Every morning while sitting at his desk and going over the work assignments for the day, Pat Daly could hear the shuffle of the old man’s feet when he entered the maintenance facility and walked toward the time clock to punch in.
The old man was prompt, arriving a minute or two either side of 7 a.m. Daly, the certified golf course superintendent at Boston’s Framingham Country Club, couldn’t see the old man as he entered, but Daly knew it was him. The distinct sound of the old man’s walk — the slow drag of work boots across the concrete floor — was the giveaway.
The old man, known as Scratch, would then saunter over to Daly’s office, peer in and wish him a good morning. A short time later, Scratch would climb board his Toro mower, fire it up and drive off to cut the golf course rough.
For Daly, Scratch’s routine arrival was comforting, often bringing a smile to his face. Having Scratch on the crew was a genuine blessing. Daly loved him dearly, like a second father.
“There will never be another like him,” Daly said.
Scratch, born as Richard Petty, worked on the golf course maintenance staff at Framingham for 57 of his 89 years. He died March 27.
The morning after this death, Daly gathered the crew and announced to them that Scratch was gone. “There was complete silence,” Daly says.
A few weeks after Scratch’s death, Daly was still grieving. He wondered why Scratch’s death had left him so numb. He told himself that he shouldn’t feel so somber, and that he should find solace in the fact that Scratch lived a long and purposeful life. He told himself that Scratch’s role on the crew could be easily replaced.
But Daly knew he was kidding himself, that he was only rationalizing to make himself feel better. He knew that Scratch did so much more than show up to cut grass every day.
Everybody loved Scratch. He was polite, friendly, conscientious, humble, humorous and always had a good story to tell, like the time he caddied for Arnold Palmer in 1962 when The King won the Phoenix Open.
Scratch never complained. He never whined that it was too hot to mow or that the maintenance facility was too chilly in the winter. He never mailed it in, despite doing the same task daily. Scratch was more reliable and more low maintenance than a Toyota Corolla.
Scratch was not a big man, standing 5-foot-7, but he had a presence about him. The World War II veteran would light up a room without trying. Scratch, who liked to drink a cold beer or two, was like the fictional and fun-loving Norm walking into Cheers.
Daly, who is in his 16th season at Framingham, remembers his first day on the job as the superintendent. He was a bit of a wreck. But enter Scratch, who had 42 years in at Framingham at that time.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Daly recalls. “But if I had questions, Scratch had the answers. He really helped me with the agronomic history here.”
In all, Scratch worked under 10 superintendents at Framingham. Daly says Scratch trained them all. “He was the closest thing to a guy on your crew who could be a superintendent but never was,” he adds.
Last May, Scratch underwent heart surgery, but he returned to work in September. “He was strong as a bull,” Daly recalls. But in January, Scratch fell ill again, this time to a rare blood cancer and was hospitalized. Daly would visit him and tell him to hang tough, and that he would be back mowing roughs before he knew it. “That’s all I want to do,” Scratch told him.
But the last time Daly visited Scratch, a few days before his death, he noticed that Scratch’s health was deteriorating rapidly. He could also see in Scratch’s eyes that Scratch knew what might be coming.
This season would’ve been Scratch’s 58th at Framingham. He would’ve turned 90 this November.
“He was the best employee this club has ever had,” Daly states.
Time will eventually heal Daly’s heartbreak. But Daly will never, ever forget Scratch — a man who was not just a model employee, but a model person.