, a lot of different events, members parties, it’s a lot of work. Really, it’s a labor of love.”
For Shorto, that love was cultivated at a young age.
He started golfing at Berkley Hills before becoming a teenager and he wasn’t afraid to ask questions.
By high school, the Johnstown native realized he wanted his life’s work to be about the sport.
“I had a college professor who said, ‘If you can do something you like to do, you’re three percent of the population,” Shorto said.
“I never felt like I didn’t want to go to work and I never felt like I wanted to get out early and go home. It’s going to be very hard to leave, but I look forward to it. It is going to be weird not working weekends.”