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Milt Northrop: Sheridan golfer is a rare bird

While most of us were enjoying hot dogs and fireworks on the Fourth of July, Jon Benson, known better as "Jaybird," was hitting a personal golf milestone.

He was shooting his age - 70. Again.

"When I was 67, I shot 66," said Benson, a former Class AA club champion in the Sheridan Park Golf Club.

That's only one of out-of-the ordinary distinctions, he  can claim.

  • He's a member of the Buffalo/Western New York Bartenders Hall of Fame. His name is sixth on the list in the Hall of Fame plaque that hangs in the Buffalo Bar and Grille on Louisiana Street.
  • He may be - probably is - the oldest man to wrestle in a match for the University at Buffalo. Benson was born in Iowa and raised in Connersville, Ind., in the southern part of the Hoosier State. He came to Buffalo in 1969 with $40 in his pockets. He was following a young woman he had met in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Jaybird spends his winters in Florida, near Tampa, but comes back to Buffalo and Sheridan for the summers. "This is one of the favorite places I ever lived," Benson said.

After arriving here nearly 50 years ago, Jaybird soon landed a job bartending in some of Buffalo's most famous watering holes -- Mulligan's on Allen Street, the Locker Room on Delaware, the Masthead, which used to stand where a new Buffalo State dormitory is being completed on Grant Street. He also worked at the Outside Inn in Angola, which was owned by former Buffalo Bills center Bruce Jarvis,  an original member of the Bills' famed Electric Company line before he was replaced by Willie Parker.

Jaybird is best known, however,  as a  co-owner of Birdie's 19th Hole on Allen Street, which became the Pink Flamingo or just "The Pink."

Soon, though, Benson had decided to get out of the bar-restaurant business and considered two choices. One was to enroll at UB. The other was to embark on a career in golf. First he tried UB.

"I went to college for about two weeks. Then I remember why I hated school," he said.

UB lists Benson among its wrestling alumni.

"It really was my favorite sport," Benson claims now. "I wrestled in high school and when I moved up here I wrestled in some AAU meets and worked out with the wrestlers at UB to stay in shape."

Archives show that Benson wrestled in one match at 177 pounds in 1978-79 and lost. He was 32 years old then.

His connection with UB wrestling had begun much earlier.

"I had become involved in the program because I used to hire wrestlers to work in the bar. I enrolled at UB and wrestled myself to a spot on the team. I wrestled that one match at Binghamton and basically, I just figure I was eventually going to get injured doing that at that age. That's when I made the choice. I went to golf full-time.

"I sold the house and bought a 25-foot RV. I gave myself five years; I played for 25 years, all the mini tours and then tried the Senior Tour.

"I did everything I could in golf. I traveled everywhere."

He also taught golf classes at the University of South Florida in Tampa for 16 years.

"I had Golf I and Golf III classes at the university. I taught 500 students a year from all over the world. Every semester I had eight classes."

Benson also was an instructor at three prestigious golf schools - the Harder Hall resort in Sebring, Fla., the Ben Sutton Golf Schools in Englewood, Fla., and The Original Golf School in West Dover, Vt., near Mount Snow.

Benson still gives private lessons when he has time at the Airport Driving Range, where he started working for Dan Lucas in 1979.

His own game hasn't suffered. He won the Sheridan Park Class AA club championship in 2014. Last month he lost a two-hole playoff to Kevin Mulvey for the Senior club championship at Sheridan. Each shot 74.

"He played good," Benson said of Mulvey. "I had a chance to win it but missed a 6-footer for par on the first playoff hole."

The Sheridan Park Club has produced some of the best public links golfers in the Buffalo area over the years. Its list of champions includes names like the late Charlie Card, Tom Gantress, Gary Neuschel, Mike Knott and Kris Boyes. This weekend, Benson played in the Western New York Publinx Golf Association Class A and Class B championships at Sheridan.

Benson used to golf five, six, seven times a week.

"I've cut down to four. I don't ride; I walk when I play. I basically play golf for my mental and physical health.

" I call it my 'Green Gym.'"



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