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William T. Lee

William T. Lee
Eleven-time Yale Golf Club champion

The Connecticut State Amateur golf championship tournament was first held in 1899. Since then, only six players have won it three times. The Reverend William T. Lee is one of them, winning at the Yale Golf Course in 1975, at the New Haven Country Club in 1979, and at the Hartford Golf Club in 1990. He has won the championship of the Yale Golf Club eleven times. No one else can match that record.

Lee learned to play the game in La Marque, Texas, at the Galco Country Club with his father, mother, brother, and sister. He graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois in 1966. As a senior, he was president of the student body, Phi Beta Kappa, and captain of the golf team. He was selected for the All-American college division golf team. He was the individual winner of the College Conference Championship as a freshman and sophomore. The thirty-six-hole score of 138 that he posted in 1964 still stands as an NCAA record. As a senior, Lee finished seventh in the NCAA college division championship.

In 1966 Lee came to New Haven to attend the Yale Divinity School. The academic year, 1968-1969 found him in Los Angeles for his internship. To help with expenses, Lee caddied for Rocky Thompson in the L.A. Open. He received a Masters of Divinity degree in 1970 and a Masters of Sacred Theology in 1971. Lee started studying for a doctoral degree in 1972 but stopped when he was ordained. He served as the pastor of the Emanuel Lutheran Church in New Haven from 1972 until he retired in 2006.

From 1966 until 1975 Lee played golf only recreationally at the Yale course. Conditions were different then, with no in-ground watering system, no carts, and one hit — and retrieved — his own balls on the practice range. Lee found that the “course demanded creativity” and played hard and fast, “like a Scottish course.”

In 1975 he returned to competition and won his first state amateur title. The competition was held at Yale, and Lee recalls that play was stopped several times because of noise from the construction site of the present clubhouse. The new clubhouse, the addition of a watering system, carts, and outside play have changed the character of the course.

The 1970s and 1980s were busy times for Reverend Lee. In addition to being a father, pastor, pilot, and golfer, he was also active in the community. He took flying lessons and received his license in 1974. Lee served on the New Haven City Council from 1974 to 1976. He failed in his run for the state legislature, but he was the director of the New Haven Welfare Department from 1980 to 1990. He directed a television program for the Connecticut Council of Churches and advised the national council on tv programming. In 1990 Lee started a home for at-risk teenage girls.

Even with all these activities, Lee won the state amateur again in 1979 and 1990. He qualified five times for the US Amateur, five times for the Mid Amateur, three times for the British Amateur, and twice for US Senior Amateur. He has played with professionals, such as Brad Faxon, Billy Andrade, Jay Siegel, Joey Sindelar, Bob Tway, and John Schroeder. He caddied in PGA tournaments for Julius Boros and Tommy Bolt after they had won the US Open. He was scheduled to caddie for Tony Lema on the day that Lema died in a plane crash. Many would rate Bill Lee the best player at Yale from 1966 to 2006. He believes that honor ought to go to Peter Teravainen, Bob Heintz, and Heather Daly-Donofrio.

After another decade-long absence from competition, Lee came back in 2005 to finish as runner-up in the state Senior Amateur, and he qualified for several national tournaments. The 2005 csga Media Guide noted that “the state’s elite golfers will enjoy the Rev.’s return and his boyish enthusiasm. And who knows, maybe there’s another championship in his bag.” That came in 2008 when Lee won the csga Senior Amateur to become only the third person to win both the Amateur and Senior Amateur. Bill Lee ended the year by finishing his two-year term as Captain of the csga Team, and by being named Senior Player of the Year. Best of all, he was inducted into the Connecticut Golf Hall of Fame.

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