Long before Shug McGaughey was a Kentucky Derby-winning and Hall of Fame horse trainer, he was a golfer. "I started playing early because my mother played. I played with her in Lexington when I was nine or 10," said the Long Island resident and Meadow Brook Club member.
Before Jerry Bailey won each leg of the Triple Crown in various years and made the Hall of Fame as a jockey, you could find him on the driving range. "My father was a dentist, but his real passion was golf," Bailey said, adding that he did not share his father's interest at first. "I got tired of shagging balls for him."
But while he lived on Long Island during the heart of his career, Bailey fell for the game and became a 5 handicap. He and McGaughey are among the many people in horse racing who like to spend their spare time at places where the homestretch consists of the 16th, 17th and 18th holes. "There are probably more than you'd think," McGaughey said.
This week is all business for the racing set, of course, what with the Belmont Stakes being held Saturday and American Pharoah having a shot at winning the Triple Crown. "It is one of the toughest tasks in all of sports. When someone has a chance at Belmont, there is a different aura around horse racing. Everyone gets interested and excited," Gary Player, career Grand Slam golf champion and horse-farm owner, said this week on his website.
In the coming months, though, you are likely to see racing people break from the backstretch to the back nine.
Bailey, who will work on NBC's Belmont telecast Saturday, recalled once meeting Michael Dubb, now a horse owner and New York Racing Association board member, at a school parents meeting. Dubb invited Bailey to play Old Brookville. "I shot 121, but I didn't think about a horse all day. I loved it and that's when I became a golfer," he said.
He and his family lived on the golf course at Turnberry Isle resort in Florida during the winter and Bailey befriended a teaching pro who liked horse racing. Bailey joined Meadow Brook and regularly shot in the low 80s. An elbow injury has his handicap up to 10, but he does play regularly at Grande Oaks in Davie, Florida, where Caddyshack was filmed.
McGaughey downplayed his skill, saying, "I don't play that well anymore." But he didn't deny being competitive. "I don't care for losing. I don't play golf for a lot of money but we have competitive games," he said. "I play for pleasure, too. I play with my wife and obviously I'm not trying to beat her out of any money."
He has played all over Long Island, including Shinnecock Hills. "I'd say that's at the top of my list," the trainer said.
There is a long list of golf-horse racing connections, starting with a famous photo from the 1960s of big PGA Tour player George Bayer hoisting jockeys Bill Shoemaker and Eddie Arcaro, one in each hand. Shoemaker shot in the 80s all the time; Arcaro played daily after he retired in Florida.
Gary Biszantz, a top California amateur who went on to head the successful Cobra golf equipment company, sold the latter business and opened Cobra Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.
Then there is man who established Gary Player Stud Farm in South Africa. He says the key to raising horses is the same as Ben Hogan's secret to practicing golf: the secret is in the dirt.
On his website, Player said, "I am not a gentleman farmer. I get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to shovel manure, and I do the whole damn lot. The horse business to me is a disease of which I hope to never be cured."
The Saints Joachim and Anne 11th Annual Golf Outing, for the support of the parish school, will be June 29 at Rockville Links. Call 718-465-2230 . . . AIA Peconic, a chapter of the American Institute of Architects, will have its outing Sept. 15 at Cherry Creek Links, Riverhead. Proceeds benefit the scholarship fund. Visit aiapeconic.org